The Pay Raise Gamble

Police officers and their managers have always had a comfy, cocoon like existence —somewhat removed from the economic up and down and cycles of the “real” world. Profit, loss and the measurement of productivity is an anathema to the world of policing.

They have often been able to “social distance” itself from the the pettiness and give and take of pesty budget concerns. “Cutbacks” during the last few decades, and especially in the RCMP has never really been in the policing lexicon.

To be sure there were years where in the “police universe” the Mounties received the short end of the stick, falling behind some of the bigger municipalities, at least for short periods of time. In the end, the Mounties were almost always dragged up the wage ladder by the other unionized forces across Canada. 

There was a time when the Federal government “froze” the wages of government workers, but that time is lost to the institutional memory of this group of officers. But for the most part, time was always on their side and the Mounties were able to live off the others. Their “universe” was a close orbit, made up of only other police agencies. When given to complain, the RCMP officers were only forced to an easy comparison. Any higher wage was justified by pointing to those other cops on the other side of the street. If they got a raise, you got a raise.

Quite naturally, there was no comparison to the economic worlds around them—those who were paying the freight. To be fair, the lack of caring or understanding of the general population mood is a characteristic of all government. Mounties policing in small towns were unfazed and unconcerned about the local budgets in terms of wages and salaries, their vision solely focused on the universal wage for police that was being determined in Ottawa. There was a constant and repetitious cry for new officers whenever a a detachment commander appeared before city counsel and never would it be couched in terms of concern for an overall budget. 

This all may be about to change.

Bankruptcy is now facing various governments on all three levels. The blame for these financial circumstances which have been thrust upon them, points directly at the “fight” against the “virus”.

Albeit, these same governments have cheered on the Federal government and their daily largesse. Every level of politician during this time had only one concern when pressed and that was to keep the electorate consoled. Only the truly brave offered up any question as to the need to be fiscally responsible.

So as the CERB cheques and business loans were shotgunned out to those in need, the deficit balloon rose to unrecognizable levels. The fiscal hammer above the political heads across the country got raised up further every day. And as gravity tells us, that hammer will eventually come down. The economic light will be shining very brightly on the unbridled spending in the next few months, and the glow from the economic fallout may be lasting for many years. 

Even before the “virus”, this blogger wrote several months ago, about the revelation that the Ontario government and various Ontario municipalities were trying to come to grips with budget shortfall issues and in particular with the growth of police budgets. The “ratcheting” of police and fire budgets was finally reaching levels where they began to get noticed. 

Defending the spending, fell to the age old axiom of the need for “public safety”. This tired and repetitious explication is now being seriously questioned for the first time in many years.

A number of police departments have three year Constable pay levels which have breached that psychological barrier of $100,000 and Police and fire services continue to grow at levels beyond the reach of the general population where salaries have stagnated for the last number of years. Police and fire budgets as a portion of municipal and provincial budgets is now the elephant in the hearing room.  

Tremors of anxiety are beginning to vibrate through the policing world as the word “cutback” is seeping in, gradually, but now discussed as an imaginable option.

This nervousness and angst finally touched down in the lotus land capital of Vancouver. This is happening in a city where government decidedly leans to the left and spends money on the services of the downtown Eastside like drunken sailors on shore leave. Although, it should not be totally surprising or unexpected when this is the same government which views whale-watching and the dispensing of cannabis edibles as suitable economic replacements for lumber or the building of gas pipelines. 

That aside, the City of Vancouver now finds itself facing a $152 million shortfall (Surrey is facing a $42 million shortfall as a comparison). The loss of jobs and shuttered businesses drying up revenues. Many argue that the full economic destruction has yet to be felt in this City of the Dispossessed.  

The other cognizant point which needs to be included in this discussion– the City of Vancouver has a legally dictated obligation to balance the budget. 

Canada’s third largest city has an overall budget of $1.6 billion. The Vancouver City Police now make up 21% of that overall budget with an annual expenditure of $340.4 million. And the greatest portion of the Vancouver city police budget is for salaries. 

To meet this $150 million shortfall the City of Vancouver has already proposed a very substantial increase of 8.2% in property taxes.

During this time they had also written to the Vancouver City police board to ask that they come up with proposals for  possible budget cuts. That was on April 14, 2020. OnApril 27th, the Police Board responded but didn’t offer any spending cuts. So City counsel imposed a 1% pay cut in the police budget, which amounted to a $3.5 million cut out of the $340 million pie for the remainder of 2020. 

They also directed, maybe more significantly, that the Vancouver Police Board in their pursuit of collective agreements with all of the three involved unions at the Police Department— that there will be  a stipulated 0% increase in 2020.  

Now, it would seem to most observers’ and probably the taxpayers of Vancouver that the proposed cuts and their proportion to the overall budget are in fact quite reasonable under these financial circumstances. But predictably, Chief Adam Palmer felt that the cuts were disastrous and went to the media with his complaint. 

What did he offer up as his major concern? 

Well “public safety” of course.

“Public safety”according to Chief Palmer was now once again in jeopardy due in part to the increase in “anti Asian racism complaints” that the Vancouver City Police were needing to now handle in the age of the virus. 

Well, it least it shows some politically correct astute thinking on behalf of the Chief, but no one is going to believe that the few cases  or a rise in commercial break-ins which have emerged have pushed this City department to the precipice. 

He also argued that City counsel did this without further conferences with him; he did not mention that he had been given opportunities to get involved in the cutbacks— but maybe being in that police cocoon may have thwarted his belief that someone would dare to cut his employees. (It should be pointed out that the Fire Department, which is always aware of its political surroundings, voluntarily made their own cutbacks.)

The Vancouver City Police union predictably also chimed in. They said that with the cutbacks and the disintegrating morale, many officers may choose to leave for the upcoming new police force in Surrey. The fact that Vancouver City could lose a number of officers to the proposed new Force is a bit of a red herring, as it is already being planned in the VPD that even outside of any budget complaints– they are going to lose a number of officers to Surrey. 

Some sources tell me that the management of the VPD are planning on the possibility that they could lose up to 200 officers to the new agency.

The ripple effect of this Surrey agency is also going to impact dramatically with the Cities of West Vancouver, Delta, and New Westminster PD’s, but that is for another blog.  

So where does this place the new union of the RCMP as they start building their case with Treasury Board for a 17% pay increase nationally. They are normally not encumbered by any sense of fiscal fallout, but along comes the damned Corona virus. The monkey wrench has now clearly been thrown into the cozy often egocentric policing world. 

It is one thing for the Federal government to feel that the Mounties need or should get a pay raise. Clearly the Liberal government is in a spending mood, so maybe Mr Trudeau will extend his daily giveaways. A 17% increase seems like a stretch at the best of times but under these depression/recession times it may be a little much to swallow all in one gulp for any government. 

