"Maintiens le Droit"
Regina Town Station, Saskatchewan, 1895
The official motto of the Mounted Police is simple and to the point: "Maintiens le Droit" (maintain the law). The motto dates from the 14th century and was used by several baronial families in Britain. Under the provisions of the NWMP Act, mounted policemen were, until the late 1880s, the justice system in the Territories. They arrested wrongdoers, heard cases as justices of the peace, passed sentence, and usually locked up those convicted in the local NWMP guardroom.
In spite of the enduring image of the Mountie in hot pursuit of his man, until the Rebellion of 1885, crime was not a major preoccupation of the Mounted Police. For the most part, criminal activity was minor and policing was routine. It was only with the increase in population following the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway that crime increased in the Territories.
After a series of violent crimes in 1886, thought was given to the creation of a detective service. Charles Constantine, Chief of the Manitoba Provincial Police, was commissioned in October 1886 for this purpose, but plans for a detective service were abandoned two years later. The NWMP did not develop any innovative investigative methods, although Alphonse Bertillon's criminal identification system was used in the Yukon in the early years of the 20th century before the widespread use of fingerprinting (www.mcgill.ca/files/legal-theory-workshop/ Pavlich-Accusations-Criminal-Identity.pdf [PDF 1,310 KB] - Download Freeware).
With their comprehensive patrol system, the Mounted Police were familiar with most of the residents in the Territories and shared the common goal: to keep the peace in communities and on the range. Of course violent crime did occur and laws were at times ignored, but on the whole, the list of offences published as an appendix to the NWMP shows a wide range of misdemeanours: non-payment of wages, smuggling, gambling, common assault, larceny, vagrancy, abusive language, selling narcotics, and the like. There are also odd cases: embezzling oats, for example, or stealing a log building.
Contrary to popular belief, enshrined in the famous cliché "they always get their man," although they were relentless in pursuit of criminals, the Mounties did not always manage to bring criminals to justice. The story that they did, first suggested by the Fort Benton Record, is one of the enduring myths of Mounted Police history. In 1877, the newspaper reported on the persistence of the Mounted Police in pursuing horse thieves into Montana. Comparing the police to bloodhounds, the Record stated that they "fetch their man every time." When American Charles Bullock was arrested for a murder he committed in Alberta in the spring of 1902, he said, "I always felt the red coats would get me, even if it took years."