It is the summer of 1882. My great grandfather, Const. Peter John Reggin, has come west to Alberta (then the North West Territories)Â with the second contingent of North West Mounted Police officers. They use the American river systems to get to Southern Alberta, as the first group reported an arduous journey from Ontario.
He is a raw recruit with nothing for training. He will be trained on the job. At 19 years of age, he has only worked in a drug store in Toronto and has never been west of Toronto. He knows little of riding horses. He will be paid 75 cents per day.
The recruits arrive at Fort Macleod, which is on an island in the Oldman River. The winters are bitterly cold and the recruits have to rotate closer to the wood stoves, each night, to keep warm.Â They are often assigned, in twos, to patrol at lonely outposts that are colder still.
They look forward to spring, but then the Oldman River floods parts of the island and makes conditions even more difficult. Eventually, the headquarters is moved to Regina and my grandfather ends up at Maple Creek, Sask. (also the NWT then)
Over the years, the North West Mounted Police earned great respect from the natives and settlers alike. They accomplish this through lots of talk, a reputation for fairness and a steely resolve to do the job. Indeed, their greatest problems seemed to be with Americans who ruined the natives with liquor, and with the Americans' "shoot em up" attitude.
Today, this force of authority has become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. However, the earned respect seems sorely lacking, despite many positive endeavours.
The media seems to delight in any "cop" story, and individual officer's wrongdoings are brought forth again and again.
There have been letters to the editor about the shooting incident at the Harvest Golf Club. The RCMP received a call that "a disgruntled employee" had "pointed a gun," that "shots were fired" and he "left in his vehicle." What exactly happened remains a bit of a mystery.
However, this resulted in a police pursuit of the suspect, Buddy Tavares, and the now infamous kick to his head by Const. Geoff Mantler.
The constable pleaded guilty to assault, but there are still unanswered questions. Who phoned 911? Isn't it dangerous to be scaring off geese, with a shotgun, in a residential area, as Tavares was reported to have been hired to do? If all permits were in place, why did Tavares surrender his guns? Indeed, the media seems to have focused on the kick only, and has reported little on what happened before that.
Is this fair to the RCMP?Â
How was it the reporter who filmed the Mantler kick just happened to be there? Was he using a police scanner? Do we really want every police arrest to be recorded?
Kelly Hayes' video only begins with the third command by Mantler to "get down" and "I want to see your hands."
Witnesses reported later that he did give that command from the back of the truck twice before. Others reported that Tavares did not comply immediately.
When the next officer arrived on the scene, Tavares was still not out of the truck or down on the ground.
In her testimony, Const. Robin Boffy (second on the scene) reported that she saw "threat cues" in Tavares moving too slowly and not showing his hands.Â
All of this seems to have been glossed over. Perhaps Tavares needs to set the record straight as to what happened at The Harvest Golf Club.
It must be tough being a young officer nowadays. Despite better training and some better facilities, there is much ugly stuff to deal with.
Who would want to go on duty and supervise the bar crowd as it drains out of the local pubs? The whole drug scene must also seem overwhelming. Then there are those who just think it is cool to defy authority.
It is time the media do more reporting on the positives the RCMP do. The RCMP need to engage in a concerted public relations effort. In years past, there used to be hockey games between the RCMP, teachers, media and firefighters at good old Memorial Arena. But do they have the time or the resources? They often have to beg for more staff from city council and are usually shortchanged.
We all know respect should be earned. Maybe the City of Kelowna needs to establish a police commission to deal with challenges.
We all need to work hard to foster respect in a world where authority often seems lacking. But surely this involves all segments of society, especially the media, treating the RCMP fairly. It is a tough job, but we do need them to do it.
Reg Volk writes monthly on politics and local decision-making. He can be reached at