But the biggest flaw in this large increase is not the willingness of the Federal government, it is that almost all of the raise would be simply pushed on to the municipalities and Provinces. At most the Feds would only have to pay 30% of that raise for those involved in contract policing. The rest, up to 90% in the case of Burnaby, or Coquitlam, has to be paid by the municipalities. As the municipal agencies are already crying to the Federal government for further financial support because of the virus burden, they would be incensed to have another huge expenditure thrust on them. 

So this leaves the Feds in a rather difficult and untenable position. Nor is it an easy one for the new leadership of the Mountie union. Now no longer needing to prostrate themselves before Treasury Board, but now facing some extraordinary budget considerations.

In terms of the policing structure in the Lower Mainland, and in the rural Provincial contracts, managers may be looking over the precipice of a significant re-structuring of the policing dynamics throughout this country. It’s possible that the virus will also be the catalyst that will re-awaken talks of Provincial forces, a Federal government RCMP/FBI, and regional police forces. 

 It could also mean– dare it be said,  “cutbacks”. 

For the younger RCMP officers, just like their Vancouver counterparts, their future may be the new Surrey PD, the same group recently lampooned by the Mountie union.

The next 12 months will be telling. The Mounties will build their case, no doubt continually underlining their current standing in the police universe and equally predictable, will be arguing “public safety”; striving for that instant 17% increase.

But, if you were gambling on the bet of a substantial RCMP raise, an odds maker may be telling you to now to “take the under”.

Photo Courtesy of Eric Flexyourhead via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved

The NPF- Plunging into Surrey politics

Now that we all have been satiated, assured by Toyota, Ikea, and the Muffler shop, and of course the beloved Bonny Henry, that they are all here for us during these trying times, maybe it is time to talk about something else as we head or get driven to a utopian “new normal”.  

Recently, Brian Sauve the President and leader of the newly formed National Police Federation, which represents those in the red scarlet, managed to divert the news briefly and our attention with his pro-active coming out stance in arguing for the retention of the RCMP in Surrey.

In the last number of days in fact Mr. Sauve has been doing the full rock and roll circuit; visiting the CBC, the Province newspaper, CTV news, and running three full page ads in Surrey’s local newspaper extolling both the virtues of the RCMP and stating as the gospel truth –that the citizens of Surrey want to retain the RCMP. 

So naturally interest was piqued. Puzzling somewhat, that at this late juncture, Mr. Sauve who barely has his feet wet in his new role has apparently decided, one would assume along with his senior managers to jump with both feet into the Surrey and Provincial political arena.

It should be said that Police unions have the right to be political, but this particular set of circumstances in Surrey seems curious on a few levels. Police enjoy discretionary powers in this country and are formally required to be non-political, so a union representing those police are in a rather unique position requiring balance and forethought.

Clearly the NPF and its 20,000 strong membership are concerned about losing Canada’s biggest RCMP detachment to another union. Nobody wants to lose 850 members (about 4% of their union) before they even get started. But, according to the NPF web site there is a deeper reason for their stance: “This is about your national labour relations agency standing up for the exceptional work of all our members across Canada and internationally.”

Does the RCMP and the NPF feel chastened? Is it possible that they have missed the broader issues or more accurately the issues which have been raised by Surrey and have chosen to ignore the specifics, and just feel insulted?

Mr. Sauve seems to be conflating a local political issue with the reputation of the entire RCMP throughout Canada. He does not seem to understand that this a big city issue where the RCMP is being questioned and has been for a number of years, on its effectiveness vis a vis another more locally controlled city department. This should not be viewed as a personal affront to the membership of the RCMP.  Surrey is primarily seeking a change in structure, to no longer report to the three headed monster of Ottawa; to convert to an agency which may be more fitting to a municipal sized police force.

Mr. Sauve, more than most, should be aware of the issues within the RCMP which have been plaguing them for the last number of years, yet he feels the need to argue that they are the best solution under these circumstances? His argument if stretched out is that a unionized RCMP would be better than an independent municipal, also unionized force. 

Three of the four main players of the NPF: President Sauve, Vice-President Dennis Miller and VP Michelle Boutin all were part of the SRR program. There they would have argued for and defended members against the arbitrary and pernicious management of the RCMP.  

The fourth VP, Pete Merrifield evven stands out a bit from the others. If there was anyone who may be a little jaundiced with the RCMP and maybe even hold a tinge of bitterness towards them it should be Merrifield. Pete Merrifield during a 7 year stint, sued the Force for harassment after he had become involved with the Conservative Party of Ontario. 

In February 2017 a Superior Court ruled in Mr. Merrifield’s favour awarding him $141,000 for the “unrelenting harassment” he suffered and an additional $825,000 to cover his legal expenses. This was no small victory, but unfortunately for him it was short lived. 

The Appellate Court rejected the lower court. In fact they went even further stating that Merrifield had not been “completely truthful” with his superiors and had given them reason to “mistrust” him. 

Recently, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear Mr. Merrifield’s appeal to the highest court. 

All four of these individuals in the last number of years, clearly reached a point in their beliefs that the massive problems within the RCMP and its system could not be corrected without independent representation. A union was desperately needed they would have argued. 

Is it not fanciful that this same group of individuals is now arguing that this same flawed RCMP management is now better than another agency regardless of its makeup?

Is it possible that after a lifelong career in the RCMP these individuals who were “members” of the RCMP can not separate their apparent comfort and loyalty to the RCMP from their new roles as advocates for their membership.

However, my biggest concern in that this new union group has gone a step further than a policy decision to defend the RCMP in Surrey; but in order to defend it vigorously they went and paid for a slanted “survey” –to argue and prove their point and have been holding it up as their evidence throughout their media campaign.  

The survey was conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights .

If one was conducting a survey to determine the wishes of the general population with regard to police force of choice, wouldn’t the obvious and clear question that should be posited would be: Do you prefer retaining the RCMP over forming a new police agency?

But clearly the NPF requisitioned this survey because they wanted to make sure it backed up their political argument. A straightforward and clear question may have resulted in statistics that may have not fit in as easily with the political argument that they wished to launch.

So they made sure that the question was couched in terms that would prove more favourable.  

The survey asked whether in these times of the virus and municipal funds taking a beating, whether the taxpayers of Surrey should be spending additional monies on a separate police agency.  The weighted survey question, which was randomly sent out to 803 people asked: 

“With the CoVid virus causing a major disruption” is now the time to “replace the Mounties?” 

This was after the city of Surrey revealed that due to the virus and the shutdown, Surrey counsel would be running a $42million budget shortfall.

This style and question format linked the budget deficit and the fear of the coronavirus to convince the polled that this was not the “time” for a change. They then took the favourable responses, translated, and interpreted these results to say that 77% support keeping the RCMP and 82% support a referendum. 

The clearly planted headline in the Surrey Now-Leader said:  “New Poll Indicates 83 per cent of Surreyites say now not the time to replace the RCMP.”  And they argued that 90% of the respondents agree that it is time to take a “step back and evaluate its spending plans to ensure that they are focused on the most urgent priorities”.  

This is spin, and spin which has been done in such a fashion as to be disingenuous if not duplitcious.  

