Tofino’s Campbell Street was a sea of Red Serge as a Canadian flag was raised over the community’s new RCMP detachment to kick off an official opening ceremony on Oct. 4.
The town’s six RCMP officers and other staff members had moved into the $10 million, 1,200 sq. ft. facility in June, after spending roughly two years working from a modified residence on Lone Cone Road while their new building was constructed.
The new detachment was built on the same site the now former, 500 sq. ft., detachment had stood since 1977 at 400 Campbell Street. The building is located within the traditional territory of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and Tla-o-qui-aht member Dwayne Martin opened the Oct. 4 ceremony with a traditional welcome, followed by a blessing from RCMP Chaplain Jim Turner.
Before the prayer, Turner recounted visiting the Tofino detachment in 2003.
“The quality of people has not changed in any way, shape or form. Outstanding individuals serve the community,” Turner said. “However, the building left a little to be desired in those days and it’s wonderful to be here today to see this lovely building, which will house the excellence of service members.”
The event brought B.C.’s minister of public safety Mike Farnworth to Tofino for the first time and he said he was particularly happy to be opening the new detachment alongside representatives from West Coast First Nations communities that, “have protected these lands for over 5,000 years and to be able to share in the celebration of this important enhancement to public safety in this area.”
He commended local police for their diligence while working out of their “insufficient” old building, despite the community’s needs having outgrown it.
“It didn’t fully support the operational demands that modern policing requires, but that’s not stopped you or slowed you down. Instead, those of you here in this detachment were on call night and day to respond to the needs of your community, keeping up with excellent police service for the citizens…and for that, you deserve our grateful thanks,” he said.
He said the new detachment represented a significant achievement for the multiple levels of government and RCMP who brought it to fruition.
“This is a great facility and I think all of you here should be proud of it,” he said.
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Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said the need for a new building was obvious the first day she walked into the detachment shortly after being elected to her first term in 2013.
“I knew, at that time, that the detachment was very small and that the members and staff who serve this community and this region had outgrown it,” she said, commending the efforts made to make the new building a reality.
“It certainly has resulted in an incredibly beautiful building.”
She confessed that, during its construction, she sometimes told visitors who asked about the work being done that a different kind of facility was being built.
“I would say, ‘It’s a new library’ and they’d get so excited and then I’d say, ‘No, actually, it’s a new RCMP detachment,’ and the reactions were mixed,” she said. “I think that speaks to the complicated relationship that we have with law enforcement sometimes and that really comes down to the fact that, sometimes, we lose sight of the fact that the members and the staff who serve with the RCMP are here to help ensure the safety and the security for the peace and good functioning of our democratic society that we should all be so grateful to live in.”
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She said Tofino’s relationship with its first responders is key.
“I know that everybody works very hard together to do what needs to be done in a town like this that serves a small population, but an incredible number of visitors who come here,” she said before turning her focus to the families of first responders. “Thank you for your sacrifice in supporting the men and women here. Your contribution does not go unnoticed. Thank you very much for it.”
Tofino RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Todd Pebernat said the new building was a “project in the works for many years and touched many hands,” and thanked the Ucluelet RCMP for its support during the facility’s construction.
“For anyone who had been to the former detachment, they would know how old and out of date it was, and very, very cramped. We were literally on top of one another, with members sharing desks. It was certainly not keeping with the current needs of policing,” he said. “This new detachment is very high tech and far more efficient than its predecessor…Tofino is a community that is growing at a significant rate and is becoming more and more popular with tourists and new residents. The popularity of Tofino as a vacation destination has increased the need for our police officers to be nimble and able to quickly respond to a growing number of calls for service. Fortunately, this detachment is designed with an eye on this anticipated growth over the next 50 years.”
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He added the building is seismically designed to withstand “whatever the region wants to throw our way.”
Chief Superintendent Sean Sullivan, head of the RCMP’s Island District, said the new building reflects the community’s growth.
“As the community has grown and evolved, so to has the nature of law enforcement in this area,” he said adding the community’s support of its officers has been vital.
“While the police officers and staff here today provide the most visible sign of law enforcement in your community, what they do would be impossible without the understanding, cooperation and continued participation of all the residents of this area.”
RCMP commanding officer Officer Jennifer Strachan said the new detachment would house a variety of community activities extending beyond law enforcement.
“This building is where we will work, but it is your detachment,” she said. “I see this new detachment as an opportunity for the RCMP and the citizens of this beautiful community and surrounding areas to celebrate our commitment and connection with one another. Our officers, employees and volunteers are very proud to serve the residents of this wonderful region of the West Coast and we look forward to continuing our close bonds with your community.”
She echoed Sullivan’s sentiments about the value of community support.
“Policing is all about building relationships,” she said. “The draw for many RCMP members to rural and small towns is that residents have a vested interest in being part of a cohesive community and most are more than willing to assist the police with problem solving and issues that arise.”
Ahousaht First Nation Chief Greg Louie and councillor Angus Campbell presented Sgt. Pebernat with an Ahousaht flag to hang in his new office.
“I really appreciate Ahousaht’s relationship that we have with the RCMP. It’s really become very positive over the last several years,” Louie said. “The meetings, the sessions, the talks that we have with the RCMP to improve relationships, improve also some of the stigma that some of our people have about policing. It can be negative, but we know there are a lot of positives that come from what you do serving for our people. Thank you.”