CAMP LOON – A group of Thunder Bay Police Service officers are completing two weeks working with Junior Canadian Rangers at Camp Loon, the annual advanced training camp for Junior Rangers that is held annually in the bush north of Geraldton.
“It’s been good having the Thunder Bay Police here,” said Lieutenant Jason Dech, the Canadian Army officer who is the camp’s commandant. “They’re running our archery site and our paintball site. They are doing good public relations for those Junior Canadian Rangers going to Thunder Bay, either for school or because they’re moving there with their families.
“It’s been a win-win for them and for us.”
The Junior Canadian Rangers are a Canadian Armed Forces program for boys and girls aged 12 to 18 in remote and isolated communities across the Canadian North. There are more than 1,000 Junior Rangers in 27 First Nations across the Far North of Ontario.
“This is probably the best outreach we’ve done when it comes to Indigenous youth,” said Constable Gary Camberly, one of nine Thunder Bay Police officers at the camp. “This is a really awesome experience to see how the camp runs and to see the kids on a much easier basis as police officers because the kids are having fun.”
“It’s fun being with them,” said Junior Ranger Wilbert Shisheesh of Attawapiskat First Nation. “I like them.”
For a police service with a strained relationship with Indigenous peoples the police officers’ involvement in the camp is a pilot project but a successful one, he said. “We want to be here again next year.”
“In Thunder Bay,” said Constable Roxanne LeGarde, “The first thing out of the mouths of some Indigenous people for us is: ‘You’re a racist.’ It’s not been like that here. It’s been great to hang out with the kids, to interact with them, go bike riding with them, do crafts with them, play some volleyball, to see happy, smiling faces. I can’t say a bad thing about them or the camp. The kids are polite and they say please and thank you and can I help you. They’ve been nothing but awesome.”
The Thunder Bay Police have been subjected to widespread accusations of racism since the Office of the Independent Police Review Director released a scathing report last December saying racist attitudes within the service had undermined its investigations into nine Indigenous sudden deaths that are now being re-investigated. The report said there was “a crisis of trust” between the police and the city’s indigenous community.
The police officers at Camp Loon are not wearing their uniforms and all are volunteers. Constable LeGarde cancelled a planned vacation when she got the opportunity to be at the camp. “It has been worth it,” she said. “It has been a wonderful experience.”
“This is a chance for the kids to get to know us as police officers outside of the uniform.” Constable Camberly said. “So we’ve got out of what might be a scary uniform into plainclothes just to make them comfortable.”
The archery and paintball sites are run as voluntary evening events for the Junior Rangers and are hugely successful. Having the police officers run them freed up military personnel for other duties.
The officers built a new paintball site within walking distance of the camp so the Junior Rangers did not have to been driven each evening to the former paintball site, which was located at the shooting range, some distance from the main camp.
“They’ve done a great job,” Lieutenant Dech said. “They have been great with the Junior Rangers. We look forward to having them back with us next year.”
(Sergeant Peter Moon is the public affairs ranger for the 3rd Canadian Ranger Patrol Group at Canadian Forces Base Borden.)