The Politics of “First Responders”

In March 2017, there was a blog on this site which posed the question as to whether it was time to cut back on Fire Services, who despite a diminishing need for their services,  were in fact expanding in terms of manpower, equipment, and general presence.

The self-justifications for the fire services expansion all hinged on their incursion into medical calls, fanned by the publicity burning opioid crisis. It was the continuing perpetuation of the somewhat mythical life saver dynamic, they being the foremost and therefore indispensable “first responders” that made up the Group of Three.

What stirred this pot which highlighted the decreasing need, was the review in Ontario of the Fraser Research Report, which reviewed Fire Services in Ontario for the period of 1997-2012.  It discovered that during this time period in Ontario the number of firefighters increased by 36.3% while fires (including autos) had decreased in the same period by 41.4%.  In British Columbia in this same time period the number of firefighters had increased by 43.8%.

The hourly wages for firefighters followed suit, in Ontario, their wages went up 47.8% in this same time period, whereas price levels only increased by 34.6%.

All of this growth in both wages and infrastructure, while at the same time there has been a phenomenal decline in the need for “fire” services. There are some estimates that say as little as 5% of the fire department calls now relate to actual fires.

Clearly, this should call for most persons aware of ever dwindling municipal budgets and ever increasing tax levels, that maybe one could do away with some of the equipment, halls and personnel involved in firefighting. Although Ontario did cut back some of their services, most areas including British Columbia seem oblivious to the seemingly obvious.

So how is it that governments, municipal counsels, and the governing bodies seem to have missed this obvious decline in the need for fire services?  In searching for explanations one finds a masterful blend of self-promotion, coupled with an outright expansion of their roles outside of their intended mandate, which this blog covered previously.

Now it would seem that we need to add another component, a political component.

But we need to review how we got this new level.

With subtle flourish even the modern day lexicon has been transformed. No longer, police, fire and ambulance. Now, all are “first responders”.  Their’s is the only one group who has a vested interest as being on par with the others, both in terms of how they are viewed, how they are paid, and the significance of the role they play.

To their credit the firefighters early on figured out that they needed to expand their roles, they need to aggressively move into other mandates, areas where they were not before. In terms of mandate, of course the only place for them to go was to cross-over into the ambulance and police services.

They even made the subtle name change from Fire Department, to Fire and Rescue Services as they jumped headlong into car accidents and medical calls and they have been remarkably successful. They point out in somewhat boastful tones that they estimate 70% of their calls are now medical, as they “rescue” opioid overdoses, or respond to heart attacks. This is true, even though they do not and can not provide the same level of service as the paramedics.

Even their “rescue” capabilities, has become more specialized, now under the umbrella of “Technical rescue”.  ‘Auto extraction’, marine, or bridge rescue components are now separate tranches, in an attempt to be more expansive and all inclusive.  They have also  become, through little debate, the Hazardous Material experts.

Why? Their very employment and infrastructure survival depends on a sleight of hand, the general public needs to believe that they are the “first responders” of record. They need to convince you that they are the white hats, always there, always the first on scene. They are the life savers which we can not do without.

In B.C. there was a recent budget increase for paramedics of $31million.

The firefighters had the audacity to actually complain that it had cut into their calls for service. They justified their complaint saying that they were often first and more capable of getting to a scene “quicker”. The argument of getting there first by the way, is a constantly repeated theme. The obvious counter argument would be if there were more paramedics on the road, people more qualified, than their ability to get there first becomes moot.

The fire departments are unflagging in their efforts. Vancouver Fire Department and “Rescue Services” prior to the municipal elections were asking for an additional 21 fire personnel. They justify this of course on the need  to respond to 6200 opioid calls.

All of the above has been obvious for quite some time but what caught one’s eye during these same elections in the Lower Mainland was a somewhat new twist. It would appear that the firefighters are now honing their political voice, enhancing their political efforts, and are now becoming an active political force, a true definition of a self-interest group.

No more was this more obvious than in the City of  Burnaby, who have now elected an independent mayor, a former firefighter, Mike Hurley in an upset victory over Derek Corrigan.

Burnaby is an interesting case study.

All 281 firefighters in Burnaby belong to the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 323.

If one visits their website, they make no mistake as to what they believe: “When it comes to Political Action, we support those that support us” – May 17, 2014.

It is equally clear from their website that the building block from which any political action will flow is the charities. Golf tournaments, city fairs, parades, and charitable balls dominate their photos and exclamations of fealty to the community.

In recent years the Burnaby firefighters came into the news on a couple of occasions, one when Burnaby firefighter Nick Elmes and a couple of others formed the Florian Knights, who met with and were sanctioned to wear their “colours” by the Hells Angels. They used to ride to work showing their “colours” before management stepped in.

Then there was Bryan Kirk, a 36 year firefighter who decided to retire after being confronted on his support of “Camp Cloud” which was the campsite put up by Indigenous protestors at the site of the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby. The camp was eventually taken down, via court injunction by the Burnaby RCMP, but Kirk supported the protestors and went on record saying “I’m more inclined to put out the Olympic torch then put out a First Nation ceremonial fire”.  (Newly elected Hurley is also on record, aligning with Kirk, saying that he supports no pipeline.)

As one watched the celebrations at the Hurley election campaign, which was held at the Firefighters Public House in Burnaby, where a smiling Hurley was surrounded by Firefighters in similar styled t-shirts as they celebrated one of their own being elected. One could guess that a serious look at the monies being spent on the firefighters in a time when municipal budgets are under crises will not occur in Burnaby, at least while under the faithful guidance of Mr. Hurley.

This was not the only example.

In Langley the Langley Township Fire Department IAFF Local 4550 were out endorsing certain candidates.

In Surrey, the Surrey Firefighters endorsed Tom Gill for mayor (who lost to McCallum). Already on counsel in Surrey was the former firefighter Mike Starchuk, who was a firefighter for 32 years, and still headed up one of their Charitable foundations.

In 2014 Surrey First party raised $1.7 million in support of Linda Hepner– one of the biggest donors, if not the biggest were the Surrey Firefighters who donated $32, 564. 01.

In fairness, it should be pointed out that other “first responders” have become active in politics. Former police officers have taken roles as counsellors on various cities and townships, and one ex-RCMP member is now mayor of Pitt Meadows.

But this firefighter involvement seems different. It seems more organized, more overt, with an exposed agenda. A concerted effort to get their candidate elected.

Many will argue that they are members of the public, they too therefore have a right to get involved in the politics of the day. That is true and there are special interest groups who put forward candidates, and organize to support those candidates. But this seems somehow different.

One needs to ask, do fire, police and medical personnel hold a special role in our society? Clearly their mandates enter into our lives in different ways than other members of the general public. Are they in a position of undue influence? Do they have access to the media which is not available on a regular basis to the members of the general public?  Should or could it be perceived that there is a political component to the service provided by “first responders”? Police are held back from overt political support by a pressing need to be neutral in terms of the laws and its applications. Should medical and fire service be bound by any kind of neutrality?

It is the slippery slope of mixing politics with your role, especially one that is specifically mandated to serve the public. One should be equally alarmed at the Chiefs of Police supporting a particular party, or ambulance attendants supporting a particular pro-union politician.

One can not help but feel that the firefighter new found interest in municipal politics is also being influenced by the need to get a friendly face on the inside. One who will not question the need for greater and greater expansion, who will not look at the statistics, one who will not worry about unneeded financial expenditures. Is there a faint taint on the Burnaby election?

Maybe we need to go back to “police, fire or ambulance?” which is the first question still asked by 911 operators. Maybe the three services should be examined as separate entities, both in terms of budget and mandate, not as a single group of “first responders”. Taxpayers need to pay attention.

But hey, it’s the Xmas season, and the firefighters are busy setting up the Bright Nights Xmas Train in Stanley Park, where a portion of the proceeds goes to the BC Professional Fire Fighters Burn Fund. The media will be fawning over the children and the sponsoring firefighters on every news channel and after all who could argue with the cause. It’s brilliant and not just because of the 3,000 lights.

It used to be beefcake calendars, it’s much more subtle now, but the impression remains the same.

Photo Courtesy of  Pete at Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved

Healing Lodges – just a better place to be

Tori Stafford was last seen alive on April 8, 2009, shortly after leaving school, heading home, captured on a video camera going down Fyfe avenue in small town Woodstock Ontario. She was being led by the hand by a woman, feeling be-friended,  no doubt filled with an eight year old’s optimism.

Almost three months later, on July 21, 2009 her body was found in nearby Mount Forest, naked from the waist down, her Hannah Montana t-shirt and a pair of earrings she had borrowed from her mother her last vestiges of her short time on earth. She had suffered broken ribs, a lacerated liver and had died as a result of repeated blows to the head with a claw hammer.

A slow torturous death. Unimaginable to most, perpetrated by two individuals, 28 year old Michael Rafferty and 18 year old Terry-Lynne McClintic. In a trial Rafferty was convicted of sexual assault, kidnapping and first degree murder.

Originally charged with being an accessory to the murder, McClintic eventually pled guilty to a higher charge of first degree murder.

It was a case that in the view of the general public demanded retribution, they needed to pay for their crimes. We have become inured to a lot of public deaths, not this one, it was one of those that went to a level that causes a visceral reaction, you taste the bile in your throat.

She was sent to the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, a normal conclusion in our Canadian judicial world to a heinous crime. Justice, or some form of justice meted out.

But then she entered our correctional system. And that is where the story re-ignited.

There is a couple of truisms that usually play out by those prisoners doing “Fed time”. First and foremost they quickly develop the need to survive; they need to find the easiest route through the system, the best jobs, the placement of video cameras, where you sit at dinner, who you befriend, who you don’t. A child killer has a path fraught with even greater peril, their heads becomes a swivel, their own deaths anticipated.  If you are capable, you learn the game and then you learn how to play the game.

A second truism is that those that are incarcerated find religion on a regular basis. It would be fair to say that not many murderers or child killers are religious when they enter the institution. But imprisonment, like imminent death, seems to assist in finding that religious part of your soul and lo and behold a child of God is often re-awakened.

Federal institutions are not fun places and one suspects that McClintic somehow learned of a better place to be during her first years in prison. Somehow she became aware of “healing lodges” which had been created primarily for indigenous women prisoners.  Apartment style living, a kitchen, visitors, no guards, versus 8 x 10 cell living, constantly staring at your requisite Orange is the new Black poster. Who could deny the appeal?

One can imagine the semblance of the conversation, where she was told that you had to be Indigenous to get in (which isn’t true), so she asked how do they test for that? They don’t, she was told. You can just say you are.

It is only a short step to then apply, declaring oneself indigenous and probably throwing in for a little positive aggrandizement, that she was very spiritual in nature.

It took eight years, but at last she got her wish, making it to the Okimaw Healing Lodge.  She had just begun enjoying the comforts of something like a home when all hell broke loose; her case came back into the public eye, and finally the Liberals broke down and made sure she got sent back, the public backlash too much for the sensitive Liberals. Sensitive to public outcry, not the plight of the victims family.

One should not resent Ms McClintic, she was just working the system and it almost worked. It may be that her fellow women prisoners are having a good laugh about the whole thing, McClintic now a heroine for gaming “the man”.

But one must hold the “system” accountable. How the decision was made reeks of a bureaucrat not doing a proper job, but should we not be questioning the very existence of the healing lodges themselves.

According to Correctional Services Canada, a healing lodge is a place where “we use aboriginal values, traditions and beliefs to design services and programs for offenders. The approach is “holistic and spiritual”. A religious treatment of the whole being.

Non-indigenous can also live at a healing lodge however they must follow “aboriginal programming and spirituality”. You must be the same religion, in line with indigenous spirituality. One would think that a person fitting this category would be a rare phenomena.

