Burn

Everyone, like the proverbial moth, is pulled to the flames. The licking fire is often enthralling and mysterious, but we can only enjoy its satisfying glow when it is under some form of control. As the western part of this country burns without restraint, the sometimes comforting flames are now satanic; on the move and destroying all things past and present in its path. The sound comes first, then the whirling winds, and finally the advancing ox blood coloured inferno comes into view. 

Even those some distance away in the remote towns and villages are part of this theatre of fire, wholly engulfed by smoke, black strings of soot dangling in the air and falling lazily at ones feet. Thousands of kilometres away the sunsets are tainted, the smoke having migrated across the country making the sun take on an orangish hue, the colour of our often imagined doomsday.

This is mother nature in one of its dazzling incarnations. But, this is not new. It happens regularly in this part of the world, some say with more regularity, because of climate change. The last time it moved with such all-encompassing destruction was in 2017. 

Some of those fires is the coming together of dry, parched ground being struck many times over by lightning; thunder announcing the attack, mother nature venting.

Other fires are not manifestations of nature or climate change, they are our own doing.  

Negligent humans often at the root of the resulting financial and personal devastation. Flung cigarettes from car windows, sparks from work tools sparking in dry tinder, or the insufficiently doused campfire– all are “human” causes. 

The darkest of these human possibilities and the subject of this blog is that human being who feels some internal need to start his or her own fire. The criminal arsonist who lives amongst us.

Between 2016 and 2020 according to the Congressional research service in the United States 88% of wildfires are “human” caused.

The Province of British Columbia estimates that only 40% of wildfires in this Province are “human-caused”. This is a statistical difference for which there is no explanation, but may lie in the nature of the survey. Recently there were about 300 firs burning in British Columbia, so about 120 of those fires, going by the statistics of the Provincial government are in all probability “human” caused.  

Negligent behaviour aside, a portion of that 120 will be the result of the deliberate starting of fires, an arsonist at work. We can only guess at the actual number of arsons due to the nature and style of the government reporting and often because those that investigate these fires can not confirm the root cause. 

On their web site the British Columbia government laments that investigations of those fires “often take time to complete and can be very complex”; that the investigations themselves may be carried out by “one or more agencies, including the B.C. Wildfire Service, the Compliance and Enforcement Branch, the RCMP or other law enforcement agencies, and some investigations may be cross-jurisdictional”. Without a single investigatory unit, maybe therein lies part of the problem. 

Arson should not be considered a small problem. By way of comparison, in 2019 there were 678 homicides in Canada while there were 8,190 arsons. In 2014 the national rate of arsons was 23.87 per 100,000 population. Nunavut had the lowest overall total of arsons, however, the highest rate of arson in the country, three times the national rate —at 87.47 per 100,000.  

From 2010-2014 there were 38,844 fire incidents in Canada, 19,062 structural fires while 5,071 were “outdoor fires”.

So it behooves us to ask where are the resulting arson related criminal charges? What is the status of all or any investigations? Who is conducting them? Who are these arsonists? 

Psychologist Joel Dvoskia Phd. states that “the truth is, very little is known about arsonists because so few arsons are solved”. He goes on to say that when they are solved “it is because the arsonist can’t keep his mouth shut”.  When asked to analyze the California wildfires where 600,000 hectares burned and 2,000 homes were lost, and where some of the root causes pertained to arson, the Dr. says that often the “most common reason is profit” but in that case “anger is the more likely explanation”.

In 1987 the FBI studied and tried to create a profile of the typical arsonist. What they discovered in reviewing hundreds of cases was that in terms of “behavioural IQ” the typical arsonist had a mental of IQ of between 70 and 90. Seventy of course is the top level for people who are considered mentally “challenged” or deficient. 90% of all arsonists are caucasian males (as if us white males needed any more listed deficiencies—we also have a claim on serial killers). In 2012 the FBI found that 73.8% of arsonists were male. 

Half of all the arsonists profiled were under the age of 18, and the other half were most likely to be in their 20’s. These future criminals were unsurprisingly often neglected as children and had a “history of abuse and humiliation”. 

In terms of the Criminal Code and the law in this country, arson is covered in Section 433 which defines arson— and it also gets honourable mention in the murder section 230, where arson is named as a possible lead in to the charge of murder. 