So what should we take from all this? The NPF in its infancy as a union —elections only recently conducted for detachment representatives this month —has decided to enter the political arena, to fight the duly elected and mandated government. This despite that the political  mandate of the Mayor in Surrey was very clear during the last election and was totally tied the wanting of a new police force. 

Sauve is now publicly saying that the Mayor should have another new referendum on the same issue and vigorously points to the “new survey” as evidence of the wishes of the Surrey residents, bought and paid for by the RCMP union membership. 

The illustrious Surrey councillor Linda Annis has been coaxing the NPF in promoting both the survey and the need for a referendum.  Annis is that Surrey counsellor who has long been in a political fight with MacCallum and who has been pushed from her corridor of power since the last election. 

Annis, despite being always commenting or extolling the virtues of the RCMP in her fight with MacCallum has this blogger’s vote as probably the most ill-informed politician in this debate. Her arguments for the retention of the RCMP border on ludicrous in her effort to get back to power. For example, when asked why it wasn’t possible that some members of the Surrey RCMP may choose to go to the new agency, she felt that was not possible— because when they became police officers —they choose the RCMP.  Who could argue with that logic? Apparently she had never heard of officers changing agencies.

On a recent talk show on CKNW, emboldened by the interviewer Sauve argued that the Mounties were doing “a great job”, “despite the fact that Surrey has under-funded the RCMP for years”.  He repeated a few times that the RCMP was doing a “wonderful job” in Surrey and pointed to the  evidence that the crime rate has been falling in Surrey for the last fourteen years. This is a trend throughout Canada and not just Surrey but why quibble with details.

He was asked about the need for more officers on the street to fight the gang violence. He pointed to the amazing job the RCMP Youth group was doing in fighting the gang problem.

He grasped further by saying that if the community wanted more cops on the street, then maybe they should be discussing increasing funding to the RCMP. So Mr Sauve, had up to this time, structured his argument to retain the RCMP with the need to save money.  But if the voters were not satisfied then one of his solutions was to spend more money on the RCMP if they wanted more officers on the street.

This back and forth countering logic is a little disconcerting and shows a very shallow understanding of the issues in Surrey. 

So we end up back at the question. Is the NPF loyalty to the RCMP pushing this drive? Is their argument that no one is better than the Mounties in any circumstance? This despite having been dealing with the vagaries of the RCMP management for years; sexual harassment, claims in the hundreds of millions of dollars, still this group feels that their unionized environment within the RCMP will be better then the unionized environment in a new fresh Municipal Force. 

As their primary function is to represent their membership, do they realize that a lot of Mounties currently in Surrey may switch to a new agency and it may be in their best interest to do so.  

Maybe this is an overreaction. Maybe some officers feel better that the NPF is defending them as the Force has been going through many years of criticism. But they are late to the game, since its possible that the newly approved Surrey Police Force could be in effect as early as April 2021, less than a year away. 

As a new union, the early days are crucial, as they try to build a credible and strong representative group.  They have many diverse issues in front of them, all of which will demand their utmost attention. Their membership will become increasingly more demanding as the union begins to form and get involved in the various facets of police personnel administration. This will be nothing like the SRR program. They will need to exude the utmost professionalism because now there will be exposure and accountability. 

This is not the time to get into a fight with a duly elected and mandated government and now is not the time to demand something which is outside their purview or control. Now, was not the time to put up a slanted survey, or to gather behind the likes of Linda Annis. 

In the future, any political arguments will need to become a little more sophisticated. The NPF will need to be smarter. This is new world for everyone. The new RCMP membership is now paying for you —and they are watching.

Photo courtesy of Ewe Neon via Flickr Commons — Some rights reserved

In Need of Love…

Policing like most trends in society has often been described as being on a constant invisible pendulum, not necessarily evolutionary, but constantly moving to or away from its central role and the perception of that role in the eyes of the public.

In the 1950’s the cop was perceived as stern but benign face, but mostly fair. A neighbourhood icon, someone familiar with each and everyone, the good people and the troubled. Quiet justice was enforced, discreet sometimes to a fault. The cop was part of a Norman Rockwell painting, an emblem of a white middle class, protecting values of the then well-defined church and state.

The 1960’s brought on Woodstock, kids were dropping in or dropping out. An amalgam of life currents where below the surface, there was a brewing discontent, aimed at a war in Viet Nam, or more loosely, anything representing the establishment. Woodstock was the age of Aquarius, set in an unlikely location, a coming together on a bucolic dairy farm in up state New York.

But, it was also the year of Charles Manson and his followers. A vicious and random massacre of nine innocents– Aquarius now blending with Helter Skelter. The peace symbol tilted and perverted into a Nazi symbol.

Joan Didion in her book ‘ The White Album’ detailed this era when drugs were mixing with the Black Panthers; where a communal sense of well being was being curiously mixed with a sense of paranoia and detachment.

The pendulum had moved decidedly to the left. Cops began growing into the enemy. A thousand young Americans were dying every month in 1968 in Viet Nam generating protest after protest on streets and on campuses throughout the United States. During a political convention in Chicago violence erupted, cops now featured on the television screens of America beating on people mercilessly with their night sticks. The violence was now coming directly to the people through their television sets, aimed at the contented middle class as they ate their t.v. dinners on their couches and loungers.

The police represented “the man”, stalwart defenders of the establishment, tools of the rich, now being repeatedly termed racist, amid accusations of brutality. The disquieted older generation still sided with the cops for the most part, but in this Nixonian age public opinion would eventually swing to the young.

J Edgar Hoover continued building the FBI into a monolith, his iron-gripped tenure lasting until 1972. But, even this agency fell into distrust when it was learned that its agents were also gathering information on sometimes legitimate dissenters.

Policing on every front was now becoming suspect in its intent and motivations.

Extolling the virtues of remaining some distance from the bad influences of the U.S., Canada, with its hybrid French/English policing efforts began to grow in size and scope, but Canadian policing management and Canadian policies kept one eye trained to the goings on south of the border.

The RCMP now formed the nucleus of policing in Canada. It was a para-military organization from the outset where discipline and adherence to the orders of one’s superiors was sacrosanct, untouchable, never challenged, never questioned.

Gradually the influences of the neighbours to the south began to seep into the mindset of Canadians and thus policing managers. SWAT became ERT, Homicide cops became Serious Crime or Major Crime Units.

It was confusing too many, even those inside Canadian police groups, who tried to keep up with this somewhat copycatted version of policing during this growth process. Dissemination was followed by integration. Integration followed by de-centralization.

The RCMP was further confounded by trying to be all things to all people–mixed mandates, Provincial, Municipal and Federal responsibilities all overlapping in some governmental policy rubik’s cube.

Cops in Canada during the 1970’s were perceived as gentler, more open to argument or differing views than their American counter parts. They initially believed that the problems of the Chicago south side, or the Bronx could not be applied to the suburbs of Mississauga or Burnaby.

