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An RCMP truck mounted with wheels on a railroad track.

Speciality vehicles an essential part of remote policing

RCMP officers in Thompson and Gillam, Man., use a special road-rail truck called a high-rail to reach remote regions. Credit: Serge Gouin, RCMP


When RCMP officers need to reach remote communities, sometimes a police cruiser doesn't cut it.

In Gods Lake Narrows, Man., where the RCMP detachment serves communities spread across a large, northern Manitoba lake, police use boats daily until the winter freeze-up.

While RCMP marine units provide operational support in coastal areas, Gods Lake Narrows requires its boats for day-to-day policing and getting officers from point A to B.

The detachment serves Gods River on the north shore of the large lake, more than 40 kilometres away as the crow files. The trip can take an hour if waters are calm — which is rare — and police have four different boats to address different operational and weather concerns.

"We have to do a risk assessment depending on the weather and depending on the service call. We need to have those options," says Sgt. Dennis Silliker, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the detachment.

The lake is an essential part of life in the communities that rely on it for fishing and transportation. Frequent boating in the community means police have to be on the water, too.

"We've had impaired investigations on boats, we've been able to pull people over, and we've been able to do enforcement," says Silliker. "We encourage our officers to get to know the lake the best they can."

When the lake freezes, police use the ice roads and snowmobiles, and because of the remote location, it isn't unusual for officers to take a plane or helicopter to isolated communities.

Riding the rails

While railways are vital for linking passengers and cargo to northern communities, police also use the tracks.

RCMP in Thompson and Gillam, Man., use a special road-rail truck, commonly called a high-rail, to reach remote regions.

Officers drop an extra set of wheels designed to keep the truck on the tracks and drive along the railway as if it's a highway. Speed is limited to 40 km/h but, if flights aren't available, it's the only option.

Outside of the winter-road season, typically January to March, Thompson RCMP use their rail trucks to respond to calls and patrol Thicket Portage and Pikwitonei, rural settlements with populations of 100 to 150.

"There's no real easy way to get to the communities, but rail seems to be the most reliable option," says Cst. Ted Weiss with the Thompson RCMP.

Weiss says while service calls to the communities are limited, police do conduct patrols.

An island detachment

At the RCMP's Island Lake detachment, alternatives to the police cruiser are essential. The police station sits on an island and officers patrol a handful of lakeside communities about 275 kilometres east of Winnipeg.

The detachment uses boats, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and a side-by-side utility vehicle to complete its daily policing tasks.

Officers can ride, fly in on a helicopter or drive on ice roads to reach their destinations. If they commute with an ATV or snowmobile instead of a truck, full-sized RCMP vehicles are ready to use at each community.

"When we can begin travelling to the other communities on the snowmobile or the ATV, that allows us to provide around-the-clock service," says Sgt. Michel Pelletier, who leads the Island Lake detachment. "We're not at the mercy of flight times and the helicopter, which can't fly at night."

During the spring and fall, when ice is too thin to ride on and too thick to boat through, the detachment can charter a local hovercraft. The vessel floats on a cushion of air on top of broken ice and open water.

"Every day we can use different modes of transportation," says Pelletier. "Depending on the weather and depending on the time of year, how we get around is dictated by Mother Nature."

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