Locals cited trust, security, youth engagement, compassion, illicit substances, traffic violations, de-escalation and space for differing opinions to feel safe as priorities for Squamish RCMP to address.
These were some of the sentiments of more than two dozen people who gathered at Brennan Park Recreation Centre on March 27 for a town hall on policing.
Why a town hall?
The event was organized by the Squamish detachment of the Sea to Sky RCMP, which is conducting such meetings across the Sea to Sky.
The idea is to gather input for what will eventually become a strategic plan. The intent of the plan is to provide guiding principles for local officers; it is expected to be released to the public around May.
In an interview with The Squamish Chief, the Sea to Sky's officer in charge, Insp. Robert Dykstra, said the goal is to look for common ground on how the community wants its officers to serve it.
"Hearing all the different opinions and ideas is great. I don't ever want to turn away anybody's specific opinion. Today, we heard a lot of different opinions, but there were a lot of common themes coming out of these opinions. So we don't discard anything. We hear everything and we take it into account. What we'll have to do, though, is take that information and combine it with all the information we've been able to gather so far."
Dykstra said the plan shouldn't stray too far from the core duties of policing, which involve providing security and safety for the community but will provide additional context.
"It becomes a document that says these are our values, and this is how we want to provide a service. These are the priorities that we're working on over the next few years, and what our goals and objectives are related to those things," he said.
When it comes to reflecting on what police should be doing in the community, the strategic plan can become a reference point for where resources should be allocated and what activities officers can be doing, Dykstra said.
During the town hall event, the inspector said that while he did not believe the Squamish's policing system is broken, it has to evolve with the times.
He mentioned various movements such as Defund the Police, Black Lives Matter, mental health issues and concerns about policing in other racialized communities.
"There's a whole bunch of change happening," said Dykstra. "It would be really disingenuous to say that policing needs to stay the same. It can't. We have to change with the times; we have to change … in order to be legitimate. Legitimacy as a police organization is extremely important. Legitimate, accountable, and a partner in ensuring the public is safe."
He also said that he wanted the community to think of officers as "Your RCMP" as opposed to "The RCMP."
Members of the public were then allowed to air their comments during the meeting.
Many appeared to agree the RCMP in Squamish were doing a good job.
There were, however, some concerns and questions.
One person said they lacked trust in the RCMP after they were told to put on a mask during the pandemic by a non-local officer. She said she had an exemption and felt threatened by the interaction.
Another person challenged Dykstra's characterization of officers as being "Your RCMP," saying that at the end of the day, officers still enforce laws that may be unjust. The government's whims still control them, the audience member said.
There was a discussion that RCMP could engage more with youth. One person commended officers for personally educating their child on the potential dangers of social media and illicit parts of the internet.
There were also people decrying the news media, the degeneration of society, substance abuse, and the lack of patriotism in Canada.
Traffic violations were also an issue that was raised.
Others were concerned about how police interact and protect marginalized populations.
People noted the officers should help establish a middle ground where people of different backgrounds and political beliefs can feel safe.
It was noted that many people fear the justice system, and others raised the topic of mental health and de-escalation techniques.
After the meeting, Dykstra and staff Sgt. Gareth Bradley sat down with The Squamish Chief and addressed some follow-up questions.
Regarding mental health issues, Dykstra noted local officers are in the process of setting up a pilot program for an officer specialized in mental health issues.
He also spoke about the incident at Under One Roof, where a person experiencing a mental health episode tragically took their own life. In that case, a large tactical police team was deployed outside the building. Some in the community wondered if the fear of armed officers may have pushed that person over the edge.
Bradley, who ran the scene, said it was a dynamic situation.
"There were a lot of things being thrown out of the window that were sharp and large, and we had to shut the street down," he said.
"It was a combination of the different things outside and then what's happening on the inside of the building as well. So it's just about making sure people are not going to get hit with objects, and then also taking into consideration the person that we're actually dealing with and all the other residents on the floor and making sure they're safe."
Dykstra noted that such situations are volatile.
"It's necessary to have [a tactical team] there, because it's one of those things where it's better to have it and not need it than to need it not have it," he said.
"Our members are trained in de-escalation. I'm confident that they tried to de-escalate the situation. They did everything in their power to do it. The huge police response is often a result of public safety as much as police safety."
He also added that it would be unsafe for only one officer to address a situation like the one at Under One Roof.
"If we hear a member that's in a situation that could be dangerous, we don't just say well, OK, you, one person — you go and help this person," said Dykstra. "We're all going to be there. Because, inevitably, there's a whole whack of other things going on."
He also had remarks on activists' concerns about the use of undercover or plainclothes officers in monitoring protests. This has been a point raised in light of opposition to the joint Woodfibre LNG and FortisBC pipeline projects.
Dykstra said that the tactics used will depend on the types of protest they encounter. However, he declined to say whether officers would avoid using undercover tactics.
"I'm never going to say we are not going to do something," said Dykstra. "What I will say is, whatever we do will always be within the law. And with the best intentions of ensuring a peaceful protest."