"Pooh Bear" wants Squamish kids who have endured child abuse and their caregivers to know there is a biker family that is there for them if need be.
Pooh Bear is the road name of biker Richard Poulin, Greater Vancouver chapter president and the provincial press relations manager for Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA)
The non-profit organization, which has 22 chapters in Canada — five in B.C. — and chapters in 18 countries, works to protect youngsters who have suffered documented abuse.
Sadly, Poulin says during the pandemic, the need for their services has increased.
"Our chapter has been busier than we have ever been before," he said.
How they help
Every chapter has a helpline. (In Squamish, call 1-778-953-2004)
Once a call comes in about a child needing support, that situation is assessed and if it’s a good fit for BACA, there’s an initial visit with the child and guardians to talk about what will happen next. The child also gets to pick a road name.Watch a video about the group.
Level one is the next step when the members of the BACA chapter come out en masse to give the child a biker vest with his or her road name on it. The child is welcomed into the biker "family."
"When you see these kids at the Level Ones, at first they are shy and timid and scared and usually within an hour or so you see their confidence building and over time you see them — six months down the road — and they are finally able to be kids again. And there is no greater thing in the world to see a child be a child rather than having to grow up so much quicker."
After Level One, the primaries will meet with the child every two or three weeks and be available to them 24/7.
Often leading up to court appearances, children are in the most contact with BACA.
"That is probably one of the most empowering things they can do, but it is also one of the most terrifying things because a lot of times they have to be in the same room as the alleged perpetrator and tell their story," Poulin said of children testifying in court.
Whether BACA members can go into court as support varies from court to court.
"A lot of times we aren't allowed to wear our vests, but that is fine. We have to play by their rules. Prior to us going there, we have a court liaison who will reach out to that particular court... We are not there to intimidate the perpetrator or anything like that. We are there just to help empower that child."
He added that anytime a child testifies, that is a win, regardless of what the outcome is, it is a win because the kid has told their truth.
"It is gut-wrenching to hear these stories," Poulin said, adding that the members don't know or ask details about the child’s abuse, so often the first time they may hear it is in the court.
Poulin, who joined BACA in 2017, is a "primary" to seven "heroes," as he calls them.
"Our goal is to get them to the point where they are not in fear, and they don't need us anymore," he said.
Sometimes, there is a need for a Level Two action, which is when the child feels unsafe because, for example, the perpetrator is out on bail, and BACA members rally around the child — literally.
The members will go and guard the house 24/7 until the threat is gone.
"We will stay there until there is no need," Poulin said.
Sensitive to trauma
At each step, there is an awareness that the children they are dealing with have been traumatized. Thus, they find out if there are any triggers for the child they should avoid.
"When we meet the child, we don't enclose them into a circle. It is a semi-circle. All that is done for particular reasons. We don't want a child to feel more afraid than what they are," he said.
Members fist bump the child, for example, and if there is a hug it is a side hug, he said.
"Everything we do, there's reasoning behind it. Some are good with fist bumps, some just want to say, 'Hi,’" he said. "They are the ones that lead that charge."
Poulin credits the female members of BACA with being the foundation of the group.
Often the child is a female and the alleged perpetrator is a male, Poulin noted.
"These women, our sisters, bridge that gap and without the women in BACA, we couldn't do what we do. Absolutely not. The women are the foundation and it is absolutely amazing."
While BACA is accepting new members, folks can’t just sign up and instantly belong. There is a lot of vetting and training that happens first.
"We are all volunteers in the definition of the word, but anybody in BACA, it is a commitment," Poulin said.
To become a member of the Vancouver Chapter takes about 18 months.
"It is no joke. We want to make sure that our folks are trained."
There's close to 50 hours of webinars alone.
"You basically live, breathe and eat BACA," he said, adding it is a passion for members. "Some of us work 20 to 30 hours a week, just doing BACA stuff alone."
Preventing bad actors from joining
With access to such vulnerable children, in order to belong to BACA there is an extensive vetting process.
"For someone to even get to the point where they do the criminal record check, [in] our chapter, we have a six-month vetting process," Poulin said.
Wannabe members have to attend six months' worth of meetings and any public event the organization holds.
"We have to get to know them," he said. If the person seems a good fit, then they must provide a criminal record check.
Once a member, the check is repeated every two years.
"We are dealing with something that is the most serious thing on earth, in my opinion, abuse of children. We take that extremely seriously to make sure no other harm comes to that child,” he said.
The group doesn't get funding from levels of government, but depends on donations, which are used to pay for the needs of children, such as therapy or other things they want to do, such as horseback riding or music lessons.
Upcoming public rides
Folks in Squamish will have two chances to see BACA members ride by.
First, members of the BC chapters of BACA plan to ride in the 100 Mile Ride — Aug. 21.
The route runs from Trev Deeley Harley-Davidson in Vancouver to Squamish.
Secondly, members will also ride in a Legacy Ride through Squamish on Sept. 18.
The Legacy Chapter is a separate non-profit support organization created to honour the fallen brothers and sisters of BACA. They raise funds for the families of those who have died.
For more on the group go to https://canada.bacaworld.org/greater-vancouver-chapter/