When Insp. Kara Triance became the Officer in Charge for the RCMP’s Sea to Sky region back in 2016, she had a number of priorities in mind for her time here, and near the top of that list was improving law enforcement’s relationship with the Whistler community.
“I think often people forget there is a significant community behind all the tourism and the visitors here,” said Triance, noting how the detachment has added a supervisor role that oversees community engagement. “I made that my priority and focus for the first while just to get an understanding of what was happening at a community level and build some important relationships.”
With the recent news that Triance is returning to her hometown of Kelowna next month to serve as Central Okanagan’s new RCMP commander, Pique caught up with the Sea to Sky’s top cop to reflect on the past four years of policing, the work that still needs to be done, and the fervent calls for a more just, equitable police force that have sprouted up across North America in the wake of Minneapolis police’s killing of George Floyd.
Among the most notable achievements during Triance’s time here was the creation of a specialized position specifically intended to address domestic and sexual violence, which was launched with the support of several local social-service organizations working on the frontlines of the issue.
“I feel like that allows us to provide invaluable service to the most vulnerable and serious crimes in our community when it comes to interpersonal relationships and the impact of trauma on individuals,” she said, adding that she expects to see reporting of these crimes increase with the new position, along with a 2017 pilot project that allows survivors of sexual violence to make anonymous reports to a certified third party, which then relays the information to investigators.
“That’s been an incredible success,” Triance said. “We all know there can be challenges that deter people from coming forward, so signing off on that third-party reporting agreement was an incredibly powerful moment.”
Bike theft was another major focus for Whistler police during Triance’s tenure. One of the first things she did upon taking the role in the fall of 2016 was partner with 529 Garage, a bike registration and recovery service created by a former Microsoft executive that alerts other users in the area when a bike is stolen. Bike theft in Whistler dropped 57 per cent in the first year of the partnership. That, coupled with Mounties’ bait-bike program, has helped take a bite out of one of Whistler’s most persistent and lucrative forms of property theft—although the issue has only gotten worse during the pandemic as the detachment has had fewer resources at its disposal, Triance said.
“Interestingly enough, we saw a spike in crime this summer on bike theft,” she said. “As the criminal element can do, they capitalized on the time during COVID when people let their guard a little bit and we were at a place where we felt we really needed to ramp up our efforts. That’s something we’re doing right now.”
Reinforced by a string of motorcycle accidents that either led to serious injury or death on Highway 99 this summer, road safety continues to be a challenge for local police.
“As long as people are dying as a result of collisions, I need to be concerned,” said Triance, adding that the detachment is working with ICBC on messaging aimed at reducing speeding and motorcycle-involved accidents. “That has to be my focus as a police officer, but I can assure you we have met those same number of collisions with increased traffic blitzes. And you’ll see more to come on this as we move into the next two weekends.”
On a related, note, Whistler has seen its impaired driving rate climb significantly in recent years, something police have, at least in part, chalked up to increased enforcement efforts. Presenting to local council in March 2020, RCMP reported 385 impaired driving offences in 2019, an 18-per-cent increase over the prior year.
“I’m not going to be satisfied until we can see our police officers out there doing the road blocks, doing the checks, pulling vehicles over and our statistics going down,” Triance said. “We’re going to continue to focus on that. There will be no reduction in our work on that area until we can see some results that show it going down.”
As protests against police violence towards Black and other marginalized communities have swept across the U.S. and sparked calls for RCMP reform in Canada—specifically over the agency’s historical treatment of Indigenous Canadians—Triance said she has “had to look introspectively and really reconcile my feelings of discomfort with what’s right and what we have to do right now to move forward in a progressive manner.”
As officer in charge, Triance said her priority has been on training and education to ensure the officers under her command “know my position on bias-free policing and racism. It would be absolutely intolerable for me to hear about these sorts of events that you’re seeing unfold in the U.S., but also in Canada.
“Within the Sea to Sky, 50 per cent of our police officers are women, and we actively seek out recruits … that are of any sort of visible minority within Canada,” she added. “It’s our priority to make sure that we are a representative and diverse police force in the Sea to Sky, and able to provide a police service to the Sea to Sky that is indicative of our communities.”
The growing movement has also led to calls to defund police in both the U.S. and Canada, although what exactly that would mean depends on whom you talk to. The calls have ranged from modest cuts to police budgets to removing officers from the frontlines of mental-health response to the complete abolishment of police forces altogether.
Triance believes defunding the police is “very simplistic and not an acceptable plan” to address the systemic policing issues that need to be tackled on multiple fronts. She does, however, support reducing the number of officers attending mental-health-related calls, something Canada’s largest psychiatric hospital lobbied for in the wake of a string of deaths involving people in crisis, including Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year-old father with schizophrenia killed by police in Mississauga, Ont. in June after his family called a non-emergency line. He was the third Canadian in crisis to be killed by police in the span of a month.
Prior to that, Whistler business owner Jason Koehler, who had a history of mental health and substance use challenges, was killed during a March 8 police incident after the RCMP was called regarding a disturbance at a Village restaurant. A lawsuit filed by Koehler’s family in June alleged that the responding officers, who wielded pepper spray, a taser and batons to gain control of an intoxicated Koehler, used “extreme and excessive force” in the arrest.
Declining to comment with the incident still under investigation by the civilian-led Independent Investigations Office of B.C., Triance noted that one of the outstanding projects she leaves behind for her successor is the creation of a mental-health policing position that would potentially respond to crisis calls with a certified clinician.
“We would be able to attend those calls together and deal with matters that are often complex, and not just involving mental health, but may involve something like a situation table that allows us to do a holistic community approach towards problems that have multiple layers. Maybe there’s family and children involved. Perhaps there are health services that need to be at the table. Maybe there’s support services in other areas for addiction and drug treatment that need to be pulled in,” she said. “If I could have accomplished that, which I think we’re well on the way to get rolling, that would be my ultimate goal, to see that done.”
After four years in the corridor, Triance said the region has left its mark on her.
“My youngest daughter was born here, my oldest started school here, and my husband taught in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton,” she noted. “We have some really deep roots in this community and it will be hard to leave, and we’ve loved our time here.”
Local RCMP member leaves for her third posting to Nunavut
In other local police news, Pique caught up with Cpl. Melissa DesLauriers, who recently set off for the remote Nunavut town of Kimmirut for her third relief-duty tour. We asked her what it’s like policing in the Great North, and the relationships she’s forged while working so closely with the local community.
Policing in the remote Canadian north means having the kind of proximity to the community you serve that you don’t often see further south.
“You see the community members every day, whether you’re on duty or quickly running down to the store to pick up groceries or your mail. One time I even had a couple community members assist me on a call. You never know when you’re going to need their help,” said Whistler RCMP member Cpl. Melissa DesLauriers, who left this month for her third posting to Nunavut.
As part of our ongoing, semi-regular On the Beat series profiling local cops who go beyond the call of duty, Pique caught up with the 33-year-old B.C. native as she prepares for her second posting to the primarily Inuit town of Kimmirut, on the shores of Hudson Strait, where she’ll stay for 30 days of relief duty, giving one of the three regular officers there a chance to go on holiday.
Understandably, policing in an isolated town of less than 400 differs greatly from the hustle and bustle of Whistler, where she has worked for the past two years. First and foremost: the cold.
“Don’t get me wrong, -30 can be very chilly, especially if you’re not prepared for it,” said DesLauriers. “Me being from B.C., the Lower Mainland, we don’t regularly see that kind of frigid weather. Before I left, I actually popped into a business here and one of the employees gave me a quick lesson on layering my clothing properly, and that was super helpful.”
Dealing with the isolation is another challenge, which DesLauriers staves off with exercise, regular dinners with her fellow officers, and keeping in close contact with her friends and family back home.
Of course, the kinds of issues police have to contend with are much different in such a remote town, and sometimes even extend beyond the scope of an officer’s regular duties.
“[It’s] mainly assaults and domestic assaults. Some alcohol and drug abuse. Things like bootlegging alcohol is quite big—and even the occasional polar bear sighting,” she explained.
Mounties have to take a different approach when attending calls as well. DesLauriers said it’s not unusual for two officers to attend a call that might only warrant one in the southern provinces.
“Situations can take a turn pretty quick, especially when alcohol is involved, which tend to be higher risk,” she said.
Relationship-building is all the more crucial in a community where residents and police coexist so closely, not to mention a history fraught with tension between the Inuit and RCMP.
“Just having patience and good communication skills are so imperative,” said DesLauriers. “In the north, our call volume is a little bit lower than what it is down here, so we have the time to spend with people and to really listen to their concerns—not that we don’t here. You just have more time to dig into those issues.”