But then the downtown skids of Vancouver began to grow and expand; the Mafia took root in Toronto, Montreal and Hamilton. The Hells Angels were no longer restricted to Northern California and were not just a disenfranchised bunch of rogues.

Heroin, cocaine, and poverty began to drive the crime rates. The police both inside and outside management felt that they needed to become more like their American counterparts– more street cop, crime fighters, disciplined, and brothers in arms; the blue wall was being built brick by brick.

Crime rates, including homicides began to reach its zenith from the years 1968-1983.

It was into this generation that most of us, newly retired or about to retire baby boomers grew up and thrived. Solving the case was your reason for being, sometimes by any means; burning barns in Quebec to combat the FLQ a glaring example. You needed to be tough, you needed to exude combativeness, you always needed to get your man. It was during this time that Pierre Trudeau said “Just watch me” in instituting the War Measures Act and bringing in the army to the streets of Montreal. Even the politicians of the time had developed an edge.

Internally police officers gravitated to alcohol and cigarettes which were proscribed to combat the fear or what was witnessed on the street; a way to dull the observations of man’s inhumanity to man.

And you always respected the uniform, the symbol of what you stood for, some battles won, some lost, but it was us against them. You were proud to be standing in blue.

Then the pendulum began to swing left, just like in the U.S. Criticisms of the police and their policies began to emerge. The barn burning turned into the MacDonald Commission, which would eventually strip Security Service from the Mounties and lead to the formation of CSIS.

Problems were identified as originating with policing not being representative of the very population over which they held sway. Policing was portrayed as neanderthal, incapable of adapting to the new realities.

It was gradual, as the old guard kicked up a fuss over the hiring of females in the early 1970’s, but the theory being that women would bring a more humane and understanding attitude to the hardened police departments managed to hold sway. There was a loosening of physical height and weight restrictions to try and be realistic in terms of the physical differences between man and woman, or the different ethnicities. The Bill of Rights in the United States became the Charter of Rights in Canada. Some still saw it as a general slide into policing oblivion.

The pendulum continued to swing to the outward reaches of the left. Representation became inclusion in all its forms. Natural recruiting programs, since they were still failing, were replaced by affirmative action hiring, promotional incentives dangled in front of all who had the cultural genetics to claim to be one of the dis-enfranchised.

Police wanted to be one with the public. Not distant enforcers, but caring, understanding and educated in the cultural differences, and therefore as the theory went, trusted by these groups to the point that they were better able to deal with crime.

A subtle switch to crime prevention, crime enforcement now in the background to a myriad of social worker styled programs –community outreach, school liaison, bike patrols, and victim services.

The police now wanted to be loved. They are being ordered and taught to be more sensitive. They wanted to be seen as persons who suffered from the same problems as the general public, no longer the immovable rock of authority, but able to cry and empathize. We are people too and we need a hug from time to time.

If everybody grew to love the police, the job of policing would be better served–again, in theory anyways.

And more dramatically in terms of its effect, the Mounties decided that it was ok to be political in their ongoing battle to be sympathetic to all causes, whether it be gender, ethnic or life-style based.

Recently Surrey Detachment hung the Gay Pride flag at the detachment. It was met with some opposition, and even the City of Surrey declined to enter into this political fray in case of appearing to one-sided. The local Mounties did not see a problem.

In a recent circulating video a red serged Mountie, also in Surrey, became another one of the “dancing cops”; this Mountie lip syncing to Queen–mincing and strutting at the Gay Pride festival to the applause of those attending.

Many are beginning to feel brave enough to voice concerns over this latest evidence of the pendulum going too far. They point out that Section 37 (d) of the RCMP Code of Conduct states that the Mounties are to “avoid any actual, apparent or potential conflict of interest” and according to the deportment guidelines, Section 7.1 of the Code of Conduct ‘Objectives’ states that “members behave in a manner that is not likely to discredit the Force”.

Does this most recent caricature of a gay Mountie cross the line? it all depends on where you think the pendulum is right now.

Does the striving and quest for acceptance and love by all supersede the need to be neutral? Does it allow for such obvious pandering? The local RCMP justify it by saying “the RCMP lead by example in promoting diversity and inclusion”.

Management does seem to have lost the ability to see that this was a political supportive statement of a specific political group and its mandate, being still blinded and forever loyal to the government led need for “inclusion”.

Under this obvious strategy the obvious question that never seems to be asked is, does it work?

Did years of marching in the Pride parade in Toronto, aid or hinder the gay community criticism or aid in the investigation of the Bruce McArther killings? The Toronto Police , despite their loving efforts, were even disinvited to the parade this year. (Of course, the Toronto Police Chief vowed to work harder to understand why they have been disenfranchised. )

So the pendulum slows slightly in its grind to the left, but police management seems unable to change track, unable to move away from this politicization of their agency.

The overall effects of the politics of inclusion will probably be unknown or even measured in the coming years, as government rarely looks at things that don’t work; but cracks are beginning to show. Surrey RCMP faced protestors in the raising of the Pride flag and one could argue that the attempt to switch from the local RCMP detachment to a civilian Force is the result of people tiring of the current political model of the RCMP, that they just want safer streets.

In somewhat menacing fashion, right wing political populism is growing around the world, reflective of a changing mood, whether it be to immigration or justice.

There is evidence of growing crime rates after being at all time lows.

Some may argue that all this political pandering works, but only when political culture remains calm, when the public is economically content. That too may be changing. One only needs to look once again to south of the border.

The middle class is in jeopardy, being gradually forced to two ends of the wealth spectrum. Economics or more specifically, economic power, may be a better measure of the need and demand for policing change. Poverty breeds unrest. Unrest breeds violence and a call for stricter policing.

In Canada, the latest ‘Breaking News’ and the fodder for all amateur sleuths and commentary is the ongoing search for two Port Alberni teenage alleged “killers”. The focus on the police intensifies with each passing day.

What does the public want? Do they want empathy over their public safety being threatened? Do they worry about policing models of inclusion?

No, they want the two caught.

All the dancing in the world is not going to change that.

The pendulum seems to swing back in times of trouble, when the policing role gets stripped down to its barest essentials. The key is to let it return to some middle ground without going too far to the very dangerous right.

The public don’t want to love you, they want to respect you.

Photo courtesy of CTV and Global News – Some Rights Reserved

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

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

 

 

 

 

Personal Story – “Heather” Part VIII – The Ending

On Saturday November 4th, Shane Ertmoed was brought into a small bland 9 x 6 interview room, a desk, and two chairs the extent of the furnishings. Video and audio recordings were turned on, and Greg began his interview of Shane. A few boxes on the desk gave the impression of waiting insurmountable evidence. Greg, always cordial, always playing to the theme that we were there to understand, to “help”. “You didn’t mean to do it did you Shane?”, “you are not an animal are you Shane?” It being more of a misunderstanding than a killing.

Gradually, Shane began to speak, quietly, some times nodding in agreement. Eventually, he began offering up possible alibis, each was perfunctorily shut down, escape routes closed as quickly as they were proffered.

Three hours in, Shane Ertmoed confessed to the killing of Heather.

As Shane nodded in agreement about the killing, I was sitting with others in a nearby room, staring at the television monitor screen our collective breath seemingly on pause. It was a few seconds before one of the investigators let out the restrained exclamation “yes!

On Sunday, the following day, a 2nd interview was conducted, this time by Bill Fordy, wherein all the evidence was reviewed again with Shane, going over specific details, and he in essence confessed a second time. Shane said his newly appointed defence counsel had told him to say nothing, but then he continued, virtually repeating the story of the day before. Not emotional, seemingly resigned to some future destiny he could only guess at.

The confession along with what our investigation had revealed seemed to run in parallel, there were no large discrepancies, and it was consistent with the limited forensic information.  How he killed her and how she was found partially clothed gave us the “holdback evidence”, the evidence that only the killer would know in detail.

This was the chronology of the events as confirmed by Shane in his words, with a few new pieces we were unaware of:

  • Shane lured Heather into his apartment to look at books that contained pictures of “birds”.  (This was new to us and gave us the impression that Shane may have previously spoken to Heather)
  • Shane coaxed her to the floor of the townhouse and was spooning her on the floor stripping off her pants and underwear. It was then that she began to struggle, and he put his hand over her mouth to keep her quiet. (He would not admit to how long that would take but she was likely dead before Dad had even called her in as being missing.)
  • After he killed her, he dumped out his hockey/football bag, and put her in the bag along with her clothes.
  • He carried her out through the fence in his townhouse to his nearby car. (In doing so, some plant material got in the corners of the bag we were able to later match some “cultivated juniper”, unique to that area, to the landscaping in front of his residence).
  • And he placed her in the back seat, and drove out of the complex. Upon driving out and looking east he saw the police doing radar traffic enforcement, and so he circled behind, using the secondary roads, to eventually get over to 200th St in Langley.  (Later a witness came forward, who also happened to be an artist, who sketched what he saw that day on hearing the news of Heather; he showed us his pencil sketch done on a single piece of paper–it was a vehicle pulled over, and a male was standing near the back of the vehicle, adjusting something in the back seat; the male in the sketch looked remarkably like Shane)
  • He needed gas and stopped at the Happy Face gas station on 200th St. He then drove further up the road, when the idea came to him to buy a theatre ticket as he rapidly concocted his cover story. (He never went to the theatre to actually see the show, as we believed and could now prove)
  • He thought of going to Maple Ridge because of the distance away, and he had earlier heard about Golden Ears park through a co-worker (we were able to find the co-worker who he had earlier asked about Golden Ears Park)
  • As he drove into the park, he got a few miles in on the roadway, pulled over, and then put the bag containing Heather into the thick woods, just out of sight of the roadway.
  • He returned home; but was not content with where he put her, thinking that she could be easily discovered. So at 5:30 in the morning he left, was checked by the officer on his leaving and he went back to the Park. (it was here when he was followed by the Park Rangers, driving slowly, trying to find where he left her)
  • He eventually found her, and parked roadside, and put his hood up as if he was broken down. (This was observed by the Park worker #2). But by this time he was running out of time and needed to get to work. He marked the spot, by putting a skid brake mark on the roadway, and he headed to work in Maple Ridge, leaving quickly. (Seen by Park worker #2)
  • He feigned having a headache at work around 10 in the morning, and left. But he went to a Canadian store and bought an inflatable raft and a single paddle. (We figured out the store where he bought the raft later, and were able to get a copy of the receipt).
  • He returned to the Park, retrieved the bag containing Heather, and then headed down to the boat ramp, where he got in and paddled out of sight of those who maybe on the boat launch. (Observed by Park Worker #3)
  • He put Heather in the water, weighed down with rocks (Shane in his statement totally denied putting rocks in the bag – a strange disclaimer considering everything he had admitted to)
  • He came back in and drove quickly out of the park, stopped at a dumpster and got rid of the raft. (we were never able to locate the raft, no doubt it had been emptied by that time)
  • Shane gave no insight, nor any denial of why he called in the break and enter case. (It was our guess that he was worried that if for some reason we were able to go after him, and we found something of Heather in his apartment, fingerprints or hair as an example, he would have a cover story that kids had broken into his condo)

By late Sunday afternoon, the weekend over, Shane was placed back into his cell and I like everyone else headed home, in rush hour for the first time in six weeks; content, feeling  lighter, not fully absorbing all the nuances of the last 48 hours, but aware that something good had just happened.

This was the dramatic end of the operational element of this case. The looming courts and their processes, would be the 2nd marathon.  The forty investigators would dissipate, all  returning to their regular duties.  The excitement of the pursuit would soon be replaced by drudgery, the arguing over minuscule points of law, and those bone weary hours of sitting in a quiet courtroom, the drone of lawyers providing the white noise of the court.

The many involved would become the few left to take the case to the next level. It is the unsung hero portion of the story, it is the under-appreciated, it is paper intensive, and it would be wrapped in all the myriad legal issues that always surface. Preparations would begin for a preliminary hearing, and a possible bail hearing. Both would need to be supported in terms of getting all the gathered evidence into the Crown. The Crown would become our constant companions and our usually friendly thorns in our side, always needing more, or a further explanation, or another copy. Officers notes, exhibits and exhibit records would begin moving constantly back and forth, in the rhythm of the  court dance.

The media would go home for the time being,  only to return rejuvenated for the eventual trial coverage.

The secondary reports, the officers notes, and the loose pieces of information continued to trickle in, so we continued the work of sorting, evaluating and follow-up continued at a manageable pace, but with far fewer resources. Some of the information was valuable background, while other pieces were of little value but still needed to be filed. Some of what came forward:

  • We learned that Shane Ertmoed had only arrived in the Lower Mainland in September 1999, a mere 13 months before committing the homicide on October 1. He had been kicked out of his house in Vernon, and recently fired from working at the Dairy Queen in Vernon.
  • Shane’s aunt confirmed that Shane had a hockey bag (unfortunately those DNA tests that were trying to filter out for a good sample of DNA, did eliminate too much of the core DNA and are results were therefore negative.) ( The Aunt told us that she had “jokingly” asked Shane if he was involved in Heather’ disappearance.)
  • Shane was described by his fellow workers as someone who liked to talk to “kids” and they gave an example of him hanging around a kids lemonade stand at their work site.
  • Eight years earlier, in March 1992, while living in Vernon Shane had been forced to see a counsellor for lifting the skirts of two girls on the school bus, and trying to touch them.
  • Shane had written sexually explicit letters to his teacher/counsellor, and eventually left the school, and he was often described as a “scary character”
  • He also had sexually explicit correspondence with this then girlfriend
  • At his work site, he had offered to babysit for one of his co-workers. (those same co-workers would often tease him about him being involved in Heather’s disappearance.)
  • Heather had apparently been on Paxcil and another prescription drug at the time of her death. (not by itself noteworthy, but one when examined by a court trying to determine cause of death would surface as a complicating issue)

When all the information began to settle, having been sifted through the needed or discarded filters, what we were left with what is commonly referred to as a “circumstantial” case albeit with one what we believed was an “voluntary” confession.