Spirituality is “the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul”. But by no means is indigenous spirituality monolithic, there is no religious uniformity across the country, in fact of the 1.7 million indigenous, two out of three identify as being Christian. So it is sometimes difficult to understand what is being sought or would be practised.

Healing Lodges are funded either by Correctional Services Canada (CSC) and staffed by CSC, or funded by CSC and managed by “community partner organizations”.

There are a total of 9 lodges in Canada, 4 run by CSC and 5 by “community partners.”

How they came about is an example of the Ottawa world and the rarefied air they breathe. A constant whirling mix of academia, politicians intent on re-election, and business leaders trying to get in on the gravy; all feeding off each other, absorbing the latest en vogue thoughts and processes, all circling and feeding. A bureaucracy, acting autonomously, guided by the political flavour of the day, then developed and constructed without scrutiny. Nobody allowed to question or look within, and the process itself hidden behind multiple meetings in multiple layers, conducted in their own governmental language.

This force moves and adapts very slowly, moving in concentric circles, through steering committees, Senate and Parliamentary committees, inquiries, task forces, and fact-finding missions. They are unaware and uncaring of the public looking in, common sense often in short supply. To question is to be tossed out of the circle cut off from the government teat. Costs are not often part of the equation. It is from this process that came the belief that a healing lodge made perfect sense.

In 1990 there were calls and plans being made for five new regional correctional facilities.

A task force, as is often the case, was lurking in the background. The Task Force for Federally Sentenced Women, who in their report “Creating Choices” recommended that one of these facilities be specifically designed and run for indigenous women.

The Native Women’s Association, a Federally funded advocacy group, one of the groups in this Ottawa circle of life, proposed the concept of a healing lodge.

There was also a group at the time of  “former Federal aboriginal offenders who were advising the CSC”.  This would normally make one scratch their collective heads, however it is true. They of course agreed wholeheartedly and supported the Native Womens’ Association in the need for and development of a healing lodge.

So what is the logic behind this clearly subjective policy proposal. According  to the CSC there were two main reasons:

“Mainstream programs don’t work for Aboriginal offenders.”  This seems to have been presented as a statement of fact, but it is difficult finding any verifiable research this pronouncement is based upon.

Secondly, they stated that there is a dramatic “over-representation” of Indigenous people in Federal facilities. (Apparently persons convicted of crimes were now “representatives” and not convicts) They were not wrong.

In 2017 Indigenous individuals made up only 5% of the Canadian population; yet 25% of the males and 36% of the females behind bars were Indigenous. This number is expected to continue to grow, mainly due to the ever expanding birth rates and the continuing problems experienced by the Indigenous.

If one accepts the concept of needing a special place, a place where they would be treated differently from all other inmates, then the obvious next question is do they work?

A review of the digital brochures for each of these facilities talks about a holistic and spiritual approach, training and maintenance skills promoted as in other facilities, but all given the opportunity to “heal”, “grow spiritually”and re-connect with Aboriginal culture”.

Again, little to no evidence of its effectiveness, but they continually issue the statement that  “culturally-appropriate environments can contribute to the healing process of offenders”. That participants develop a “stronger familiarity with Indigenous history and traditional languages”. Not exactly an insurmountable goal, and it would be unfair to expect any kind of reduction of criminal activity, as this is after the fact after all. Heinous crimes have already been committed.

By offering beyond the usual training and teaching found in any correctional facility, does the offering of “weekly sweat lodges”, “pipe ceremonies”, “smudging”,”medicine wheel teaching”, “carving”, “beading” and “sun and rain dances” lead to a lesser recidivism rate among indigenous? Is it any better training than what is offered already to the rest of the prison population. Or is it serving as just an easier place to do your time.

In a 2013 government backgrounder, the government said that the recidivism rate was 6%, when the national average was 11%.

However, in an earlier government analysis in 2002, it measured the recidivism rate as being 19%, compared to 13% for indigenous released from minimum security facilities. A dismal failure.

In 2016 the National Post reported that 18 inmates had escaped from healing lodges over the previous five years. Not unexpectedly, as there are only security guards watching video monitors, instructed only to call the police if someone walks away.

There is even a lack of acceptance by the Indigenous Reserves where the healing lodges have been proposed. In 2012, a Review by the government found that there was a problem with community acceptance as not every aboriginal community wanted or was willing to have the lodges in their communities.

So where does leave us. Everyone knows that the ‘real’ problems for the indigenous: substance abuse, inter-generational abuse, residential schools, low levels of education, low employment and income, sub-standard housing, sub-standard health, isolation, violence, greater inclination to gang violence, and mental health issues are the reasons the Indigenous and their youth incarcerations rates are at stratospheric levels.

In March 2018 the government released a report entitled ‘Updated Costs of Incarceration’. A male offender in a minimum security institution costs $47,370 per person or $130 per day. A female offender in a minimum security institution costs $83, 861 or $230 per day. An inmate at a healing lodge is the most expensive, costing $122,796 or $336.00 per day.

The Salvation Army gives out a bowl of soup and a prayer on the skids of Vancouver each and every day, before providing food and lodging, combining their spiritual beliefs of salvation with a social cause. But they are dealing and providing at the source. There is a measurable impact.

The Federal government has released records indicating that since 2011 over 20 child killers have been sent to healing lodges. The Liberal defence in the McClintic case is that the Conservatives did it too.

These lodges are better for the inmates, providing a nicer place to be, but as a tool in the Corrections toolbox, they have been a costly and failed experiment.

Is it not time to close down this experiment?  Besides, we don’t want McClintic to have a nicer place to stay.

It isn’t fair to Tori.

Photo Courtesy of Carlos Ebert via Flickr Creative Commons – Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surrey Election 2018- is it the beginning of the end of the RCMP as we know it?

On October 20th, the electorate of Surrey said that they are fed up with the RCMP.  With the number of shootings seemingly unstoppable, followed by the usual explanations formulated by practised media spin units,  saying it was a “targeted” homicide, and the “public has nothing to fear”, it seems to have reached a breaking point. Yellow police line tape seems to stretch for miles and dominate the weekend news in Surrey. There are the innocents who have died in Newton, businesses and people who don’t even bother to report crime anymore in Whalley and Guildford,  and they seem to have finally reached the end. It has been a long time coming.

In the past, the 10% discount for the RCMP seems to have silenced the critics who complained of less officers on the street, a growing and expansive police budget, and increases in property crime and drive by shootings. Maybe this is no longer true.

The RCMP has been part of the City of Surrey since 1951 when fifteen constables began patrolling the town which became a city in 1993. It  has been growing at remarkable speeds ever since, with a population now exceeding over 500,00 and the detachment in seeming lockstep, has grown to over eight hundred officers. It is the flagship detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, their largest detachment in Canada, and that flagship is now sinking under its own weight.

Now, a party led by the irascible, tempestuous and often incomprehensible Doug MacCallum has re-swept into power at the age of 73; running on a singular party theme of safety in the streets.

His newly founded party is a one issue group, calling itself the Safe Surrey Coalition. Counsellors who have swept into office with him, including ex-RCMP police officer Jack Hundial, also have identified themselves as singular in their focus, and that focus is to get rid of the RCMP. In their view and clearly in the view of the electorate the RCMP has failed the people of Surrey.

MacCallum is a colourful character, never an admirer of the RCMP, who was last in power in 2005. MacCallum was removed from power originally in 2005 by Diane Watts, and then followed by her appointed successor Linda Hepner. Both were clear fans of the RCMP, buying into the agenda of the RCMP and sprinkling every press conference with plaudits and statements of the excellent job the RCMP was doing.

But the scepticism has been brewing under the surface for years. Many police officers have openly expressed the opinion that the RCMP can not keep up with the times, including this writer; that it is governed and directed by the highly political Ottawa, an Ottawa and Federal Liberal government which has long since lost the confidence of the public, at least in terms of policing.

A police force which seems to be embroiled in internal unrest, whether it be sexual harassment, or poor wages. Wrapping themselves in the flags of diversity and inclusion, seemingly oblivious and unable to relate to the citizens of Surrey where the bullets continued to richochet around the community police stations.

This is an RCMP which seems to have grown into and become an ineffective agency.  Ridiculously low solve rates, officers constantly complaining about low wages and poor working conditions, insufficient manpower, and a parade of weak leadership at the top of the detachment have been fuelling this slide.

A top management level interested in keeping Ottawa happy,  interested in career advancement and promotion while expanding a bloated and inefficient plainclothes sections, all the while seemingly oblivious to countering the day in and day out criminal activity for which Surrey has always been infamous.

Their only response to the crime, to the death of innocents was that they needed more officers. From Bill Fordy to Dwayne McDonald, always the same, they need more. During Hepner’s time as mayor she claimed to have added 134 officers, but it was never enough.

It was a tried and true chant while at the same time there were several re-organizations of the detachment, each seeming to add further and further layers to the detachment bureaucracy, and a clear bloating of the numbers of officers in specialized sections to the obvious detriment of officers on the “road”.

No one questioned the inside shenanigans at the detachment. At the time of the last municipal election a few days ago, McDonald was again scheduled to request further officers. (It should be pointed out that from 2014-2017 Mr. McDonald was the officer in charge of IHIT, which grew from 48 officers to 110 individuals and a collapsing solvency rate hovering around 20% )

In the last number of years, you would hear words like “progressive”, “community first”, “engaging our youth”; innocuous silly platitudes, all designed to fudge over detailed analysis of what was going on both inside and outside the detachment.

Over the years the RCMP has hidden behind those detachment walls, never allowing outside examination of management to any degree. Annual Performance Plans have been tailored to speak in generalities, no deep dives into the statistics, little of substance or real meaning. An annual exercise in bureaucratic concealment, far from the eyes of the public.

So the citizens of Surrey are now going to begin an exercise to exorcise themselves from the red tunic, and for many that served in this community over the past number of years, it will indeed be sad. But it is inevitable.

The RCMP management of the last twenty years have been oblivious, unable to speak the truth either for political reasons or because they were “going along to get along”. Somewhere the vision was blinded, lost to political expediency, somewhere there has been the disappearance of the goals to “uphold the law and provide quality service”  (RCMP Mission Statement.)  They focused on the writing of the Mission statement and selling it, as opposed to the actual performing of the Mission statement.

They began to develop “strategic media units” to create the spin. Honesty became blurred.

None of this is to say that any upcoming Municipal police force will be a bed of roses. It will be more expensive for sure and political control will be local. Not Ottawa, but political none the less.

Most officers currently policing Surrey will likely switch over to any new agency, grown tired of the RCMP, no longer concerned about being a member of a National police force and not overly concerned with the history of boots and breeches. They are the millenials after all — careers, work life balance and wages are their new loyalties.

There is good work being done at the Surrey RCMP. There are good people working long and difficult hours. There are good investigations which have been successful and most of these people would likely join and be part of any new Municipal agency, lost to the RCMP for good.

The singular and most obvious problem was that the operational policing structure, the traditional pyramid where the solid base was the uniform on the street was turned upside down. It became a top heavy bureaucracy infatuated with promotion and specialization, forgetting that everything starts on the streets. They lost sight of the fact that policing principles, its basics, has not changed for decades. It is a government agency which should never have lost track of what was important, where the expertise and productivity actually come from, those formative years in policing.

Seniority, supervision, and continuity took a back seat to what was perceived and sold as being more sophisticated. Everyone became an expert. This combined with demographic issues has led to the average service of the RCMP on the road in General Duty in Surrey to be 1.8 years. (This according to sources, as the RCMP will not admit to the public that this is the case).

If MacCallum succeeds in removing the RCMP then the RCMP nationally will be affected. It would be an admission that they are incapable of city policing, an admission which  would be a loss of face.

For the people of Surrey who are demanding change, their only hope is that it is successful and the Mounties get the proverbial boot.

To date the Mounties have not re-acted to the election. Maybe, they don’t care. Maybe, they want it to come about as it may lead them toward a possible goal of an FBI style RCMP. Maybe, there will be a domino effect and regional policing will once again come to the fore. Further time will tell.

To the officers that came and went from Surrey Detachment, part of their policing heritage will be altered, and as the “white shirts” toddle off to their better than average pensions, they should at least consider apologizing for their inability to adapt, for being caught up in playing the government political game, for not taking principled stands and  for being dishonest in terms of accountability.

Like the battered and bruised boxer answering the bell after 8 rounds; the RCMP question is whether they can make it to the final round, still answering the bell, arms up trying to avoid head shots, muttering about being cheaper, in an effort to keep from being knocked out. As Roberto Duran said when fighting Sugar Ray Leonard and famously declared “no mas”;  there indeed may be “no more” fight left in the RCMP.

Photo Courtesy of Douglas Miller via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

Crime and Punishment on the Prairies…

 

Like a prairie thunderstorm, building on the horizon and starting to move quickly, the normally placid bucolic life of the small towns of Saskatchewan now lay in the path of this building storm. The W.O. Mitchell’s “Who has Seen the Wind” version of the Prairie lifestyle, is being enveloped and blown aside in a dark wind of violence, racism, fear, and desperation.

This barometric change was entirely predictable. It has been developing over many years, all the while complacent government bureaucracies and police agencies stood idly by; consumed by “modern” issues, seemingly ignorant of the core basic need in government, that of public safety.

It is the most pronounced in the small unique and sparsely populated Province of Saskatchewan, where its main street small towns have become involved in a war of attrition. One side engaged in the fight of maintaining a largely rural lifestyle, the other side fighting for radical change and reimbursement, with an ill-defined final goal. As Ottawa fiddles, rural Saskatchewan is now burning.

This is in reference to the tenuous, often violent,  see-saw balance between the mostly white agricultural community and the Indigenous.  It has been in play for over a hundred years in Saskatchewan.

Reconciliation is the new cry. The Indigenous demand further rights, demand more monies, fresh water, oil rights, the right to hunt, the right to fish, the right to deal marihuana and their cut of the economic pie. These demands and expectations fuelling a seemingly endless amount of court cases.

Whether one sees these demands as fair or intemperate, underlying all of it is a group of Indigenous leaders that has lost control of its own constituents. Many reserves in this country have become crime infested, and a culture of crime is emanating from them in ever increasing concentric circles. Rampant poverty driven crime spilling out into the towns and countryside.  Those waves are now crashing into an armed and increasingly vigilant population not willing to be overrun, not willing to succumb to the apparent effort to subsume them.

The statistics back up the claim that the crime is becoming out of control. The most dangerous cities in this relatively peaceful country of Canada, the ones having the most violent crime statistics are in order:

a) North Battleford,  Saskatchewan

b) Thompson, Manitoba

c) Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan remains the most crime plagued Province. A dubious distinction for sure but they hold and have been holding it for many years.

The Prairies is where the Indigenous world meets the other world. It is where radical aboriginal rights meets head on with a stubborn and resistive farm community. It is where it is more eye for an eye, unburdened and unconerned by the latest socio-economic impact study.  It is for the most part, caucasian versus aboriginal, as much as we are not supposed to point that out. It is where racism abounds, on both sides.  The racism has become accepted, part of the dialogue, part of the new way of life.

North Battleford, the most violent city is the epicentre. It is of course near the Red Pheasant reserve, the home of the recent Colten Boushie/Gerald Stanley case. The one where the white Gerald Stanley was acquitted in defence of his property and his family. This was contrary to what the Indigenous wanted, contrary apparently to the outcome wished for by the Liberal government.

The Indigenous, the Boushie family and the Federal Liberals all held it out as a gleaming example of racism in this country. It became a National liberal cause, Canada’s version of the Confederate South and the Yankee North.

Actual details of the trial took a back seat to flashier banner headlines, stoked by a CBC media group which seemed intent on inciting the racist tone to the case.  The whites were forced into hiding, supportive comment for Stanley was pushed underground.

This factional divide did not start in the last few years in this part of Saskatchewan.  It has been building for decades, going back to as early as 1885,  during the North West Rebellion, where eight Indigenous were hung in the Battleford area.

There are two versions of this event. One, according to the whites, was that the suspects were hung for “ransacking”, for stealing from the residents of  Fort Battleford. The Indigenous version on the other hand, said they had only come to “plead” for supplies and were simply massacred. Which side you believe, which is your truth, depends on which side of the divide you fall.

The city of North Battleford is located two hours away west from Saskatoon. It has placed highest in the Crime Severity index since 2009 when they began compiling this information, and still carries this title into the 2017 records. This index and North Battleford’s ranking is heavily weighted by intoxication, theft, and a mass of mischief offences.

Fourteen (14%) percent of the population of Saskatchewan is Indigenous,  but in 2016/17 a staggering seventy-six (76%) of admissions to jails were indigenous peoples. This was the highest of all the Provinces.

The liberal left call it the result of rampant systemic racism, and decry that the system is not working. In response to the high incarceration rates, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations vice-Chief Heather Bear is quoted as saying “we are working with a broken system….its about lock the Indian up”.  On the conservative right they say the system is working exactly at it should; it is catching those that are committing the crime.

Two worlds colliding. Colonists initially enticed to settle this vast and often barren landscape with promises of 160 acre tracts of land. The ability to own their own piece of the land, made them set sail from faraway shores, leaving impoverished and desperate conditions to fight for a piece of land, a better life. Their new life was not always as advertised, it was often harsh and unforgiving whether fighting drought or bitingly cold winters.

The Plains Cree, hunters and traders meanwhile patrolled this same vast landscape, but they were a culture that did not share the same conceptual framework of property and ownership.

The settlers settled while the Cree continued to roam these vast, and for the most part, unpopulated regions. It was unlikely that anyone believed then that the country was not big enough for everyone.

Colonialism continued, evolved, and developed. Rules and laws were established. Responsibility was based on the concept of the individual. Being agrarians, the land which they struggled with from season to season was their reason for being.  This land was their very existence and thus needed to be defended to the death.

The Cree life began to stagnate, their economic system was beginning to falter. Two very different economic and political systems were destined to clash. One system continued to thrive, the other fell into the abyss. The Cree old way of life is now for the most part unrecognizable.  Successive governments of the settlers tried to reach agreements or impose agreements on sharing, and the treaty system and residential schools were all geared to some form of assimilation.

The 21st century Cree now believe that the historical wrongs need to be righted. Having stagnated for years on the Reserves, they now want their share of the economic pie. They now want what those first settlers wanted. A new life, free of recriminations along with financial wealth and independence. And if the government doesn’t want to give it to them, they will take it.

And therein lies the rub. If the government is going to give the Cree property or transfer wealth then someone else must lose it. The First Nations have tied their demands to the belief that because they roamed the lands, worshipped the lands, it is their land. It is all their land, because they never “ceded” the land.

This very concept is incomprehensible to a group like the Prairie settlers who believe that being here first is not a right to claim all of the land, that their rights should be considered as much as anyone’s, that there is no singular entity beyond the law, no one that is special, no one should have a priority over everyone else.

They describe a Federal government which is continually siding with the Indigenous, afraid to call out the violence, afraid to hurt their constituency.

They describe a cowering police force, sometimes miles away offering little support or even attendance.  The RCMP masters are this same Liberal government and therefore they dare not talk or point the finger at this obvious politically protected group.

So the unpleasantness grows, a liberal social media fuels the invective and the polarized arguments. The farmers in the small towns, arm themselves, preparing for a fight. The farmers demand that individual responsibility and adherence to the laws are a must, something not negotiable.

The result. Fort Battleford which went on to become North Battleford, is now the “most crime plagued city in Canada”. A town of 13,000 surrounded by seven First Nations groups with a total population of around 14,000, are still fighting and the battles may soon turn in to all out war.

The farmer, and the Plains Cree, who once worked together over the last hundred years has inexorably been pushed closer to the gaping chasm where extremists on both sides get the audience and the attention. Can it all be blamed on “colonialism”, or on the perpetration of “residential schools”? Does the 60’s scoop explain alcoholism, abnormally high pregnancy rates, malnutrition, and illiteracy. Not absolutely, it is much too simple an explanation.

The First Nation and Indigenous leaders, who trumpet the need for “reconciliation”, who are quick to cry systemic racism see the only remedy as money and more money.  Separate education, separate justice, separate police, endless health care workers, boundless hospitals and  health systems.

Another truism that never seems to let us down, is that people who have little, see people who have a lot, and they want it too. Two percent (2%)of people in Saskatchewan are on income assistance, while forty-four (44%) per cent of the Indigenous in Saskatchewan are on Federal income assistance. It has created an environment and an addiction to government funds on the part of the Indigenous, while helping fuel a belief that the other side is lazy, not willing to work, not wanting to be part of the larger society.

The Indigenous leaders are quick to jump into any fray, smelling fear in government circles of being branded racist, salivating at settlements way beyond the pale or understanding of the ordinary citizen. But at the same time blindly ignoring the obvious.

Colten Boushie grew up surrounded by alcohol and drugs, not atypical to many reserves.  He talks on Facebook about Red Power interspersed with bragging up the effects of marihuana, all while lamenting the raw deal given to his race.

Colten Boushie died because Colten Boushie grew up surrounded by violence; his banter  more in keeping with the Bloods and the Crips from a land far away.  He had a misguided bravery,  fuelled no doubt by a ridiculous video game level of understanding of that violence and its outcomes. To his group violence was heroic, copied from mediums which were far removed from their personal situations. Spewing toughness, “Fuckn punk d lee duck you talk shit back it up nigga I’m always on my tos come on niggah”, (Facebook – April 24, 2016) when none may have existed.

Colten Boushie’s uncle, his mother’s brother Colin Leonard Baptiste was found guilty of a home invasion in 1994 looking for gas and money. They put two people, Gordon Tetarenko and Bryan Kipp, in separate rooms, and then he and his co-accused Ron Coldwell individually shot them dead with a rifle. Colin was only 23 and served only two years for his murder conviction.

Stewart Baptiste was the Chief of the Red Pheasant Reserve and in 2012 was re-elected finding out from his jail cell where he had been put for breach of probation, and driving while disqualified.

Colten Boushie through no choice of his own grew up surrounded by violence and poverty. He did not have a chance.

The government talks about the “over representation of Aboriginal peoples in correctional services” as if it was a vote. Let us be clear, Saskatchewan aboriginal incarceration rates are reflective of who is doing the crime, who are committing the offences. They are not all innocent, they are not victims, they are hard core criminals, no different than any gang banger or a Hells Angel.

The government of see no evil will not go there. They say things like, the need for an “equitable justice” system. They want policies that address the “representation” of Aboriginal people in the justice system. They make it sound like a misunderstanding that they need to correct.

The Reserves like the ghettos of Jamestown in Toronto, the downtown eastside of Vancouver, are festering pits of violence, fueled by alcohol and drugs and mental illness. This is where criminal activity is bred. There are parts of Winnipeg in the north section which have greater crime rates than the Compton area of Los Angelas.

With over 600 Nations, speaking 60 different languages, they are not a united front, nor one where each nation is equal. Some reserves are heavily involved in the 21st century, building apartment complexes, developing their own pipelines, their own businesses. The others are living in poverty where the dialogue is representative of ghetto rap. They are often being governed by corrupt management and over paid chiefs and “development officers”. Some drive Mercedes while others have no covered windows in their residence.

Some Indigenous are using their political connections to a huge advantage, gaining air miles continually being summoned to Ottawa for their viewpoint. The others are smuggling cigarettes, have no running water, are drinking copier fluid, and breaking into cars in the city for spare change.

Which all leads to what is believed to be a pretty obvious certainty. If there is a chance to stem this growing civil unrest than there needs to be a meeting half-way. Personal responsibility by Indigenous leaders and by their followers must enter the equation.

