Constable Tim Harper, of the Columbia Valley detachment, got the opportunity to do something he had always wanted to when he was offered the chance to spend 30 days in the Canadian North as part of a relief posting for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
The local police officer just returned from the month-long journey policing in the snowy town of Whale Cove, Nunavut.
“I went up there because I wanted to experience a different culture in Canada. I also wanted to see a different aspect of the RCMP because policing is a lot different in the North,” said Harper
He went on to say that it was always on his wish list to have the chance to go North, so he thought this would be an excellent chance to go. Working out of a two-person detachment was something new for the constable, who saw first-hand what it was like to be a police officer in the North.
“I realized how limited the resources we have were and how it really hits home how vulnerable and isolated you are when your back-up is a couple of hundred kilometres away by plane. You really have to do a lot of risky assessments,” said Harper.
Showing a respect for the culture of the people who live there was also an important aspect for Harper in the small community of 360 people.
“Going into a culture where they use their hunting and fishing as their primary source for food was a massive culture shock,” he said.
He also explained that having to adjust to a new language and having to use translators in different situations while respecting cultural aspects was also an interesting challenge.
The natural setting of the area was also something Harper admitted took him a little by surprise. “The first day it was freezing cold. I landed in massive blowing snow. It was -23 degrees Celsius with a wind chill taking it down to -37. I went from here, where we did not have that bad of a winter, to there, where I could not see, was tough.”
Once arriving in Whale Cove, Harper wanted to get out immediately to let people know who he was in the community.
“Everybody knew my partner and he had a good relationship with the people. I felt completely alone because they did not know me so they did not trust me. They did not acknowledge me in the beginning. I took one day and went out to meet as many people as I could without my partner. Over the 30 days I was able to develop some good relationships with them. In the end they were all coming out to shake my hand and the kids were waving goodbye.”
One thing that Harper noticed in his time in the small community was that there were many social problems to deal with. “Assaults are at the top of their lists. Sometimes child abuse. A lot of it stems from the introduction of alcohol into the community.”
Whale Cove is a restricted community when alcohol is involved. This means that residents must apply to receive any amount of alcohol when the delivery plane arrives. The RCMP has the power to approve or deny such requests and to deal with the problems the shipments may cause. Harper said this only works to a point due to those people who bootleg alcohol into the community.
“Children are the ones who suffer the most because their parents use the alcohol and drugs at home. Some kids won’t even go home. You see them walking around the streets at night. You hear stories of the kids sleeping in garages. I would see some of them wrapped up in musk ox furs sleeping on top of sheds just because they don’t go home.”
Harper said the school in the town had implemented a breakfast program to ensure the students who were going to school were getting one meal a day. Even though there were many differences between the town and the Columbia Valley Harper said that, overall, he had a great time in the North and would go back again if the possibility arose.
“Having an open mind to accept their way of life and to work with them was amazing. This was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. Both from a personal and professional aspect. It was awesome. It has been one of the greatest experiences ever and I hope others get to experience it.”