We would never find a magic bullet, such as DNA, fingerprints, or matched blood samples. Cause of death was listed as “undetermined.” Every Crown counsel wants these dream pieces before going to Court. This was not going to be that case. We were pushing  Crown’s charge approval boundaries of every case needing to have a “substantial likelihood of conviction”. As the years have gone by, the pursuit of a circumstantial cases seem to becoming rare events. Crown and the police are more reluctant to let the courtroom decide, and as Wally Oppal once opined it seems that the Crown and the police are trying the cases in the reports now, not having a taste for a courtroom, reluctant to face possible failure. One wonders where this case would have stood in this climate.

However in those years  we enjoyed a strong and positive relationship with Crown Counsel both in Surrey and at the Regional level. All of the Crown lawyers, that we dealt with on this case; through charge approval, bail hearing, the preliminary inquiry and the eventual Supreme Court trial were exemplary. They deserve special mention for the hours that they expended and the roles they played; Terry Schultes who provided almost daily legal advice to me on this case and many others; Winston Sayson who handled the preliminary inquiry along with Lana Del Santo; and finally, Ron Caryer who handled the Supreme Court murder trial along with Roger Dietrich. Their lives were put on hold and this case became all consuming, with the added pressure of a constant media spotlight.

On November 22nd, 2000 Shane Ertmoed appeared in Court in Surrey and pled not guilty to the charge of 1st degree murder.

The Preliminary inquiry in Surrey began a couple of months later on February 19, 2001. As in all preliminary inquiries, Crown does not pull out all the stops in terms of showing all the evidence, and for this case they primarily relied on the confession. All they needed to prove was that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a trial. And the confession by itself when admitted would accomplish this purpose.

All was moving along in quick order, and then came the final trial in Vancouver Supreme court. The defence, oddly had applied and been granted a “change of venue” from New Westminster Supreme Court, successfully arguing that they would not get a fair jury trial in the Surrey area. (This seemed illogical at this time, as this case had been getting extensive coverage throughout the Lower Mainland, but it was not argued  by Crown.) So it was decided that the court would instead be held in Vancouver Supreme Court.

As mentioned previously Ron Caryer was leading for the Crown, an experienced trial prosecutor and one of the few who for the most part conducted only murder trials for the Crown. His second on the case, or partner, was Roger Dietrich, a young prosecutor prone to wearing suspenders to cover his large bulk which he had previously used to his advantage as a player in the Canadian Football League. The two were Ying and Yang. Opposites but ideally suited.

The defence counsel was the rather infamous Sheldon Goldberg.  Mr Goldberg had been a criminal defence lawyer in and around Vancouver for a number of years. He  invariably found the police to be involved in some form of conspiracy or another, and this inevitably would form any part of his defences on almost every case. He had a jail-house reputation as one of the best because of the dirt he would throw at the police. He  was a classic example of  “tossing (expletive deleted)” at the police blue wall, and then standing back and see what stuck. He was also “thorough”, although some may say deliberately obtuse, bordering on obstruction. I have met many a defence criminal lawyer, some I liked some I didn’t. Mr Goldberg was in the latter category.

This was also not my first time dealing with Mr. Goldberg either.  Previously in the 1990’s I had been involved in the case of David Snow, a multiple killer and rapist, who was eventually declared a dangerous offender in North Vancouver, and later convicted in Toronto, Ontario of killing an elderly couple. I testified at both of these trials, and was up against Mr Goldberg’s version of cross-examination which is often derogatory and personal. I don’t know if he even remembered me by the time we got to the Ertmoed trial, nor do I know if his demeanour was more a matter of style rather than personal belief. Needless to say I was anticipating lots of defence motions, and a slow moving trial.

Judge Wally Oppal, also of some fame by this time as a prominent Judge was assigned to sit on the Supreme Court case.

As the jury was selected, and the first days of the trial began, it was quite clear that this was going to be a painful, slow moving process. It was decided that I needed to be at the courthouse for at least the morning portion of the case, helping to find documents, answering questions which had arisen the previous day, assisting with witness preparations and notifications, and being a general handy-man. I was given an office at the courthouse, and I moved in with the file, consisting by now of 17 legal 10″ x 12″ x 17″ sized boxes of paper; charts, photos, statement copies, all pulled and eventually returned. The small room a makeshift file library sitting amongst the usual detritus of coffee cups, plastic wrappers, and styrofoam lunches hurriedly eaten.

Monday thru Friday after lunch, I would then go back to Surrey Detachment, and begin my normal usual shift in the Serious Crime group. Other murder files began to come in, which sometimes would blur my memory on the “Heather file”, but only until the next morning at 800 Smythe Street.

The trial was set for 3 months beginning in March but by the time it wound down, seven months had passed and we were now at the end of August 2002. Final submissions were prepared and presented to the jury.

Crown’s submission was a moving testament to Heather’s life, and at one time, Caryer stopped mid way through, and pointedly asked the jury to consider in silence how long it would have taken to kill Heather. Ninety seconds then went by in excruciating quiet, interrupted by the occasional uncomfortable cough or nervous sniffle which seemed to reverberate around the old ornate courtroom. You could feel the forced thoughts, the ugly sequence of events as they would have un-folded being forced into the minds of all those there. Almost all absently bowed their heads.

The jury was then excused to consider the case and render their verdict.

Five hours later, in the evening of August 29, 2002 in one of the quickest decisions ever seen in a murder trial, the jury reached their verdict finding Shane Ertmoed “guilty” of 1st degree murder,

One can not adequately express what I was feeling that night as the news sprayed across all the television news, people interviewed expressing relief that a nightmare was over.

Shane went down swinging telling Judge Oppal at sentencing when asked if he had anything to say,  “….all that happened today was a fundamental miscarriage of justice”.

Oppal seemed surprised, and said rather unusually, “I happen to agree with the jury….you have been found guilty of the most horrific crime in law….you murdered a 10 year old simply to satisfy your sexual desires…” and then he confirmed and levied the heaviest sentence possible in the criminal courts of Canada. An automatic sentence of life without a chance of parole for 25 years.

The case was over at last.

Congratulations came in;  phone calls, letters, emails, and thank-you cards, over the next days and months, from as far away as Europe and the United States. Gradually I had time to absorb it all, to sort through my thoughts, what went right, what went wrong, the twists and turns, the bad luck and the good luck.

You quickly determine that any investigation of this sort involves multiple people, all doing right by simply doing their job. Policing is not magical when things come together, in fact for the most part it is mundane fact checking, onerous paper work, and incessant interviews, interspersed by heart-breaking disappointments, or adrenaline fuelled giddiness. There is no middle ground and very often there is little sleep.

There are no real heroes, that is the fodder of television as envisaged by those that have never been there. As a lead investigator you are holding the wagon’s reins but you are only holding the reins with little or no power as to how each individual facet is going to perform, or where the next turn will be in the road.  You just have to get on and try not to get thrown. If it all works, and you are thrown a bit of luck, you will succeed.

Epilogue

Chris Drotar my partner for this file has been promoted a couple of times and remains with the RCMP in a different section. He is still a friend.

My boss, Mel Trekofski who provided the confidence I was sometimes needing has since retired and doing well.

Ron Caryer, the Prosecutor was made a Judge and is now also retired. He returned to Golden Ears Park for many years on the anniversary of Heather’s death and erected a small cairn in her memory. We also became friends.

Roger Dietrich, the 2nd Prosecutor is now a senior Crown Counsel in the Toronto area. He wrote a book about the case, as a kind of catharsis, but never submitted it for publication.

Dr. Rolf Mathewes, the Botanist, who matched the “cultivated junipers” to the bag and to Ertmoed’s residence, shortly thereafter opened a Forensic Botany unit at the University of British Columbia. Dr Sweet, the dentist who was able to positively identify Heather also began to also specialize in Forensic dentistry.

Cpl Jean Bouchard the Forensic Identification officer who I had put under the hood of the suspect car went on to be an Instructor at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa, teaching other Forensic Identification officers.

All the other investigators are too numerous to mention, but as much as I have been able to follow them throughout their careers, as expected, they all seem to have done rather well.

We eventually determined there were two “leaks” as to the information which led to the media ultimatum. One was inadvertent and came out of the psychiatrists office, while the other was tracked to an upper level RCMP officer. RCMP HQ, a couple of months later said they were ending their investigation, as it was “unnecessary”, after all “you won the case in the end”. You can read what you want to in that.

Sheldon Goldberg, the defence counsel, in 2009 was forced to resign from the practise of law for 5 years, after being found guilty of professional misconduct and incompetency.

After 15 years Shane Ertmoed applied for early parole under the “faint hope clause” and was denied. He is now scheduled to be up for parole in 2025; he will be 48 years old when he is eligible to walk free.

Jodie Aspin Thomas, Heather’s mother is still a survivor, and still often wears a “Heather” button, with the same picture as you saw in Part I of this story. Her sorrow is always with her just like the picture.

I lost track of Pat Thomas but he was last known to be working as a carpenter in the Whistler area, no doubt, also trying to put his life together.

Heather would have been 28 years old this year. Of course I was never able to meet Heather in a way that humans are expected to meet. My thoughts still often go to her, despite the passage of time, and I feel that we quietly and in our own way travelled some type of dark road together. I think we would be friends now. But, nobody should have to meet someone this way.

 

Photo Courtesy of Flickr via Commons created by x1klima 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

Personal Story – “Heather” – Part I

I received a “page”, seventeen years ago, that irritating incessant beep which kept repeating every few seconds. The message was always a phone number to call and receiving it implied by its very nature a sense of urgency. In some messages the phone number would be followed by a -911, to further underline the urgent request, which was the case in this instance.

As a member of the Serious Crime Section of Surrey RCMP Detachment, it usually meant that there had been a death, or somebody was barely hanging on, closer to death than life; and that it was likely violent, but above all else, that it was somehow “suspicious”.

It was 10:15 pm, on October 1st, 2000 when I got the page from my Sargent in charge of Serious Crime, Mel Trekofski and he in turn asked that I call to “partner” with me that night, Constable Chris Drotar, also a member of our Serious Crime Section.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, this particular page would change our lives, it would alter our perceptions of man’s inhumanity to man, and it would test our physical and mental abilities to a limit that we likely didn’t feel possible at that time. And thankfully, it would not be often repeated through the course of our careers.

We knew from the initial information that a girl had gone missing, a 10 year old girl, in fact.  Her name was Heather, and she was the daughter of Patrick Thomas who lived at the address. It was a little discomfiting to learn that she had in fact gone missing around 5:30 that afternoon. Already we would be starting with a time disadvantage, which in our world can sometimes mean the difference to success or failure.

The mother, Jodie Thomas was estranged from Patrick and lived in a different part of Surrey and would not be at the house.

Heather and her brother were at their fathers in Cloverdale,  as part of that common suburban divorce dance of shared custody. It was his week-end, but this was Sunday, and the kids were due back at Mom’s. But then things changed.

Search and Rescue had been and were still involved, along with all the neighbours who lived in the complex. Nothing of significance had been found as of yet, but the officers who were in attendance felt that “Dad” was acting strangely, and it was for that reason that we were being called; to interview Dad. The implications were obvious and unstated.

It was a typical October night, wind slighting blowing, leaves beginning to fall but not yet in full decomposition, coloured, but still clinging to the trees. We were asked to attend to Unit 26 at 17722 60th Avenue, in the usually quiet suburban area of Cloverdale, part of the not so quiet City of Surrey, B.C.

As we arrived in the dimly lit complex it was quickly noted that directly across the street was the Cloverdale Fairgrounds and the Racetrack. This was a Sunday, and on this particular day the expansive parking lot during the afternoon became a massive flea market involving hundreds of people. At the time of Heather’s disappearance there could have been thousands within a few hundred yards of the housing complex.

The wood construction of the worn town homes showed the usual green tinge along the edge and rooftops, mold that comes with incessant rains. It was an older complex, u-shaped so you could drive in a semi-circle and go out the other side.  It showed no signs of recent care, just the wear of years of  many children, a complex of about 50 units, who through its life was mostly populated with single parents and young couples starting families. Blue collar, trying to make ends meet, with a tinge of a criminal underbelly always found skirting the edges of poverty flecked neighbourhoods.

As we arrived,  it was quiet, as the people of the complex had by now retreated into their individual homes, no doubt staring out from behind partially closed kitchen venetian blinds.  Almost all had been searching for Heather around dinner time, all likely knew that she had not been located, so one can imagine the variety of explanations given to curious children as they got ready for bed that night.

As we drove up to the residence, with that usual mixture of adrenalin and apprehension, we were fearing the worst, but not quite prepared for that being the case.

The greeting uniform officers, who were unusually quiet, told us that they had searched the residence thoroughly, which is the first place to look for a child. Dad’s vehicle was parked out front, and it too had been searched with nothing found.

Inside the town home, it was like hundreds of others I had been in; some worn furniture, some new, usually a prominent t.v. and the usual evidence of active children. Right at the door, in clear view, was a knapsack, clearly a girls adorned with the usual hanging customized knick knacks which signalled that a girl owned and cherished it. It was in a position clearly in anticipation of heading out of the residence. It was clearly Heather’s and clearly untouched from hours before.

Chris and I introduced ourselves to the father, who sat in the living room, emotionless, wearing jeans and a collared shirt. Blonde, and blue eyed, of average height and build, a good looking man, he was staring straight ahead, saying little, no tears, no anger. There was little in his eyes, which is almost always the giveaway.  Nothing in his composure which indicated a reaction to  the most hellish of torments for a father. So, it was quickly apparent what the original attending officers thought was “unusual”.