When one examines this definition of arson, one discovers one of the other possible reasons that the charges for it are minimal. It states that for a charge of arson there must be a “disregard for human life” and a charge of arson is when “any person intentionally or recklessly causes damage by fire”. The operable word in the latter explanation and the one that any defence lawyer will seize upon is “recklessly”. What is “reckless” ? Recently there was a report of a car travelling down the highway pulling a broken muffler and sparking flames enroute. Is this reckless?  If one could assume that the typical arsonist is below average intelligence, proving intent may in of itself be difficult. Undefined words such as these allows lawyers to go down the rabbit hole into that subterranean world where they work and thrive. 

It is possible to charge for an arson which has been created by a “marked departure from the standard of care”. This carries a maximum sentence of five years. Again, try and define “marked”. 

When you do see criminal charges of arson, as few and far between as they are, it is often the mental health act and the nature of the act forms part of a deeper psychological problem which is very much in evidence. Here are some examples. 

The Powerview RCMP responded to a fire on Hwy 11 on Sagkeeng First Nation where a 44 year old male, Quinton Courchene tried to burn a house down with two individuals inside. He was waiting at the scene of the fire when the police arrived. 

In July of this year in West Kelowna a 36 year old male was arrested after being located in the area for setting a series of fires. The local public became enraged when a local Judge released the male back into the Glenrosa neighbourhood shortly after his arrest.  

In Port Alberni the police arrested a female who was setting fires in the city parks. 

A woman in Bonnyville Alberta was charged with 32 counts of arson after a spree of setting fires in the area. In this case there is an abundance of mental health issues. 

In June of this year the Wetaskwin RCMP arrested three males: Linden Buffalo, Jake Green and Donovan Lightning, all were charged with murder and arson after the remains of Clifford Stauffer was found inside a structure that was burned to the ground. 

In checking the literature for the last ten years in terms of court cases and case law emanating from arson charges– none of those cited were found for the lighting and starting of wildfires. 

In consideration of all this clear arson activity, should one assume that the RCMP has a dedicated arson investigation unit? Unfortunately, like many specialized investigative demands,whether it be cyber crime or fraud, once again the RCMP seems to be playing the under-funded second fiddle, often reliant on other agencies to lead the way. 

If you needed further evidence of the haphazard approach the Mounties take to arson investigation, consider the fact that this writer was once considered one of the “arson” investigators for the Surrey RCMP. This was not a dedicated unit, it was just a few of Serious Crime officers who were to work arson cases off the side of their desk. The qualifications needed were two Arson level I and II courses; one of two weeks, the other of three weeks. No experience necessary. If you could type the word “accelerant” you likely passed the test. 

Arson investigation, even more so than homicide or other serious crimes is often  heavily reliant on “good old fashion police work”. It inevitably needs a witness. Forensic evidence is needed to prove that the fire was “started”; rags in gas, matches found at scene or some other difficult to find substance, but once that was achieved, little or no definitive evidence of who may have started the fire would be found through the use of forensic science. Fire is a magnificent eliminator of physical evidence, hence the reason that gangsters burn the car or getaway vehicle often with the weapons inside. 

One would hope and think that repetitive years of extensive wildfires would elicit further investigative resources for a serious crime such as arson. That does not seem to be the case. Granted the under resourcing of many departments is at an all time high. (You may be interested to know that currently the Hwy patrol units in the Lower Mainland do not have enough resources to attend accidents now, and are asking the local detachments to attend those on the freeways—normally their mandate.) This writer has learned from more than one source that the RCMP was quietly dreading a season of wildfires due to this drastic understaffing. Just covering the evacuation areas, let alone fire investigations, has become as one officer stated a “shit show”. 

A new wildfire started as I write this on the Osoyoos Reserve in British Columbia and is now threatening the surrounding area and leading to several evacuations. No one is reporting the cause of the fire.

Two lives were lost in Lytton, British Columbian but the authorities are saying very little about the cause other than it was “likely caused by human activity”.

If that was not enough, Catholic churches are burning around the country– in Morinville, Calgary and  Edmonton Alberta; Penticton, British Columbian and Nova Scotia. The motive seems clear. It is just as clear that there are likely numerous individuals who know of the suspects but are fearful of being outed by their own community.

