The RCMP's Côte-Nord detachment may be small, but the officers who work there crack down on big crime — including drug importation, terrorism, organized crime and border security.
It's rural federal policing," says Cpl. Hugo Lavoie, the detachment commander. "
We're trying to be proactive. It's all about networking so we can prevent serious crime."
Located in Sept-Îles, Que., the detachment is in the heart of Côte-Nord, about 650 kilometres northeast of Quebec City. The five-person RCMP office is responsible for federal policing in approximately one fifth of the province, including 1,200 kilometres of coastline and more than 75,000 residents.
Unlike many RCMP detachments that serve as municipal police, Côte-Nord focuses on proactive intelligence gathering to stop cross-border organized crime on a national scale. They work closely with the provincial police — the Sûreté du Québec — which takes care of the day-to-day municipal and provincial policing.
We concentrate on the coastal areas since that's the entry point for a lot of crime," says Lavoie. "
That's our border. We get a lot of boats and ships from other countries coming in."
Ports and boats
The RCMP officers at Côte-Nord spend most of their time making connections with residents, businesses, local fishermen and industry workers.
We tell them to be our eyes and ears," says Lavoie. "
If you see something suspicious like a weird boat, give us a call, 24-7, anytime."
The Côte-Nord region is home to some of Canada's largest international ports and these are a major policing priority for the detachment. Hundreds of ships pass through Sept-Îles, Baie-Comeau and Port Cartier every year, loading and unloading millions of tonnes of cargo for Quebec's iron ore and aluminum industries.
Cst. Ghislain Ouellet, who's been an RCMP officer at the detachment for 30 years, visits the ports every week to talk to authorities and the Canada Border Services Agency.
It's all about information sharing," he says. "
Without the information, we can't do prevention."
Shawn Grant, who's in charge of security at the Port of Sept-Îles, says Ouellet and other RCMP officers have been invaluable in helping keep the port secure.
They've built a really great rapport with a lot of the port workers," he says. "
They get inside information about what's going on through word of mouth and building relationships."
Grant says he never hesitates to call the detachment if he sees suspicious activity. If people are asking strange questions, taking pictures or videos, or testing access codes on doors, he passes the information along to the RCMP.
The RCMP keeps track of all the suspicious people seen around the port," he says. "
We can call them any time, day or night. It's because of them that we can feel safe."
Besides the ports, officers at Côte-Nord also visit smaller, rural communities. To access some of the remote fishing villages, RCMP officers must use their zodiac boat in the summer, and snowmobiles in the winter.
There are a lot of hard-to-reach areas, but residents are always happy to see us," says Ouellet. "
We talk to them about Coastal Watch, give presentations to local fishermen, and remind post office workers to watch out for suspicious packages."
The detachment is also responsible for policing Anticosti Island in the St. Lawrence River, which is home to approximately 200 residents, a national park and eight landing strips for small planes. Every year, officers from Côte-Nord meet with local lobster fishermen, who spend spring and early summer fishing there.
They're positioned right near the airstrips, so we give them our business cards and say, 'if you see a suspicious plane or a sailboat that doesn't belong, note down what it looks like and give us a call,'" says Ouellet.
As a result of their networking, the detachment receives several tips per week. Suspicious sailboats and boats are of particular interest to the Côte-Nord RCMP because they're often used for trafficking drugs. Many years ago, Ouellet remembers intercepting one barge that contained 50 tonnes of hashish.
Although busts like that don't happen often, he says it's part of what keeps the job at Côte-Nord so interesting.
It's also the people and the landscape," says Ouellet. "
If you like the outdoors and the sea, it's the perfect detachment."