I asked Dad if it was o.k. if we conducted another search of the residence, and his vehicle and he quickly and quietly agreed. He did not question why we were being this thorough. I also asked Dad if he would come to the police office, where we could take a statement, which he also readily agreed to, with no questions.

So at quarter to one in the morning, we sat in the interview room with Pat, whose demeanour remain unchanged.

Pat’s story was this.

Pat had been working on some carpentry in his residence. The two kids, Heather and her 8 year old brother Chris had asked around 4:30 to go out and play around the complex while they waited to go to their Mom’s. He said yes, but told them that they had to be back by 5:30 so that he could keep to the proscribed schedule.

Around 5 Chris came into the house, but without Heather, and Pat told him to go get his sister so that they could get ready to leave. Chris went out, could not find Heather, and came back a few minutes later saying exactly that.

Showing the usual parent frustration, Pat packed up and went out into the complex.  He began looking, talking to the various kids and parents as to whether they had seen Heather. It was learned after a short time from some of those parents, that she was last seen riding a 2- wheeled bike that she had borrowed from one of the other children.

A few minutes later, the borrowed bike was found, but no sign of Heather.  According to one witness, the bike tire was still spinning when they found it, near the front of the complex, in a parking stall on its side.

After we finished the interview around 2 in the morning, we were still just as confused as to Dad’s reaction, or more accurately, his non-reaction. Throughout he was totally co-operative, but he never mentioned the proverbial elephant in the room, which was whether we suspected him as doing something to his daughter. He just answered our questions, calmly and without hesitation.

We left the room, and dropped Pat back at the now growing Search and Rescue group on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.  Still somewhat unsatisfied about Pat, however, we had come to one conclusion. The time-line, both drawn by the original officers, the neighbours, and our interview we felt excluded Pat from being involved. The circumstantial evidence did not leave any room or time for him to commit what would be an unthinkable act. Granted we were leaning on some years of experience and training, and trusting our judgement. Not always a comfortable feeling. And we were about to alter the scope or focus of an investigation as a result. If we were wrong, with the stakes this high, with the focus both within the police and the public that only a 10 year old girl victim can generate, it would be a decision that could haunt or taunt us for the rest of our lives.

In our opinion, we believed that Heather had disappeared, silently, although surrounded by thousands of possible witnesses.

Statistically, if this was a “stranger” abduction as we feared, the chance of Heather being alive was minimal, as too much time had passed since her disappearance. We also knew that there were only a couple of probabilities in terms of motive as to why a young girl is abducted.

If the suspect was not a family member, which was now our investigational theory, then we were now in our own personal criminal investigational nightmare. We were now looking for the needle in the haystack.

To be continued…….

Photo Courtesy of the Surrey Leader newspaper, a picture released to the public during the Search for Heather.

 

 

 

An apology to my faithful but few readers

In the last few weeks there has been a lack of output from your faithful scribe, for two reasons.  The first is the inability to force myself to sit in front of a computer, which is  a human fraility, the failure to be disciplined. Instead, I have been enjoying the comforts of a warm summer; bbq’s, still and sultry nights, family members coming together, shorts and flip flops. But in my defence, I did feel a twinge of guilt.

The second reason is that about mid-August, just as I was being pulled back to the laptop, unannounced,  I was forced to undertake an investigation into the Canadian medical health care system; having being literally forced to my knees by sudden acute sciatica. A few weeks of intense pain has a way of taking away your ability to concentrate, and did not even allow me to sit in front of the afore mentioned computer. I am not looking for sympathy, just trying to justify my lack of written output.

My medical investigation so far by the way, has revealed that although better than the third world without a doubt, I have some serious questions on the costs of our system, and the eventual medical outcomes. I have concluded that you are your own best diagnostician, and the enormous monies being spent are feeding some segments but not others.  After two emergency room visits surrounded by crying babies, alcoholics, and drug addicts with their often ill-defined problems, and an ambulance ride where we discussed poor pay and our mutual dislike of firemen, I was left wondering where all the money that goes into health care. Is it really finding its way to where it is needed? But that is for another time and blog.

So now, still on crutches, and probably destined for a life style change which incorporates physiotherapy for the duration of it, I have been re-defined, and find myself in need of the succour of writing. When I first started this sometimes moving target blog I wondered if I would find enough issues which would inspire me to undertake and dedicate myself to a daily writing process.

Rest assured. That has not been the case. Quite the opposite actually as I, like you, are continuously being bombarded by “breaking news”.

There is the continual distraction of the bombastic, idiotic, and war mongering U.S. President, who can not put a grammatical sentence together. But that aside here are the few things that are of interest to me.

Hurricane Harvey in Houston happened a few weeks after BC was declaring the whole province a state of Emergency due to wildfires. Stunning photographs from Houston, while here, thousands of people evacuated under growing frustration with the process itself. Emergency planning as exercised in this Province, I think needs to be placed under a microscope. Hidden behind the “rescues” and the “hero” stories there is a need for an audit, a need for some non-emotional analysis.

In Ottawa, the Indigenous inquiry is proving to be a political disaster and at the very least, as predicted, will be an ineffectual exercise. But the Liberals push on, now making two departments in the Federal government to deal with indigenous affairs, rather than INAC.  Billions of dollars in expenditures seem to be on the horizon, apparently without a smidgen of opposition.

Also in Ottawa, Senator Mike Duffy, guilty of gouging the system legally and lacking any ethical and moral compass, he is now suing the RCMP and the Federal Government for $8 million. I suspect he is going to get a payout, due to an inferior RCMP investigation of which I have some personal knowledge, and an investigation which was wrapped in political interference.

Locally, Surrey and the surrounding areas seem to have a new drug war developing. So what else is new you ask?  Meanwhile, IHIT (Integrated Homicide and Investigation Team) at last count solving only 6 out of 36 murders this year.  I am hearing rumblings that the officers in the Unit itself, are now questioning the effectiveness of their own organization.

The daily Fentanyl news coverage has now dwindled from public view, the news agencies finally running out of variations on the theme of reporting the “crisis”.  A sense of acceptance seems to have taken hold in the general public.

The Mounties still have no Commissioner, still awaiting for a large committee of eight politicos led by ex-Premier Frank McKenna to render their decision. I wonder what that will all cost, and what direction will the new Commissioner take this organization.

And in a more comic and reflective vein, the CBC, could not make a decision on who to replace the venerable Peter Mansbridge. Instead, and I can just picture the boardroom meeting, they have chosen to not pick a singular person, but to pick four possible persons.  Why use one, when you can use four for the same job? And the genius of course, is that the four will represent the gender and ethnic groups that are now championed throughout the Federal government.

So there are just a few of the things that interest me and my wandering mind (and it may be the medication) …. I will keep you posted.

Photo courtesy of Enric Fradera via Flickr at Creative Commons