In this country which is often referred to as a cultural and social mosaic, there is no room for one group having greater rights than others. Each in their own sphere allowed to grow and cultivate their culture and language, but not to the detriment of others. A single set of laws acting as a binder, property rights recognized, but holding to central tenets of decency and honesty.  A respect for others must be re-gained. Assimilation not domination. There is no room for a separate state in Canada.

The Indigenous leadership needs to be held responsible for their people and the actions of their people. The radical statements and cultivating a culture of being owed, of everything being blamed on racism must end.  They need to address issues on these reserves. They need to gain control of their youth, the monies they are receiving need to be distributed down and put to the people directly. The government needs to monitor and audit that spending giving it a chance to be accountable and visible to all.

And it is then and only then that the other side will get out from under a siege  mentality. Once there is a recognition of an attempt to be accountable, only then will it be possible for a reconciliation. Calm measured voices from both sides need to meet in the middle.

In the meantime the farmers will continue to arm themselves and the Indigenous youth will continue to mimic their gangster kin, still destined statistically for a Regina jail.

Colten Boushie and his family, living in squalid conditions, no sense of a future, no  reason for participating, surrounded by a family who seemed to be hinging their future on “reconciliation” and what they believed the government owed them.

Glimpsing Colten’s facebook is in many ways similar to what one would expect from any immature early 20’s male. Random often non-sensical thoughts, but with repetitive themes of boredom, the beauty of marihuana, and the lack of money. But interspersed with comments no doubt particular to Indigenous youth; Red Power, the wanna be affiliation with gangster style and music. Their “bros” are their lifeblood. One friend brags about his friend “doing 25 to life in the Federal pen”

Always newsworthy when the cops are on “the rez”… “a good morning to all back in the saddle again middle finger up to the law” (Colten Boushie on Facebook July 27, 2016) ” and often brave talk of dying or the willingness to live on the edge.

“Its a good day to ride or die” (Colten Boushie on Facebook July 28, 2016)

“Back in the saddle again throw my middle finger up to the law, ain’t gotta rob nobody tonight but I do it just because I’m a nut i get bored did some pills but I want more fuck this world fuck this town” – (Colten Boushie on Facebook April 29, 2016.)

Until the Indigenous leadership recognizes and takes some responsibility for the problems on the Reserves and only when everyone can openly talk about the criminal element which saturates the Reserves and blinds people to real solutions, only then will there be hope.

The current Federal government doesn’t see the storm, only appeasing one part of the equation. This is a Federal Justice Minister who was an advocate for the Indigenous in her previous life and it is obvious to all that she is compromised. She is clearly an advocate of a separate state, a separate set of laws. She has no credibility with one half of the two sides that need to come together. The Poles, Ukranians, Estonians and others who also and equally “settled” this country need to be recognized and have a voice. They are after all the majority.

To do otherwise is a recipe for disaster. Blood is being and will continue to be spilled. The extremists on both sides need to be ignored and reasonable arbiters need to come forward.

Sylvia McAdam from the Big River First Nation in Saskatchewan and a co-founder of the IdleNoMore Movement was typical in her statements, saying after the Colten Boushie verdict that “There’s something very rotten to the core about what’s happening in Saskatchewan”. She’s right, but she is part of the problem, not the solution.

The truth and the road to understanding is in the facts buried just beneath the rhetoric.  Only an honest assessment by honest leaders will pull both sides out of this ever downward spiral.

As Henry David Thoreau said “It takes two to speak the truth..one to speak and the other to hear”.

Photo Courtesy of Mark Goebel via Creative Commons Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case of the Missing 100 Police Officers…

The RCMP in almost every field of endeavour for the last several years has been beaten up, the badge tarnished; the criticisms coming fast and furious, sometimes unfair, but more than often deserved.

They, meaning the management of the RCMP,  have been displaying a lack of operational understanding, often proving themselves to be ineffectual in times of crisis or at critical investigational junctures. This has been in combination with an embarrassing lack of leadership in terms of managing their own personnel.

The RCMP’s inability to solve crimes, their inability to bring terrorists to successful trial conclusions, their inability to defend Parliament hill,  and their inability to appreciate and anticipate sexual harassment civil suits costing hundreds of millions of dollars, have left this once proud organization, this policing icon to the world in shambles. Piece by piece it is being exposed and stomped on, while being watched over and supervised by ineffectual governments.

The current group of managers extoll the qualities of political correctness, strive at being inclusive; they are not known for principled steadfastness, successful investigations or timely intelligence gathering.

The RCMP does not operate in a vacuum. If internal ineptness is not enough they are also being hampered and hindered on several fronts, whether it is the judiciary and the Jordan rule, prosecution services hiding behind “substantial likelihood of conviction”, or a simple lack of resources and an absence of  human relations policies.

The incestuous world of RCMP upper management is now being governed by a new leader, one known apparently for her inclusiveness, and as recently announced her willingness to go along with the mandate of the Liberal government. She has effectively declared herself a follower, not a hoped for leader.

Present day officers have been suffering for years from a flawed promotional and staffing system, an unsupportive  management and an infusion of political correctness that has left this organization confused, struggling with 21st century issues, and in need of a complete re-build.

Many wonder how the RCMP has lost its way in such a profound manner?

The RCMP is being buffeted by wave after wave of 21st century standards and policies being forced upon a 20th century stultified organization. Nowhere is this more evident than at their flagship for operational policing in Canada, the Surrey detachment of the RCMP, its largest operational Detachment.

Located at 14355 57th Ave., in Surrey, British Columbia, its city sculpted flowered entrance belies a troubled organization. Behind this somewhat imposing concrete bunker style building the problems battering the RCMP play themselves out on a daily basis.

As any quantitative researcher will tell you, numbers matter, and an examination of the statistics coming out of this office are enlightening. (After a year long wait, an Access to Information request was recently received.)  Questions have been asked about the makeup of the detachment, the deployment of resources to see what could be found out from this rather secretive group. It is believed that Surrey is an example of what is going wrong within the RCMP in terms of its operational capabilities.

First: the population of Surrey has been growing.  In 2006, the population of Surrey was at 394,080; in 2016 the population was 530,443 an increase of 34% in those 10 years. So you may assume that there must have been a requisite change or increase in the number of occurrences or operational files generated by the RCMP just based on the increase in population? More people, more problems? (Most policing agencies base their requests for further manpower on the numbers, the more people the greater the need for officers, based on a police/per person ratio of anywhere from 1/600 to 1/900 for example)  However, if you look closer you will find a different story.

The actual number of  operational investigational files generated by calls for service went from 162,973 in 2006 to 185,801 in 2016.  That is only a 14% increase. How can this be explained?

One theory is that the reporting of actual crime has dropped. Businesses in Whalley for example, which have been broken into a number of times simply are not reporting them anymore, keeping the numbers at an artificial low. Difficult to measure for sure, but the anecdotal evidence is strong.

It is also possible that the makeup of the population is changing;  is Surrey becoming a wealthier suburb of Vancouver? Is the criminal element shifting further east? Also possible but not being measured as of yet.

So if the occurrences are not growing, because those numbers show an occurrence rate growing at only 1.5% per year, what about the actual types of crime: comparing the years  2006 with  2015.

                                 *2006                            2015

**Homicide                 11                                 15

Assaults                  4,909                              3464

Robbery                   670                              762

Abduction                144                                 45

Crim. Harassment   1, 708                          1,907

B &E                          4675                              3786

Theft MV                 4,769                              3,291

Total thefts             15,068                           15,262

*All Stats are from the RCMP Web sites. ** One should also note that homicides in Surrey are handled by IHIT, not resources of Surrey Detachment.

These are just a few examples listed on the RCMP Web site. What is striking is that the numbers are pretty similar even though nine years of growth have occurred. The crimes of 2006 are the crimes of 2015. Some went up, some went down, and in the totals: Criminal Code offences per population as measured in 2006 was 113.91; in 2015 that number was 97.74.

The 10 year average was down overall. So if one were to generalize, you would have to lean to the fact that the crime rate has actually decreased during this time period.

So if the investigational files generated has only grown by 14% in terms of actual calls to the police, then should we not expect to find that the Detachment has grown accordingly?  The actual detachment size has grown at a staggering rate, despite the drop in crime and a very meagre growth in investigational calls, and despite cries for more officers.

The number of personnel now working in Surrey Detachment during this time period has grown by f 41.069 % .

The annual budget for the Surrey RCMP has gone to $144,981,000.00 in 2017. This is roughly 45% of the Surrey municipal government’s overall budget.

If we examine just one of the ranks in the building, the Sargeants for instance they have gone from 29 in 2006 to 73 in 2017. In strict pay dollars that amounts to an increase in spending on Sargeants who make a salary of $102,715 (not counting overtime) from $2,978,735 in 2006 to $7,498,195 in 2017.

The number of personnel working in the Detachment in all capacities has grown from 570 in 2006 to 837 in 2017.

There is a general theory in policing, that boots on the ground matter. The “broken window” theory of policing as espoused by the New York Police Department to great effect has become an accepted belief. That if you look after the small crimes, the rest will come naturally.  In looking at the growth in Surrey detachment you would probably assume that the streets of Surrey are heavily policed. A police car and an officer on every corner.

One must bear in mind, that the face of operational policing in any detachment is the uniform personnel. They are the ones that take the calls, patrol the streets, and conduct the  majority of the investigations that are generated day to day. The RCMP management continually call it the “backbone” of the RCMP.

The RCMP does not seem to agree or go along with the “broken window theory”.  Remember the cries for help and the 100 new officers that were being promised in the wake of the murder of middle aged mom, Julie Paskall outside the Newton Wave Pool?  The Surrey RCMP decried the lack of resources but promised all would be solved by an increase of 100 officers. (a perfectly round number and one wonders what formula came up with this)

Unfortunately what they say and do is quite different. For the last number of years and possibly decades, the uniform personnel have been treated as 2nd class citizens, and the RCMP management has taken this opportunity to enhance their plain clothes establishment, increasing the numbers and increasing the promotions, growing the policing empire. Upper management at this Detachment have thoroughly bought into the theory that everyone is a specialist, policing is more sophisticated, more in need of specialized education and investigation to combat the overwhelming problems of policing. They have become more of a Federal government department, fat with oversight, fat with overtime, fat with jobs that seemingly grow more distant from the actual job needs. They have lost sight of the core job of policing a City like Surrey.

All officers start on the streets, in uniform, but after three or four year service, most of the current crop of officers believe that their career path has to mean going to a specialized unit. The demographics of the last twenty years with senior officers leaving in droves, means that officers who once stayed on the road in uniform for 12-15 years have been replaced by officers of  3 or 4 years service. And these junior officers, in this environment feel that they should be promoted earlier and be allowed to go to these specialized units much earlier. The current experience of officers on the road has decreased to a significant and marked degree. With seniority declining, the level of experienced supervision has also declined.

According to our filed Request for Information, in 2014, the total police establishment in Surrey was 703. According to the statistics provided by them,  there were 276 officers assigned to General Duty (uniform) for Surrey Detachment.

Remembering there are 4 Watches, that would mean on paper, 69 officers per watch. Unfortunately the RCMP is being misleading.

In actual fact for the years 2011 to 2017 the numbers on the Watch are actually between 40 and if being generous, 50 officers. So 20 or so officers per Watch, have been taken from the uniform side, and also seconded to specialized units. By simply moving the position numbers to the secondary units.

In 2011, when personally last in Surrey, we had difficulty sometimes putting 35 officers on the road, and were routinely calling in officers on overtime to reach the unwritten “minimum” of 35.

Nothing has changed much since 2011. Patrol officers continue to be swamped, unable to obtain meal breaks, unable to get done their 12 hour shift without an extra two hours of paperwork. They were and continue to be over-worked.

If off for prolonged sick leave, or for maternity leave, there is no replacement member put in their stead.

Meanwhile the Detachment managers have for years have been consumed by growth and the perks and enhancements that come with it. The upper echelon have come up through the plainclothes ranks and have become adept on growing departments, padding the payroll, and increasing the promotions, while on the road the uniform numbers remain virtually unchanged, sometimes at dangerous levels.

The  “plainclothes sections”, rule the ship, taking their coffee breaks, lunch breaks, and throwing in a little time for the gym.  Overtime is selective and plentiful. It is “easy street” in comparison to working in uniform.

These are the two worlds in the RCMP; both revolving in the same police universe, but seemingly unconnected. Pepper spray and tasers on one side,  the laptop on the other side. The specialists are not encumbered by a gun belt with the numerous tools of the day, never tied to a radio demanding attention and attendance. They are sometimes “affectionately” referred to as the “carpet cowboys”. It is only natural that they lose site of, and then can not relate to the uniform officer in Estevan Saskatchewan, or the officer patrolling the King George Hwy in Surrey.

In this same orbit, is the uniform officer; tied to the radio, tied to the need for answering calls for service, tied to 12 hour shifts, infinite court, and infinite reporting.

This era of specialization is a mantra, it has taken hold and this general aggrandizement of the roles and ranks of the operations is now firmly ensconced. The Federal and Provincial governments buy the propaganda put out by policing managers giving credence to the theory that if you repeat something enough times, eventually everyone will come to believe it.

So with this increase in sophistication, the argument will be that they are more successful,  it would mean more prosecutions, more success in the courts? Have  prosecutions in Surrey have increased?

In the Annual Report for the Prosecution Service in British Columbia, in  2014/15 there were 59,447 number of accused persons approved to Court in all of B.C. In 2016/17 there were 63,733, a 6% increase.

In 2014 Professor Curt Taylor Griffiths of the Criminology Department at SFU did a study and found that Surrey had the “lowest crime clearance rates” in the Lower Mainland. Also, remember that this was the time that Surrey Detachment was asking and got “100 more officers”.

So clearly all this increased specialization, this increase in manpower, this increase in all these tactical units has not led to a great increase in prosecutions.

So where are those 100 officers that was going to be a solution to all the shootings and the increased crime around Newton.?  They arrived but you can’t see them.

This disappearing magic act is easily explained.  The officers who arrived quickly became absorbed in the operational monolith.  The uniform officers already on the road took this time to apply for and get assigned to plainclothes, to be replaced by these brand new officers. So the detachment numbers increased, not the uniform officers on the road.

The numbers grew inside the building, not on the outside which was the public’s expectation.  There was no increase in the number of “boots on the ground”, which was what was being promised. The taxpayers were duped. More “carpet cowboys” were created, maybe a new Sgt position.

So in this age of declining violent crime, (in 2016 it dropped 16%, in 2017 it dropped an additional 8%) how is that this detachment continues to grow, expand its promotions, expand its core base, and add to the increasing cost of policing in Surrey? How is it that the actual police presence on the road is static, while the ability to respond for calls for service remains virtually the same over the last several years, and the experience on the road is dwindling as is the supervision?

The Surrey Detachment flagship is a reflection of the policing times we find ourselves, and a reflection of the “new” management. Specialization, talking of diversity and inclusiveness, telling the governments of the day what they want to hear.

Uniform policing in the RCMP, its very core, is dying a slow death while bureaucracy rules. Growth of the mandate, growth of the secondary roles is more glamorous, more in keeping with a certain level of sophistication. It is safer, less in the public eye, less risk for a risk averse management group.

Meanwhile day to day policing is looked down upon, where people get sent if they are in trouble. Day to day policing is un-glamorous, 12 hour shifting, working on holidays, endless report writing, Crown Prosecutions sheets prepped while dog tired, all of which will be wrapped in legal arguments to be played out in courts for days on end.

Couple an inability to deliver a core service with thousands of claims of sexual harassment, internal investigations that would make many blush, unionization on the horizon, and unbridled self-promotion and you get a sense of further impending chaos with little or no sense of an ending.  To the old observers and former participants it is futile, doomed to an awkward death.

To the few that hang on; the few that continue to work hard, continue to put the job ahead of their life and their family, they just shake their heads. They keep forging ahead, hoping that someone will care— one of these days.

As to those 100 officers that were received to solve the street policing problem in Newton; don’t look for them on the street. They haven’t actually disappeared. Go down to the detachment and peer in the windows facing 144th Street. That’s where they are, through the tinted glass.

And when you next see four police cars of baby faced officers, sitting in the Tim Hortons at 2 in the morning on Fraser Hwy, having their break of coffee and cruellers, don’t think ill of them. They are not being supported and it is probably their first break in a 12 hour shift. During their fitful sleeps between day and night shifts, sugar plum fairies are not dancing in their heads, they are dreaming of being able to one day sit behind those windows on 144th St. They want to be part of the new policing.

(In terms of full disclosureSurrey Detachment  it was this writer’s home for 10 years. It is my alma mater, and I look back with fondness of my years spent there. I worked in uniform and in plainclothes)

Photo courtesy of Flickr via Commons by FB Some Rights Reserved

Some follow-up

In recent days, Surrey has once again been hit with a string of shootings, one case of particular concern, as the victim appears to be completely innocent; a case of mistaken identity. (This is not the first case of mistaken identity in Surrey over the years as a point of fact). The media are re-acting on talk shows and on television to this latest outpouring of violence.

The RCMP management team in Surrey led by Dwayne MacDonald have provided the expected reaction.  In a rehearsed statement talking about his sadness and outrage and promising to bring the perpetrators to justice.  And in a cute deflection move, released pics of some gangsters who have been shot at recently, and telling the public to avoid hanging around them. Really? He also reiterates how the Surrey Detachment Gang Enforcement Team is “working” with CFSEU. Again, the specialized units who target these individuals over long periods of time is going to solve this, the theme being just trust us we are working hard. He assures everyone that they are “making headway” and they are “strategically targeting” the wrong doers and of course he is asking for “the community to join us in this effort”

There are rumblings developing and judging by the hits on this blog from police and politicians, some people are now seeing the problem of being of one of deployment rather than resources. Current Surrey mayor candidate Tom Gill is calling for a re-assessing the RCMP contract in terms of how the resources are deployed. There have been a call for a “beat program”.  There are even a few persons calling for a regional or city force to replace the RCMP.

The RCMP, if they do not adapt and change are going to go down. MacDonald’s platitudes despite his best intentions are tired, well-worn and of little value. Put away the talk of community “initiatives”, “strategies”, “targeting”, “community effort”, “youth initiatives” and “more resources”.  My advice, get back to the core of policing , put officers on the street. It really is not complicated.

 

 

Personal Story – “Heather” Part VII

On hearing the new living arrangements of Shane Ertmoed, I will admit that my first reaction was to drop the “f” bomb a few times, something which was not unusual if you had ever worked with me, but maybe these ones had a little more emphasis and artistry behind them, and I did manage to string quite a few together in sequence.  Of course, after I took a couple of breaths, I realized that I needed to now sell our ability to prevent another child from being hurt, when a five year old girl, was now living steps away from a homicide suspect, with only a ceiling separating them.

So at 8 that morning, in a briefing with upper management, I argued two points which would hopefully allow us to continue on course for the remaining few days. First, surveillance of the new residence was able to determine that there was a separate entry to Mr. Ertmoed’s apartment; which meant that if he tried to gain access to the upper floor, where the 5 year old lived, he would have to first come outside and then go up a separate set of stairs. Secondly and more importantly, the girl was only 5, and therefore was never left alone, and a parent or an adult would always be in the immediate presence of the girl.

The argument was accepted, albeit with some trepidation, but we were allowed to continue on. Needless to say the surveillance team was now under an even greater pressure, especially at night, when visibility to the residence was greatly limited.

(Unbeknownst to me,  I would find out later that one of my manager’s, in an effort to placate the concerns of upper management, took it upon himself to go the landlord of this residence in Langley, and advise him of our homicide target now living in his rented out house. This manager, who will remain nameless,  did not tell me or any of the investigators that he was about to break the police silence on our target, and in effect, jeopardize our entire operational plan. The landlord as it turns out, liked the RCMP, and decided not to tell his tenants right away, to allow us a few days as had been requested. So in the end, we survived this transgression by one of our own but anger would not sufficiently describe my reaction on finding out. My meeting, or confrontation, with this boss did not help my career aspirations I am sad to report. )

As the interview and arrest team continued their preparations, we were also busy with the reporting, the Report to Crown Counsel, and our ending Operational Plan. Other investigational results continued to come in, continued to be reviewed, evaluated, and re-assigned if necessary.

The interview team was in full bloom by Wednesday. The “team”was in its infancy in those days, just having come together more as a think tank, and there was little doubt that this case would be its biggest in terms of the investigational scope, and clearly they would be measured by the outcome and their role. This was the first time that I would not be calling on actual file investigators for the interview,  feeling that a fresh set of eyes, a physically fresh group, a group which did nothing more than concentrate on the interview was a concept worth trying. Greg Bishop who was a member of the team from the North Vancouver detachment was chosen as the primary interviewer, he was going to be the actual “guy in the room” with Shane.

Greg, was similar in stature to Shane Ertmoed, and he had also played junior football like Shane, who as we now learned had played briefly for the Vernon junior football team. (we were interested to learn that Shane would have a large equipment bag when playing football) In fact, Greg bore a resemblance to Shane. Greg’s interest in conducting interviews had begun in North Vancouver detachment, where he specifically took an interest in interviewing sex offenders. This led him to join the interview team. Greg had not interviewed many if any at all homicide suspects.

So it was a bit of a risk, but I was convinced they were going to go to incredible efforts and a better prepared group would not be found. Even two psychologists were hired to take part in the developing of a psychological profile of Shane.

By Wednesday, November 1st, at the end of the day, the interview team sat in the board room with Chris and I, and all the other investigators. For three hours everyone tossed about ideas as to approaches and themes that may work with Shane based on what facts we knew about the case. It was a worthwhile exercise, and what was clearly evident was that almost everyone had taken some ownership of this file, they were all personally invested.

By now we had confirmed that the prints that had been found in Shane’s apartment were not those of Heather, they were a small childs, but who exactly would never be determined. Some minor blood stains which had been found near the bed, also turned out to not be matched to Heather. Blood stains that had been found in the car were also negative.

As to the gymn bag, the Lab was examining the handles and had now identified three DNA samples, and they were now “cooking them”. In layman’s terms this meant that a series of filters were being used to get to the pure sample of DNA. The problem was that this cooking process, this cleaning may actually remove too much, and we may be left with no core sample of DNA. It was a risk that we had no choice but to take.

Some hair had also been found in the bag, but the Lab testing and their eventual results  would be at least another seven days. So any results would not be available to the investigators until after the arrest. Crown counsel would have to take a flyer as to whether we would get positive results in considering charge approval.

Also by this time, we had gone back to Shane’s Cloverdale address and rented the same apartment, allowing our forensic investigators to re-visit the site, but now they could do so with no time constraint or having to anticipate Shane’s return home.

It was also on this day that the funeral was held for Heather in Surrey. Cpl Janice Armstrong, our primary media person, attended along with our Forensic Ident group, who made a pretence of filming the crowd. This is often done by police in the event that the suspect shows up. In this case, we knew where he was, however, a lack of police presence may twig an astute media journalist who may find it strange that the police were not among the crowd.  So far our secret seemed to be holding.

Wednesday quickly led into Thursday, and our report teams were up to date, and the arrest team was now prepared and ready to go once given the word. Our deadline for the arrest was Friday at 5:00 pm.

