Latest stories

Three male RCMP officers wearing red serge sit on a bench at a lookout with a view of rolling hills and ocean.

Policing the rural towns of Cape Breton

RCMP officers in Chéticamp, N.S., serve dozens of small communities, some located at the edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. The region attracts thousands of visitors. Credit: RCMP


Even when they're off the clock, RCMP officers understand that the people they serve still want a few minutes of their time.

It's the same across Canada but especially in smaller detachments like Chéticamp, N.S.

"When you live in a place like this you can't just finish your shift, go home and stay inside," says Cst. Mike Townsend, who also volunteers as a minor hockey coach. "You have to be part of the community. When I go to the grocery store, I know I'm going to have to set aside some time because people are going to want to talk — and that's fine."

Tourist mecca

The Chéticamp-based officers, three constables and a corporal, serve dozens of small communities, many of which are located on the historic Cabot Trail, at the edge of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. It's a region that attracts thousands of visitors.

"I get my picture taken now more than ever before, especially if I'm in the red serge," says Townsend, who hails from Truro, N.S. "Tourists love it."

Chéticamp is also a location where cellphone service, or even radio service, can be spotty. That can make keeping in touch a little difficult. When emergency calls come in, the location of the incident could be anywhere from five to 50 minutes away.

Requests for backup can take longer.

"There are no doubt challenges here," says retired Cpl. Paulette Delaney-Smith, who returned to her Cape Breton and Acadian roots in 2010 to serve as district commander for the next six years.

"Working in Chéticamp is not like working at the old RCMP headquarters in Toronto," she says.
Officers' deal with some of the usual requests that are often associated with community policing: traffic calls, domestic disputes, and drug- and alcohol-related offences.

"But when I policed here, sometimes people came in to ask how to fill out forms like passports. Or they had other questions," says Delaney-Smith.

"They don't really tell you about that kind of stuff at Depot."

Supporting each other

Detachment members also help each other — with both day-to-day and more dramatic events.

"In smaller places, where the resources of bigger centres might not be that readily available, you have to do what you can," says Delaney-Smith.

She recalls filling in for officers who needed to travel home on a moment's notice and helping other colleagues who responded to a harrowing call about an injured hiker. The woman had been mauled by a coyote and later died from her injuries.

The incident occurred in October 2009 and Delaney-Smith arrived as the corporal in charge the following year.

"There were several members who responded to that call and some had never witnessed such a traumatic event," she says. "They dealt with it the best way that they knew how."

But the effects came to light many months later.

"I did many extra shifts to allow the officers involved to take time to regroup and process the traumatic event. That's what rural policing is all about."

That philosophy helps build and sustain strong teams, which ultimately allows officers to do their jobs.

It also fits with Cpl. Yannick Gagnon's goals. Gagnon began work as detachment commander at Chéticamp this past summer.

"I think the most interesting part of our job is trying to make someone's worst day better," he says. "When we show up to a call, if we know them, or they've seen us around the community, it's easier to have heart-to-hearts with people and ease the situation."

"When they know who you are, you know you're doing your job right."

Date modified: