Top RCMP commander bids farewell to Nunavut
“There has to be a significant investment in mental health”
Nunavut’s top policing job is changing hands.
After 32 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and three-and-a-half years as commander of the RCMP’s V Division in Nunavut, Chief Supt. Steve McVarnock is ready to retire.
“When I look at my career overall, I started my career in Frobisher Bay in 1981, so to start here as a recruit and to leave as a commanding officer, to me is just the ultimate way to end it all,” McVarnock said Dec. 7 at an RCMP press conference.
The Northern Ireland-born officer started as Nunavut’s top cop in mid-2009.
McVarnock will leave Nunavut Jan. 10, 2013 and Supt. Lindsey Brine will take command of V Division.
Right off the bat in 2009, McVarnock started initiatives in Iqaluit such as Take Back the Night where roadblocks started popping up and inspections were conducted at liquor establishments.
McVarnock shared one of his proudest accomplishments while being a commanding officer.
“I look at our enhanced work with Canada Post and our partners down south. Last year we were close to $3 million that we seized in alcohol, drugs, and proceeds in crime,” McVarnock said.
“This year we’re close to $2 million already. That effort alone is significant in terms of what we probably stopped from happening in terms of violence out in the communities and proceeds that would have been generated from that,” he said.
McVarnock deems his three-year tenure as Nunavut commanding officer a success, despite climbing statistics that show Nunavut is becoming more violent.
He said Nunavut isn’t any “less safe” than when he stepped into the job — but initiatives like the firearm safety campaign that started in the summer have the potential to change that.
In his three years in charge McVarnock has seen total crime in Nunavut increase by nine per cent — although in 2011 the crime rate decreased by two per cent, and violent crime decreased by four per cent, according to Statistics Canada.
And according to the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, drug violations have gone up from 271 in 2009 to 430 in 2011, and assaults are up six per cent.
McVarnock attributes some rising statistics to the population growth in the territory.
“The demographics are changing in the territory, I think it’s indicative of increased alcohol abuse, and there’s definitely mental health issues that I think people are speaking about a lot more today,” McVarnock said.
Alcohol addiction and mental health issues are problems McVarnock admits are big issues that still overshadow the territory.
McVarnock said the Government of Nunavut has put their best foot forward in mental health projects, such as the new mental health facility slated to open in Iqaluit in March, but more improvements must be made.
“There has to be a significant investment in mental health and addictions counselling in the North, and not just in Iqaluit. We have some major hubs in the territory that I think should have better regional support mechanisms,” he said.
“And if you don’t invest that money on the front end, you’re going to pay for it on the back end,” McVarnock said.
McVarnock also touched on the need for more police recruitment in communities around the North, something incoming Chief Supt. Lindsey Brine said he wants to improve.
“One thing I’d really like to focus on with my team is the recruiting of Inuit members, and employees,” Brine said. “I do have some strategies in mind that will help augment the representation of Inuit within our police force.”
“Right now I think we have about 15 per cent of employees up here who are Inuit, and I would like to sort-of flip that around over the years. I know that’s not an easy thing to do, but I do have some specific plans in mind,” Brine said.
Brine is no stranger to the North, having worked in all three northern territories during his career, including four years in Iqaluit from 1996 to 2000.
“I know some of the challenges that this territory is facing, I really want to continue to embrace the local culture,” Brine said, adding he wants to focus on communication and “building ourselves into the community so that we’re seen as part of the community.”
Brine has an extensive curriculum vitae — in 2009 Brine led an investigation team in Africa, tracking down two high profile terrorist-related kidnappings of Canadian citizens.
Brine was also in charge of 4,000 United Nations police officers in Port-au-Prince in 2010 and 2011 for a United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, an RCMP press release said.
And during his 25-year spell in the RCMP, Brine has been awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, the Canadian Peacekeeping Services Medal, the United Nations Peacekeeping Services Medal, and a Commanding Officer’s Commendation for his part in an investigation in 1999 involving the Hells Angels.
McVarnock says he wants to “stop working in life, and start working at life.” His post-retirement plans include cycling across Canada.