Thursday morning began with a flurry, when we learned that investigators had uncovered some letters from the complex garbage bins, hand written by what we believed was a young girl to “Shane”. They were able to quickly identify the girl and she and the father came into the office to speak with us. In the interview the girl, probably frightened, probably leery of her present father, would not elaborate on the “diary” letters. It seemed highly likely though, that Shane had befriended other girls in the complex, not a calming notion, but one would have to wait for a few days in terms of searching for other possible victims.

The afternoon also brought some more disquieting news, from the news media itself. Janice Armstrong, our media spokesperson came to meet to discuss a phone call she just received. A reporter was calling to say that they knew we were about to make an arrest, and they knew who we would be arresting!

Clearly our boast of having no leaks to date was now untrue, and our ability to stay on the timeline may now have been jeopardized. The reporter was seeking a comment from the RCMP and the story would be running that night on the 6 o’clock news. However, they wanted to make a deal.

If we allowed them to film the arrest, they would hold off until Friday to go to press.

We played out the various scenarios out loud, the what ifs, and I kept going back to my belief that they likely had one source, thus the need for comment from the police to confirm or deny. They needed confirmation because to go with such an explosive story without doubling their sources could prove devastating (at that time it was well known that news people would not run a story with only one source, sadly, that is not the case today). A final decision was made, we decided we would not have a comment; we would not confirm or deny. No deals would be made.

Of course at 6 o’clock that night, we raptly watched the VTV news, to see if our gamble had paid off.  If they broke the news, then we would need to arrest Shane Ertmoed that night and not as planned. As the headlines scrolled up, the background music intensified, but there was no mention of any arrest. The bluff seemed to have worked, so as we headed out the door that night for a few hours of rest breathing a little easier.

Friday, the 3rd of November arrived.  At 11 that morning I briefed all of upper management of the days activities that were coming, laid out our operational “plan” and the procedures that we were going to follow in terms of the arrest, and subsequent interview.

At 1200 noon, the Crown approved charges under Section 235(1) of the Criminal Code.  1st degree murder. This was the last piece of the operational puzzle that we needed prior to the arrest. So at 3:00 we briefed the arrest team and had them attend to await Shane Ertmoed’s return from work, outside his current residence at 206th and 44 A Avenue in Langley.

Chris and I could do nothing now but wait, so we drove to the perimeter area of the residence, a couple of blocks short of the house, occupied ourself with idle chat and  monitored the surveillance and arrest teams. The calm before the media storm,  waiting for that final radio transmission “subject in custody”.

Of course no arrest ever goes according to a book. The surveillance team lost him briefly for the first time in two weeks. Then they found him again. At 6:00 pm as darkness was falling and the air had become cooler, in this suburban residential area of Langley, with its tree-lined streets, and 1980 style homes Shane Ertmoed arrived home. A passenger in his commuting partner’s vehicle. Just as he stepped out of the vehicle, a plain clothes officer grabbed him by the arm and eased him out, and put up against the police vehicle, There was no struggle or resistance. On being told he was under arrest for murder, he feigned surprise, but said little else, and he was placed in the back of a van where members of the interview team awaited for the drive back to the Surrey detachment.

At 6:05 the local radio station, CKNW, was already broadcasting that an arrest had been made, and as we approached the Surrey detachment, media trucks were waiting at every intersection trying to identify the vehicle that Shane may have been in. They clearly now had their confirmation.

That evening, a press conference was held, where our managers took the podium to announce the arrest, pose for the usual congratulatory pictures, provide the usual “unable to comment at this time” to questions and provided the fodder for the 30 second sound bites. We stood at the back of the room able to hear, but out of sight, some of the adrenaline now draining away. A lot of work was looming ahead, but some satisfaction creeped in, temporarily blocking thoughts as to the further efforts that were going to be needed.

Shane spent the night in a jail cell, with an undercover roommate that had been arranged for him (in the event he would be stupid enough to say something); eating a microwaved meat pie and drinking instant coffee, no doubt preparing for the next day as well.

As he was watched on the cellblock video monitors, listened to on the audio coming from the implanted mikes in cell block, he didn’t seem scared. Was he struggling to control his thoughts, trying to steady his  physical mannerisms, nonchalant, unperturbed by what had just happened to him?

As evening turned to night he curled up under the grey prisoner blanket and went to sleep, snoring slightly.

 

Photo Courtesy of Les Bazso of Vancouver Province newspaper Some Rights Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” Part V

It was just two days since Heather had been found, and I was sitting, head down in a concentrated effort to get through the neatly arranged stack of reports, fighting the late afternoon doldrums, when I was approached by Gary Burke. Gary, was a former troop mate of mine who was currently working for the E Division Major Crime team, and their unit had been brought in to help.

Gary always had a smile on his face, whether delivering good news or bad news,  but as he plunked himself down in front of me, his grin was a little wider, he looked like he might burst. “I think we have something good for you” he said.

He began to tell me his story. Two investigators in his unit, Laura Livingstone, and Randy Hundt had just called from the road. They had some promising information on a lead they were following up on in the Maple Ridge area.

The day before, a Maple Ridge dispatcher had called our desk. She, like everyone else it seemed had been watching the tragic news and the recovery of Heather in the Park.  She had strong recollections of the day Heather had actually disappeared, and in fact had been working in Maple Ridge on that same date, when Surrey announced the search for Heather in Cloverdale on October 1st.

Hearing that Heather had now been found in Maple Ridge, more importantly in her detachment area was numbing.  She began to replay the time and events of those days in early October, the files she may have dispatched at that time. Disconcertingly I suspect,  she thought she remembered having had a call that day, one specifically concerning  Golden Ears park. It stood out in her memory as the Park was usually quiet at that time of year.

She was hazy on the details, remembering it being something about a vehicle. As she sat home that night reflecting on the news it continued to bother her. She needed to find out more and  try and fill in the blanks for her sake even if there was nothing to it. So she drove down to the Maple Ridge detachment to try and find the dispatch ticket.

She found the ticket by scrolling through the daily dispatch tickets, but it was actually on October 2nd, not the 1st, that she had the call that involved Golden Ears park. It quickly came back to her as she re-read the information.  It was in fact a call of a reported “suspicious vehicle” that  had been called in by park staff working there.  The dispatch information was brief, but indicated that an officer had in fact been dispatched, but there was no licence plate, and the eventual patrols closed the file saying that the vehicle was G.O.A. Gone on Arrival.

Nevertheless, even though she was let down somewhat, she called our office saying that we might want to look into it further, if possible.  So a new investigative tip was created, as were many that day, and Laura and Randy had been given the assignment to see if they could do any follow up on it.

Before I go any further I should point out that Laura is an extremely affable person which often belied an intelligent and investigative mind. Randy, a big guy with a flair for practical jokes, was smart, as stubborn as I, and a no holds barred approach to investigations. Paired up as they were on this date, it could be assumed that they would not miss anything, there would be no cutting of corners, or an un-checked investigative path.

They pulled the old dispatch ticket and identified the complainants as the campground workers; Mike Zabaglia, Michelle Mackie, Kyle Johnson and Stuart Paul.

So Randy and Laura set about finding and speaking with the workers, and they learned that: on October 2nd at 0650 in the morning, the employees were driving into the park heading to their office to pick up their respective work vehicles.

As they drove in their car pool, a slow moving “big boat” of a car appeared in front of them, the driver wearing a hoodie.  It was difficult to pass, so they followed it for quite awhile, until about 1 km south of the boat launch. They thought the behaviour was rather strange, but on they went to the office, got their vehicles and headed out, some going south towards the entrance to the park; in other words back from where they had just come.

One employee, began his work assignment, and was driving back towards the entrance to the park, and is somewhat startled to see this same questionable vehicle, this time parked, also facing south. The hood was up but no driver could be seen in or around the vehicle.

So the park employee drives by but calls on his radio into the office, and reports this second sighting. It was agreed that it was too suspicious to ignore, and decided to call the local police to see if they could come and check on the vehicle.

Meanwhile a second employee around 1030 or 1100, also driving towards the entrance to the park, and after hearing the previous report of the vehicle being parked alongside the road, had driven by and noticed that the vehicle was no longer pulled over on the roadside. So he continues on, heading to do some work at the boat launch area.

As he drives into the normally deserted parking area, there is the vehicle again. This time parked on the boat ramp, again with no sign of the driver in the area. He too calls into the office via his radio, and gives them the updated information.

The Maple Ridge RCMP were now sending a police officer to check it out some the employee continues on his work schedule, and eventually leaves the boat ramp area. The vehicle was still parked and vacant on the ramp as he left.

More minutes go by and now this same employee circles back to the boat launch as much out of curiosity as anything else, but as he approaches the general vicinity of the boat launch, he meets the suspicious vehicle, now heading out of the park, this time driving at about 80 kms an hour. He later describes the vehicle as “large”, and “blue or grey” in colour.

Needless to say by the time the RCMP patrol they do not find the vehicle. Too much time had passed prior to their arrival. The officer concludes his file, typing GOA into the electronic dispatch system. A routine call had ended with little or no effort.

Laura and Randy press on with their inquiries, and they learn from one employee that he thought they had written down the plate number, possibly on one of the park log books, but he could not be certain. They decide to go back with the employee, now with their interest slightly peeked, to try and locate the logbook.  Sure enough they find the logbook. And there in a corner of the book, under the date of October 2nd, there is a hand written inscription, written at an angle along the edge of the page simply stating  “DRE -666”. Clearly a licence plate number.

Now hearing the numbers 666, if you don’t know, it is often referred to as the number of the “Beast” in the New Testament; a symbol of the devil, or used to invoke the devil, a symbol of the anti-christ.  So at this stage of the story it gives me a bit of a pause and I look at my story teller with a raised eyebrow.  To say that I was not in the mood for a black humoured prank would have been an understatement. “No, No” Gary says, picking up on my look. And then he goes on with the story.

The vehicle licence plate, now checked, comes back to a 1971 Chevrolet Impala ( a big boat of a car would be a fitting description), green, and the registered owner was one:

Shane Ertmoed, born December 22nd, 1977. making him 23 years old at this time.  The vehicle was associated through registration records to an address in Vernon.

But it got better, as Gary continued. They had learned on October 2nd, one day after the disappearance of Heather, and on the day that the vehicle was spotted in Golden Ears Park, Mr. Ertmoed had renewed his drivers licence, and dutifully provided his new address, which was now:

Unit #8 at 17700 60th Avenue, Cloverdale, British Columbia. The same address as Heather’s complex.

We both exhaled, and I sat back in the chair, Gary just looking at me. A few seconds went by in silence as if by talking we would have broken a magic spell, the news too good to be true. If I was tired before, that was now all gone. A nervous energy began to build in both Chris and I, as we began to realize the enormity of this information. We may have just caught the the break of our lives. Another mistake by the suspect may have just been uncovered, a big mistake.

Coincidence is defined as a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection. I don’t believe in coincidences, never have, and I did not believe for a moment that this was going to turn out to be a coincidence.

Was it possible that an individual named Shane Ertmoed, who lived in the same complex as Heather, just happened to go for a drive in a park some 40 kilometres away, one day after her disappearance, and it was the same remote park where Heather was found half-naked floating face down in the lake?

Although all the neurons were now firing, I still  needed to restrain initial impulses, needed to be alive to it actually being a coincidence and nothing more. I needed to be alive to the fear of all investigators, the dreaded “tunnel vision”.

After briefing the investigative team, we all headed home around ten that night, exhausted but needing a rest from the marathon, but a marathon that now had become a head long sprint.

There was also one thought that overrode the excitement of the day, one idea, one realization that seemed to be intent on beating the investigative break Gods into submission.

There was no evidence.

We had nothing.

We had a young male that we suspected was involved, but nothing tying him to Heather. No evidence to tie him to the killing in any way, other than proximity to two separate and diverse crime scenes. To know of him, to identify a possible child killer and to not be able to prove it may be a worse fate than not knowing at all.

Exhaustion provided a few hours of sleep, but a very early morning was met with the same mangled thoughts, the testing and re-testing of investigative options, most reviewed and discarded in a few seconds.

But from this filtering and deciphering, this constant give and take, clouded with fatigue,  resuscitated by coffee, something emerged.

I now had a plan.

It was a relatively simple plan, a plan reliant on a single elemental investigative tool, but a tool relished by investigators. We still had the element of surprise.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons via Flickr by John Lambert Pearson entitled “Clue” Some Rights Reserved

 

 

 

Diversity vs Merit…planned discrimination?

The term, affirmative action, in the 1960’s was a dictate given to the Government of the United States under then President John Kennedy to hire or give equal opportunity to the disadvantaged, to hire “without regard for race, religion and national origin”.  It was often designed to compensate for past discrimination, persecution, or exploitation by the ruling class.

A laudable goal to be sure, as the intention was to pull up those that were disadvantaged, to take away any roadblocks that kept some down and not able to compete in the economic world of the day. It was a typical liberal policy reflective of those times, it was  “Camelot” and the Kennedy era, where equality and fairness were the principle objectives and would be emblematic of the ensuing two decades of U.S. policy. It was the era in which I grew up and came to self-identify. It was the era when governmental change was an instrument of good and it was a time when people wanted to give back.

The goal of  affirmative action advocated a generational change, a lengthy process to be sure. Not to be accomplished overnight, or even over a single Presidential term. In almost all circumstances, a formative change actually requires patience, and it requires a cultural change.

If these goals outlined by Kennedy and to a smaller extent by Pearson in Canada in the 1960s were to reach fruition, then there needed to be education and time. Politicians being what they are in our democratic and fixed term systems are not patient, they want to see and boast about change in shorter windows of time. Long term planning or even projecting out for 10 years is difficult if not impossible, and there in lies the rub.

So “affirmative action” and what it came to mean began to evolve, mainly to suit political need for instant gratification.  They needed to force the issue, to put persons into roles or jobs, or education, earlier than generational change would allow.  Qualifications, or deservedness would have to take a back seat. That some tolerance be built into the selection process, that qualifications be bent and sometimes lowered so that these persons could immediately or quickly fill these roles.

In other words instead of all boats rising with the tide, it became necessary to “favour” certain groups. This re-interpretation of the meaning of affirmative action was not a subtle change, it was one which has had a massive ripple effect.

The world began to follow suit.  Some countries, including the U.S. even began to use a quota system, where a certain percentage of government jobs, political positions, and school vacancies were reserved for specific  members of certain politically chosen groups. And this continues to this day.

Of course this by definition means that not everyone is treated equally and it would be only a matter of time, before some took umbrage with a system, which by its very nature excludes certain individuals, albeit usually the more advantaged groups.

So in most recent years, it has been generally true that countries where there are laws dictating racial and gender “equality”, many of these affirmative action programs which had dictated quotas were now declared illegal. The U.S. courts in particular saying that affirmative action programs  dictate that not all persons are treated equally, and therefore should not be allowed.

However there are countries in the world where quotas are still allowed, and have been used, and continue to be used extensively.

Nathan Glazer in the Harvard Crimson argues that the quota system divides people into categories, into racial, ethnic, and gender profiles. And benefits, and penalties would now adhere to these various compartments. “People would try to advance on the basis of group membership rather than individual capacity”.

In Canada, the politicos sensing some possible rejection of affirmative action and quotas,  began to use a new term, something they believed to be less offensive.  So we now have been programmed to accept the new “diversity”. Diversity, is defined as “the condition of having or being composed of different elements”. The Miriam dictionary then goes on to say that it can mean”the inclusion of different types of people, (such as people of different races or culture)”.

It is government speak for affirmative action in general, and they have replaced the likely illegal “quotas”, with “goals” or “targets”. They play to the “disadvantaged” groups, to try and counter balance a legally tenuous position. There is little argument to the fact that affirmative action is in fact discriminatory. Discrimination defined as “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather on individual merit”.

But whether one agrees or not, we have a government who has become fixated with the need for “diversification.”

Of course the real balancing act is how far does one swing the pendulum, how far and to what level  is for instance, is one prepared to ignore merit in favour of ethnicity, or gender, or a visible minority.  Practically, in terms of hiring or university admissions, it is difficult to give specific policy or guidance as to how one needs to approach the problem without stepping over the line. How does one apply goals or targets without imposing quotas? Very few politicians and bureaucrats seem capable of reflection, they approach it like a quota, easier to apply, and easier to boast about their numbers.

In 2016, the Federal government announced a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown Corporations. It specified that “diversity” was the goal, while it opened up the applications to the public. In other words, it did not set or say the word “quota”  per se but encouraged the government mandarins, and put them on notice that they would be measured by their attempts and delivery of “diversity”.

According to this same article, the Privy Counsel office has now released its numbers so that of the 429 appointments that have been made to date since 2016; 56.6 per cent women, 11.2 per cent were visible minorities, and 9.6 per cent were indigenous.

It then goes on to prove its point by counting the numbers:  48.3 % women, 16.1 per cent minorities, and 6.5 per cent indigenous. In Canada it points out, there is actually 50.9 per cent women, 22.3 per cent visible minorities, and 4.9 per cent indigenous. They are not arguing a generational change, they are pointing to their targeted “goals”, their “quotas” having been met. There is no other way of explaining it. Are we to believe that in one year, more indigenous people, or more visible minorities have been in a position to apply for more governmental posts because of improvements in their education or in their qualifications. That would be difficult to believe. It is far more likely they have been pulled up to fulfill a quota.

Justin Trudeau often brags about his “diverse cabinet”.  What he actually means is that his cabinet has been chosen in a quota system. Today in the news, the CBC headlines the fact that the Canadian government is now beginning to be as “diverse as Canada”.

Wendy Cukier, who is the director of Ryerson University “Diversity Institute” is happy with the numbers and lauds PM Trudeau for having made “great strides on gender”. She would like us to believe that in a year period, more females became more qualified for various jobs because there was “equal opportunity” got those jobs. Or is it possible that they were told to fill more positions with women regardless of merit?

This is playing out in every walk of governmental life. In policing we went through the quota hiring of women, and various visible minorities over the years. Every government department Provincially and Federally has fallen in line with this type of quota hiring.

Persons are gaining management positions, or being accepted into specialized jobs, not because they are the best person for the job, but by the fact there application is being skewed in their favour, sometimes to a large degree; skewed by their colour of their skin or their gender. It is troubling, for example, if a hospital is hiring a doctor, should merit not be the only single factor?

There are those that would put a strong argument in favour of “quota” hiring as a way of righting the wrongs of the past. If one accepts this principle, one is in effect accepting and proposing one level of discrimination, to right the wrongs of a historical discrimination. But be it as it may, my argument is that if the government of the day feels that this is acceptable, then at the very least they should be honest in their intentions.  It should not be allowed to be portrayed as an equal playing field to the general public. It is not.

Where “diversity” is a stated goal and gender or sex is part of the selection criteria it should be stated clearly. People should know that if you are applying for a police force as an example, other factors are coming into play, including the colour of your skin and your gender, and they should be told what is the given priority, and how it would affect their application.

An issue that also naturally evolves from this process is the growing need to determine if there are some significant after effects to this practise. If one continues to hire under qualified people, does the job suffer, does the output suffer? If they are not the best people for the job, is the job being done in the proper manner? If one throws out merit, or lessens merit in a bureaucratic system, does advancement and morale suffer?

We are now in a position where we have to question both the deserved and the undeserved. When you know the hiring process, and the priorities of government, it makes one question, why or how someone was chosen for this job. It may reflect badly on the person holding the job, tainted by this quota policy, even in cases where in fact it was deserved.

Were members of Trudeau’s cabinet chosen because they were the best for the job, or because they met his mandated quotas and play to his constituencies for whom he wants to be seen as the saviour. Women voters, non-visible minorities, and the up and coming indigenous groups are the stronghold of the Liberals, the bastion they hope to win over in future elections. The answer seems obvious.  Trudeau and the Liberals are engaging in obvious vote buying, and the Conservatives and the NDP are trying to do the same and get in on the action.

They are all playing politics to a high level, and it is costing this country. Merit has been given a back seat, “diversity” is the mantra being extolled by every politician from every pulpit. Do not challenge or you will be portrayed as a racist.

One could point out that the apartheid government in South Africa, as a matter of state policy favoured white-owned, especially Afrikaner owned companies.  It was clearly in place  to prolong white rule and power, and this quota system was discriminatory and the world celebrated its eventual downfall. But any quota system is discriminatory, the only thing that changes is the target of that discrimination.

I believe that when merit is given such short shrift, when merit becomes secondary to optics, everyone loses. We become compartmentalized. My stand is the one echoed by Nathan Glazer in that affirmative action, as it was originally intended is still a worthwhile intention. However,  quotas, thinly disguised as “targets” or “goals” should not be acceptable at any level, whether being practised by your government or your workplace.

And if you think some level of discrimination is o.k., then at least have the backbone to articulate and specify who in society you wish to treat as more equal than others. And then let the public decide.

 

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons via Flckr by Edyta Mazur – Some Rights Reserved

Merry Xmas to All….

To my few readers, first I wish to thank you for your interest and feedback over the last several months, as I indulge in this fantasy of trying to be a writer.

It has been a busy year, and like all of you I’m sure, one filled with the ups and downs of life. The good, the inconsequential, and the fearful, in this era of the Trump shadow. As Xmas day gallops toward us, for some reason it tends to make me look back with a poignant but peculiar nostalgia.

I always remember the Xmas’s lost, the Xmas’s where I worked, coming home to the kids, but sometimes coming home to an empty house.

The Xmas where I was the only officer in the town of Bella Coola, British Columbia, nestled in the middle of nowhere on the British Columbia coast. Rain poured in sheets, almost hurting as it hit the skin. I ate Xmas dinner with the only openly gay couple in town. They had recently purchased the local bowling alley, escaping and hiding from the city life they left in Vancouver. They took me in that Xmas, and served me a goose dinner in the attached coffee shop, while the rain lashed the windows in the restaurant while the dimly lit bowling lanes acted as a backdrop. It is a great and fond memory. I went home to the detachment, and then realized that the Xmas tree that I had cut was still on the back porch of the police residence, never making it into the warmth of the house.

There was the many Xmas’ working in uniform, where by three or four in the morning you found yourself parked along side another officer, smoking, or drinking coffee, yawning uncontrollably, and wondering how you were going to be able to stay up when you got home. Praying that there was not another call coming your way and you could bask in the nothingness of pre-dawn.

There was the  Xmas in Newcastle New Brunswick where I answered the domestic disturbance call. I pulled into the driveway on Xmas eve, just as the overwrought husband through the Xmas tree through the front window, landing in the front yard still adorned with bulbs and lights. I arrested Dad, but I still wonder how and where those children are now, what kind of adults they became and I hope they are ok now.

Now that I think of it, I think I spent more Xmas’ with criminals. This is not intended to imply that this was always negative.  People seem to change a bit over the holidays, even the eight per cent of the population that we dealt with routinely as police officers.  A lot of laughs were shared over the cellblock counter, despite the often desperate situation they found themselves in, and it was not unusual to see goodwill extended to others while there. As they feasted on the government supplied meat pie, slice of white bread, and instant coffee they were pretty far removed from the turkey extravaganza but they seemed to appreciate you being there in some sort of misplaced way.

There  was also something emotional about being out in the middle of the night, patrolling, sometimes alone, standing herd over the darkened houses. It gave you a sense of real, measurable worth. Things always seemed pretty good.

So to those of you who find yourself sitting in those same police cars, biding time, counting the hours until dawn, sneaking into the radio room to scoff down Xmas cake and cookies brought by considerate dispatchers; enjoy it, as it is a fleeting feeling.  It is a Xmas not experienced by most, and it highlights the sometime and somewhat elusive purpose to your profession. Police officers in Toronto, in New York, and in Brandon, Manitoba are all having and sharing that same feeling, as they stretch, and look up at the brightening sky.

Then go home and hug your kids if you have them, if you don’t, hug someone else’s kids. Yours was the night, but now the day belongs to them.

Merry Xmas everyone….may you always come home to a full house….

Pete

Image Courtesy of Creative Commons by Coral Lacey entitled “Deerly beloved” Some Rights Reserved

Personal Story – “Heather” – Part III

It was now 0500 in the morning of the next day. So with the third or fourth coffee in hand, and we were back in the Surrey detachment main office, anticipating what was to come, somehow knowing that this office, this desk, and these walls could be my home for the foreseeable future.

Although it was distant from Cloverdale and the search areas, I also knew that this place, once daybreak arrived would begin to take on an atmosphere of its own. There is an ill-defined energy which any homicide generates in a police office. People coming and going in various stages of fatigue, an air of practised urgency, and every once in awhile it would be interrupted with sporadic shots of adrenalin due to some unexpected turn in the evidence.

This early inherent urgency, or drive, can sometimes be short-lived.  There seems to be a direct correlation between victim type and the length as to how long an investigator can keep a file moving.  In this case, a small girl was a possible homicide victim, and she was still missing, in some senses an investigators nightmare.  Twenty hour days would be the norm. There would be less bitching, more cigarettes, less week-ends off, less time with one’s own family, and pizza would be the culinary favourite.  It is not like the television shows in that it is not as emotional as some would like to portray it; it is more of a machine kicking into a higher gear, but like a marathoner, where one had to control pace, and hold focus.

This first quiet moment between Chris and I was therefore likely to be the last for awhile, just a momentary pause.

This of course was the “old days”. So this investigation done on paper.  Hand written reports, forms and notes, would become the 8″ x 10″ medium through which the investigation would take shape. Paper would be filling cardboard boxes, and those boxes would eventually take up spaces around us, giving a bit of a warehouse feel. Often Librarian skills would be more advantageous than investigative skills.

Each piece of paper being assigned a number, each piece of paper being a separate piece of information. If an officer filled in a report, and it addressed or revealed four pieces of other information, then four separate reports would then be generated, then all wold be put in four different folders pertaining to each item. Laborious? You bet. Efficient? We thought so. But of course the coming digital electronic age would make this all seem comically archaic.

For instance, if we had to  search for a single item. Well we had to remember where we had seen it, and in what folder. So, as an example, if someone mentioned a white Ford pickup, we would have to remember where we read it, and in what folder. It worked well when the file may be only a couple of hundred folders and a couple of hundred pages. It relied on a good memory and a concentrated effort.

However, when the file reached thousands of pages, as this one would, it became an exercise in re-reading, duplicated efforts, and it was often frustrating. Overlaying it all,  like Poe’s Raven, was the inherent fear of missing something key to the investigation.

As the days came and went, in amoebic fashion the paper would grow, taking on a life of its own. Everything found, every person spoken to, every news item mentioned, every tip called in would need to be read, documented and filed. It was a mind numbing process and complacency was the enemy. Any follow up was hand-written and forwarded to the individual investigators. An increase in investigators naturally led to an increase in paper, the Catch-22 of police bureaucracy. In a few short days, the investigative team would grow from two of us to over forty or fifty individual investigators, borrowing from Robbery, Serious Crime, and other sections within the detachment.

Decisions big and small, would need to be made as fast as the questions could be uttered, answered more by instinct than a layered thought process. There would be no time for routine debate, or second-guessing, hoping beyond hope that somehow we had learned something over the years that would not let us down, or cause us to overlook something in our needed haste.

And of course there was numerous calls from the general public, which led to the establishment of a “Tip Line”. My immediate boss, Sgt. Mel Trekofski, wanted to pitch in, and offered to take up the monitoring of the tip line, a thankless task at the best of times. It required “carding” each individual, call-backs to verify the information, and therefore seemingly endless conversations with persons, some good, some ridiculous.

As the file went on, over five thousand tips would eventually be received, with over forty psychic callers alone. The self-described “professional” psychics would all offer up where the body of Heather could be found. So you heard the “Woods”, the “water”, and “buried in a shallow grave”. There were many calls where they went on to say who was responsible,  and in many instances it was “the father”.  But, if not then a “white individual” who “worked with his hands.”  Some even offered to take investigators to the body, something we couldn’t ignore, but of course these did not pan out, but did extend my belief that there were a lot of “crazies” in the world. I never had a paranormal observer, if Im being kind, solve a file for me, and this wasn’t going to be the first.

The logistical jigsaw puzzle continued as we needed to address staffing issues and all the usual secondary administrative issues, at times like a Rubik’s cube, multi-dimensional, spinning on the singular axis of trying to keep the investigation on track.

As the searches ended, the neighbourhood inquiries continued in earnest, as did the forensic examination of objects which had been found. Investigators were assigned to each parent, and other investigators began criminal record checks, as well as local police record checks, on all individuals spoken with or identified as part of the investigation.

Panties, jeans, shirts, jackets, socks, sandals, some of which were in dumpsters were shown to the parents in the event that they had belonged to Heather, and if not, catalogued and maintained in any event.

Neighbourhood personalities, like “Pedophile Darcy”, surfaced through the townhouse inquiries as we began to dredge through the individuals in the Cloverdale complex, and the other people in the neighbourhood. “Darcy”, was typical of the type who surfaced. Darcy, of course, drove a white van, and in his past had been caught masturbating on a child’s  bed, and had a record of sexual assault. So he became a subject of our surveillance team, and in the end we were able to eliminate him from any involvement. There were others similar to Darcy, and each took time, each tip had to be ground out, and it took several days to eliminate Darcy and the other archetypes as they surfaced.

Checks through our VICLAS (An RCMP victim Classification software) system for this area of Cloverdale surfaced a possible fifteen individuals of interest because of their sexual predations. Each of these individuals would be located, interviewed, and reported on. Each would need to provide an alibi.

Checks of all those with criminal records for sexual assault and now free in the broader City of Surrey of which Cloverdale was just a suburb, revealed another five hundred possible “individuals of interest”. It would take years to eliminate that many so we had to narrow the search, at least in the short term, to just those that had violently offended on pre-pubescent children living in the Cloverdale area. This still gave us twenty-seven names. Investigators were assigned to each.  It may surprise some to realize that in most cases these individuals co-operated, and were expecting us. When the investigators arrived some had even already prepared their statements and had their alibis in order.

Others, of course would try an investigators patience, testing their emotional mettle, and you could not help but be pulled you down into the dark reaches of sexual perversion.  In matter of fact voices, they would describe how it couldn’t be them involved, as their method was different in terms of the suffering they would inflict in their need for sexual satisfaction. Some described why she could be alive, to be kept as a sexual play toy.  Any killing of her would have be only to get rid of the evidence, and a “waste”,  and any killing of her would be a signal that things must have gone wrong. This insight would later prove to be accurate.

A crack dealer living in the complex, who had been described by persons in the complex as coming and going in another  “white van”  became an obvious possible suspect. Once identified, he admitted to dealing drugs, and offered up his sales notations, his “crib” sheets as evidence of where he was at the time of Heather’s disappearance. No “normal” criminal he explained likes sex offenders; whether in jail or on the street and the drug dealer wanted to help.

As the investigative team grew, briefings, and de-briefings were our life-blood. Every morning at about 0630 I would brief upper Surrey detachment management, and then at 0730 I would brief the investigative group as to any developments or any change in focus. At 4:30 in the afternoon a de-briefing would be held with these same officers to learn of any highlights. In between of course there was the media to deal with; calls dealing with expenses, computer check results, surveillance assignments, tip line results, and other more sundry items.

By 6:00 pm, as things slowed a little, I would sit in front of a stack of reports, about 2′ high, and begin reading. Chris would then read the same paper after me, just to insure there were a second set of eyes. We would check for any cross references, then the paper would be filed, new follow ups drafted and assigned. Coffee was my particular drug, and stretching for the long walk to the bathroom began to be a highlight which broke up the trance like nature of our task.

Three or four hours fitful sleep a night would be our routine.  Upon returning to work, the process started again. Days drifted into nights. Nights became sunrises.

Suspects surfaced and then drifted away after examination; mounds of dirt reported as shallow graves were examined and dug out; clothes continued to be turned in; suspect vehicles were identified from having been seen in the area; and the psychics from around the world persisted on being heard, each with their own, but similar investigative theories.

Americas Most Wanted called wanting to profile the case. That in turn generated two tips that proved of no value. Europe, and parts of North America were all now paying attention.

We read, often re-read, re-shuffled, and then sometimes re-assigned.

And of course, there was the ever present media, their trucks stationed inside the complex itself,  giving nightly broadcasts and voicing the concerns of the general public. With Halloween getting near, they often regurgitated the growing parents concerns with a killer “on the loose” and asking whether they would let their children go out trick or treating.

As the investigation wore on I kept remembering how I was once told (by who I can not remember) that in every murder there are five mistakes made, its just a matter of finding out those mistakes. Simple really.

Of course every murder is different, every set of circumstances different. In this case we believed that this had been an “opportunity killing” by a stranger, and likely sexually motivated. Statistically, at least, the most difficult of all types of murders as these things go. Many remain unsolved. For instance, in 1996 only 14% of homicides were committed by a stranger. In 1976 it was only 18.4%, and in 1985 17.3%. Consistently low numbers.

If you looked further, and included the age of the victim, in a U.S. study only 3% of homicides were committed by strangers of victims under the age of 12. When a sexual related offence was the motivation, it drops even further down to 1% of the cases.

In checking with the FBI on this case, we learned that there had been only 4 or 5 of these cases in Western North America at the time of Heather’s disappearance in the year 2000.  So although abduction of a child is a parents greatest fear, it is actually an extremely unlikely event. Patterns are harder to detect, as there is insufficient historical data. A serial offence on children was almost unheard of, but of course none of the statistical data, or lack of data was of much consolation for the mother and father of Heather.

Investigative pressure does grow, from the public and from within. Maybe not at the levels of the tv drama series, but it is there. The greatest pressure is put on by the investigators themselves. At some point you begin to realize, rightly or wrongly, whether solved or unsolved, that this investigation will be attached to your name, especially in police circles. You will be perceived in a different light in the future.

A sense of pride takes over, the not wanting to be beaten. The emotions shut down, as the  constant images of the victim is too disarming, too distracting. One could not function coherently if you allowed yourself to become fixated on the depravity of it all, the senselessness of it all, the speculation as to whether Heather was alive or dead. To contemplate her alive and being held was in some ways an outcome that could be worse than death.

As a bit of an escape, a need at the very least to breathe fresh air, both Chris and I took a few hours on a Sunday to step away from the office. It was day twenty-two, and I decided to drive up the Coquihalla highway, a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of British Columbia, surrounded only by trees and rivers, just in an effort to clear the fog which had permeated my nerve endings. I stopped at the only rest stop, perched at a 3000′ elevation, three hours from Surrey. It was cold and gloomy, but I went into the darkened men’s washroom in this remote part of British Columbia. There at the urinal, staring at me was the Missing poster of Heather, eye level. I had always taken pride in my ability to disassociate from files when away from work. But clearly, this file was not going to let me do that. There could be no escape, not now anyways, so I decided to head back.

As I drove down the steep decline through the highway snow-sheds, once again I began to fruitlessly re-trace all that had been done, despite my blaring radio trying to change my obsessed thought process. I kept coming back to the fact that we needed to find one of those proverbial “mistakes”. I was not greedy, not all five, just give me one.

As I approached the Detachment in the darkening hours of the afternoon, just to check in, that I got a phone call. I needed to get back a little faster, because they think they had “found” Heather.

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons by TrixSigio Some Rights Reserved