This lack of investigational willpower and resources is clearly Nero fiddling while Rome burns. In the meantime, helicopters will keep buzzing the lakes, dragging their long lined buckets, seemingly making very little progress. So, just maybe it’s time to start asking a few questions, rather than year after year falling to our knees and praying for rain. 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Some Rights Reserved

Old Mounties are the New Guard in Surrey

As many of you are now aware, a new Chief has been anointed by the Surrey City Counsel Police board. The signalling white smoke has come out of the Surrey Detachment chimney officially proclaiming that Norm Lipinski has metamorphosed once again and become the head of the brand new Surrey Police Department. The selection process was described as an extensive “world wide search” and after casting this wide all encompassing net, it was then conveniently discovered, that they only needed to look a couple of miles west of Surrey to find the perfect candidate in the hamlet of Delta.  

The Police Board said they chose Lepinski because he was “a seasoned leader in community level policing”. Further, Mr. Lepinski after this thorough vetting, showed “demonstrable experience promoting progressive policing policies, including commitment to de-escalation training and ability to foster a diverse and inclusive environment”.

Now, many of you readers, will at this time begin the slow roll of the eyes skyward, but one must accept that this is after all the “new” policing world. Clearly, Mr. Lipinski has reached master class level in professing and promoting the politically acceptable —the lauded dialogue of “consultation” “progressive” “diversity” “representation” and “equity in policing” and he can probably put them all in one sentence.  

These professed qualities will undoubtedly be tested early. The large South Asian community in Surrey has already begun expressing displeasure at the choice of Mr. Lepinski.  

What may be more questionable is that Lepinski has now decided that at least two of his three Deputies should be from the Mounties— the same Mounties, they are striving to replace. The fact that he has chosen from the Mounties is somewhat perplexing, but even more baffling may be the two he has chosen for those Deputy positions. 

To help us better understand maybe we need to review the curriculum vitae of Mr. Lepinski, who is orchestrating this controversial transition, as it may provide some clues.  

Mr. Lepinski spent thirty years in the Edmonton Police Service before deciding that he wanted to re-settle into this land of the lotus. He seemed to use his time in Edmonton wisely. He achieved a Masters of Business Administration degree as well as a Bachelor of Laws Degree while there. 

He left Edmonton in 2010 after thirty years and then in a somewhat unusual move applied to be a red serge Mountie. This proposition was apparently received with wide open arms. In fact they were so taken with him, they immediately assigned him the high rank of Assistant Commissioner for E Division British Columbia. One could assume that this move was approved by the then Commissioner of the RCMP Bob Paulson.   

Then in 2015,  Lepinski, after a relatively brief five years with the RCMP (maybe long enough to find the way to the Tim Hortons in Green Timbers) then applies and becomes Deputy Chief of the Delta Police Department, a small 200 person department on the geographic boundary with Surrey. Here he joins his old alumni from Edmonton Police Service— Neil Dubord —who had become the Chief of Delta PD. No doubt this was a coincidence.  

Chief Dubord himself had spent twenty-five years with the Edmonton Police Service eventually rising to the rank of Deputy Chief in Charge of Community Policing. He left Edmonton in 2012 and he too headed for the milder climate of British Columbia where he too impressed the locals and won the job of Chief of BC Transit Police. 

After three short years Dubord also got itchy feet and then applied and won the competition to become the Chief of Delta PD . That was also in 2015. Dubord is also academically inclined and managed to earn a Masters degree in Leadership and Training and now lists himself as a Canadian Human Resource Professional. He has also written a dissertation for his PHD in business.

It may be a little cheeky to point out that, although academically gifted, loyalty would not be the single foremost characteristic for either of these individuals. 

But for Lepinski the career march continued once again. Lepinski spent five years in Delta and despite now having spent forty years in police work—having already reached the normal declared age of retirement at sixty-five— decides that he should apply and indeed warrant the job to become the  Chief of Surrey. 

It may be pertinent in the future to note that Lepinski’s spouse of many years is former Global television reporter Lynda Steele— who now has a radio talk show on CKNW the preeminent station in Vancouver and Surrey. CKNW throughout the development of MacCallum’s vision of a separate police agency was very anti-MacCallum. It will be interesting to note if the coverage changes in the next few years. 

So now, Lepinski after picking up his third pension cheque, has now assumed his new role as Chief of the  Surrey Police Service. 

