As Montreal police struggle to recruit and retain officers amid a labour shortage, one police college on the island says police services outside of Quebec are recruiting their graduates now more than ever.

Head hunters from the Toronto Police Service and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), among others, are vying to draw students to the cities they serve at the same time as the Montreal police, according to Scott Darragh, chairperson of the police technology program at John Abbott College.

"They want the bilingualism. We have an excellent program with a great reputation, and gradually, as other police services are seeing the quality of our recruits, I think it's encouraging them to come here," Darragh told CTV News.

"Bilingualism aside, everybody is looking for candidates right now," he said, adding that London police, Peel Regional Police, and Edmonton Police are among those recruiting in Montreal.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante has said she wants to hire 225 more officers at the Montreal police service (SPVM) to quell concerns about public safety in the city after a spate of recent shootings, but other factors might put a snag in the mayor's plans to beef up its police force.

The union representing officers says its members are overworked and underpaid, and if other police services — with more attractive starting salaries — are also vying for graduates of the police programs like John Abbott, it could be a challenge to fill up that quota. The province also said it will commit $250 million in funding to hire an additional 225 officers over five years, bringing the total to 450 new officers.


But an analysis by CTV shows Montreal offers the lowest starting salary for a new officer among major Canadian cities.


The base salary at the SPVM is $41,695. Quebec City is not far off at $42,645. But other major cities offer more attractive starting salaries for aspiring police officers, such as the Ottawa Police Service at $72,845, the Toronto Police Service at $75,218, and Halifax Regional Police at $64,677. Vancouver topped the list at $77,983.

A former SPVM officer who quit the force after 15 years said the low salary in Montreal could be one factor playing into the current staffing issues.

"I think everything is linked by the fact that maybe it's why we have so low staff right now," said Benoit Boisselle, who left the force in September 2020. "And I understand that you need to hire some new police officers, but if you look at the [salaries] it's not normal that Montreal police officers have the lowest paycheque … If you start at this salary, you have to stay home and with your parents for a few years, because it's a very, very low salary."

Two weeks ago, Montreal police lost 10 officers, including seven due to reasons other than retirement. The Montreal Police Brotherhood has cited low pay as one of the reasons reason for officers leaving the force early. 

Boisselle, who started in policing in 2005, said his motivation for his job took a nosedive in the last several years of his service when he would have seven or eight calls waiting for him before his shift started, which meant he was always trying to rebuild trust with citizens.

"If you do that every day, and you don't have time to go to your lunch because you have too many calls, you don't have staff to take some days off, and you always have low staff to answer the call, it's not good for the population because the security is not there anymore. And for us also to answer calls that need some backup — if you don't have the backup, you put yourself in a situation very at risk. And it's not good for the population either."


Montreal is not alone in its search to fill gaps in the police force. Other cities are dealing with the same issue, and increasingly, they are setting their sights on John Abbott College.

Rémi Boivin, a criminology professor at the Université de Montréal, says starting salary is not always the only motivating factor for new police officers. While he's not surprised it's quite low in Montreal, he said it comes down to personal choice for each person.

"The salary is something that adds to the problem. The question is where [is the provice] going to find 225 officers; 225 people that are allowed to be police officers in Quebec?" he said.

"It will be a choice. They will have to choose between going to Ottawa … for $30,000 more or stay in Montreal, but it depends. In the end, it's probably a personal choice, but as I said, salary does not seem to be the major issue there."

CTV's questions to the SPVM about its starting salary and whether or not it plays a factor in recruitment efforts were referred to the city, which said it needed more time to respond. In a brief statement on Tuesday afternoon, a city spokesperson said, "the City and the SPVM are prioritizing operations aimed at ensuring the safety of the Montreal population" and that "our resources are fully mobilized accordingly."

The police program is currently full at John Abbott with 245 students. The head of the program also said that salary is not the only issue students pay attention to.

"The generation that's starting out are really focused on quality of life. They want not just a salary, they want a home, they want what we all want. But they maybe want it more quickly," Darragh said.

Even though some police services offer more attractive salaries, they might not be able to retain officers if they have long commutes to and from work or can't afford a home, he added.

Meg Zeitounalian, a second-year student at John Abbott, said she doesn't plan to stay in Montreal when she's finished the program and is aspiring to work in her dream job at the federal level with the RCMP.

"I don't like staying in the same spot for too long," Zeitounalian said. "I want to explore Canada. I want to see the entire country."