- Riding to the Rescue: The Transformation of the RCMP in Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1914–1939
To get to the heart of Steve Hewitt's Riding to the Rescue, readers should concentrate on the term transformation in the book's title. This is not a history of policing in Alberta and Saskatchewan. While fully aware that the RCMP's day-to-day policing activities occupied an important aspect of what took place during this quarter century, Hewitt is primarily concerned with the re-creation of the force as a police and security organization. This transformation manifested itself as a move away from the 'old' NWMP with its western settlement legacy towards a modernized force responsive to the perceived needs of the Canadian state at a time when urbanization, industrialization, political fragmentation, and the effects of large-scale immigration challenged assumptions about the nation. According to Hewitt, a pivotal figure in this process was Commissioner A.B. Perry, who should be credited with orchestrating the change and thus saving the force from skeptics and critics in Ottawa and elsewhere in the nation.
Divided in seven chapters, the book examines police historiography, Perry's approach framed by the context of Canada in the aftermath of the First World War, the values of the Mounted Police between the wars, the nature of political and ethnic dissent as perceived by the police, the establishment of a distinct security function for the RCMP, the police and labour unrest, and a final chapter touching upon the broad developments of the interwar years and links with longer-term events. Well-written and thoroughly researched, Hewitt's treatment succeeds in detailing some of the origins of the RCMP's security functions while drawing our eyes away from the NWMP towards issues confronting the police in early- to mid-twentieth-century Canada. Hewitt's task is an important one, for a fresh examination of the RCMP is long overdue.
While Hewitt accepts that day-to-day policing continued to be integral to the RCMP's mandate during this transformative period and asserts there was little distinction between regular criminal policing and intelligence work, he dedicates little attention to what one might term ordinary policing. Specifically, at a time when Canadian society was undergoing significant changes and the policing ideal was moving away from keeping the peace towards crime fighting, we are left to wonder how the changing nature of the nation, the impress of technological change, and changing expectations of what constituted proper police functions [End Page 349] redefined what the police actually did. So as the Canadian nation was undergoing significant changes, so too were notions about policing in many Western liberal democracies. At the same time, Hewitt does not follow the trail back to the NWMP/RCMP's origins so as to recognize that responsibility for security was an integral aspect of the founding ideals. For built upon the model of the Royal Irish Constabulary – a non-traditional English police force in the fashion of a European-styled gendarmerie – the NWMP (and by extension the RCMP) had always been expected to play a security function. While Hewitt sees the security links as being framed, in part, by the influence of the militia within the force's officer corps as well as Perry's vision in response to changing times, the case can also been made that the transformation was a return to the force's roots. Indeed, when the RCMP starts emphasizing the threats posed by 'undesirables,' labour agitators, and foreign-born subversives, it is difficult to ignore the echoes of nineteenth-century European gendarmes. In that we see the NWMP/RCMP as very much part of a tradition of policing extending back through both Great Britain and Europe.
Hewitt's book is a sound and engaging exploration of the re-emergence of the security function within the mandate of what became Canada's national police force. And in highlighting the confluence of daily policing with the intelligence/security function during the interwar years, Hewitt provides us...