Clearly, Mr. Lipinski is well versed in RCMP and Municipal police politics. It is equally clear that he has a deft ability to self-promote. However, he is now facing problems in Surrey that he would not have seen in Delta or during his brief stay in the Mounties. Surrey is unique in many ways in both its makeup and the problems that come with it; extensive gang activity, disparate ethnic communities, massive population growth, and a large immigrant contingent will create a fire hose of daily problems and emergencies– and that is not even considering the logistics of changeover of equipment and personnel. It will all demand an enormous amount of operational competency and a dextrous administration in this city which proclaims “Where the Future Lives Here” 

One has to constantly remember that the Mounties are being dispatched from Surrey because the policing need was not being met in that city; at least according to the majority of the voters and taxpayers of that City. The underlying enormous structural and cultural problems within the RCMP are at the root of the various issues and those issues can be placed squarely at the feet of the upper management of this organization over the last number of decades. It is not the individual police members. 

Therefore there is a singular issue of paramount importance in this transition and that is the need to transform the RCMP current structure. The normal organizational pyramid one expects, in the Surrey RCMP, is upside down. It is ridiculously top heavy.

The general duty officers, the uniforms, need to once again become the largest and dominant component of the detachment. Advancement and promotion need to be contingent on first coming through the rank and file where experience lurks, not in the carpeted cubicles of the current over bureaucratized offices. It is at the first attendance level that your future professional police officers are fed and cultivated and grow to be professional and competent officers of the law and would form the backbone of any professional service.

With deference to the background of Mr. Lepinski; his speciality in “community policing” or “diversity” is not either the main problem nor is it the solution to making Surrey a viable and professional police service. 

If one accepts the need for change and recognizes the obvious mis-management that has been occurring and accepted for many years in the RCMP, it would be seemingly counter-intuitive to think that in the building of this new force, that the Mountie system should be adopted wholesale in any way. Should it not be assumed that bringing into the fold some Mounties, who have thrived under this dysfunction, they would not be the likeliest candidates to lead any reform. In naming RCMP Supt Jennifer Hyland and RCMP Assistant Commissioner Mike Lesage as his Deputies, clearly Mr. Lipinski does not agree. 

Supt Jennifer Hyland, is a former twenty year member of the New West P.D. After this stint she also discovered it beneficial to move over to the Mounties where she too was welcomed with open arms and rose up the ranks. Inspector in North Vancouver for a brief time and then quickly promoted to being the Superintendent for the Maple Ridge RCMP; the same detachment she had served in from 2006-2014. 

Upon returning to Maple Ridge she said “This is my hometown, and this has been a career highlight for me—to be the chief of police in my hometown.”

(Coincidently, Hyland’s spouse, Paul Hyland just got made the Deputy Chief in New Westminster PD.) 

Apparently that homecoming feeling wore off after four years and she is now heading over to the Municipal force in Surrey.  She will oversee the “support services bureau, in charge of recruiting, training, leadership and development.” 

Supt. Hyland never seems hesitant to speak of her accomplishments and says that she is leaving having “fostered that culture of respect and support in Ridge Meadows”.

Hyland received the 2020 International Association of Women Police award for mentoring and coaching. The program according to the advocates was “successful in assisting female police officers with their advancement in leadership roles.” All laudable of course, especially in this woke age, but one wonders if the average Surrey voter feels that the problem with the current police department is a lack of female officers or that the officers are victims of a toxic culture. Again, Mr. Lepinski may think so. 

The second deputy choice, Mike Lesage, is even a little more baffling. If there was a classic manager personifying the RCMP in the last number of years it would be Mr. Lesage, who often points out that he is a member of the Garden River First Nation. His career trajectory is common to many in the high ranks of the RCMP; into Ottawa, and then out to the hinterland to dip his toe in the waters of the unwashed. National Aboriginal Policing, National Crime Prevention Section, the Community Policing Bureau, then stints with the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team and most recently the RCMP Anti gang unit at Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit. 

So what can we make of these appointments. First and foremost the populace of Surrey will be hearing a lot about “community engagement”. We can also easily assume that the third and final Deputy will be of South Asian descent. But, when we get past the community consultation phase, the coffee klatches and the town hall meetings (the Delta PD have many town hall meetings) will there finally be some final recognition of the real problem? That is the unanswered question.

Only time will tell and maybe National Police Federation President Brian Sauve is right when he describes it as a “flawed transition” and that everything is in “disarray”. Of course, Mr. Sauve has been spending good Mountie union dues fighting against the obvious inevitably of the transition even happening. He also clearly has a vested interest in his union not losing the biggest RCMP detachment in the country. So it is entirely possible that he is wrong once again. 

To be sure, there is a cloying feeling to all of this, a feeling of old hat, old broom, nothing new; and that is indeed unfortunate.  The first opportunity may already have been missed.

Photo Courtesy of Reg Natarajan via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved