Thursday was a big day for Bert Paquet. It was likely the last day he’ll ever work in B.C.
And he admits it comes with mixed feelings.
The corporal has been the face of Surrey RCMP since the fall of 2012, when he began what was to be just a two-week stint handling the detachment’s media section.
Two-and-a-half years later, he’s taking a promotion to head up media/communications for the RCMP’s “D” Division – the province of Manitoba – which is head-quartered in Winnipeg.
“Our friends were really good to us over Christmas, knowing where we were going,” he chuckled, of the ribbing that flowed freely from the moment he shared word of his new address. “We received a lot of toques, mittens and mosquito spray.”
Paquet, 50, acknowledged he is ending his tenure in Surrey in the middle of what could be described as chaos, as the city – police and citizens alike – struggles to bring a peaceful end to a weeks-long drug-turf war that, just 10 days ago, claimed its first life.
“It has been a challenge,” Paquet said of the spree of gun violence. “It’s comforting to see the reaction of the community and residents… because it means they have an interest. They have a vested interest in safety of the community, in what is going on.”
As with a series of press conferences on the issue, a safety forum April 21 at Tamanawis Secondary was to also reiterate the role citizens have in helping to bring the situation to a close, he said.
“Policing is a team effort and without the community, we don’t stand a chance,” Paquet said. “And that’s in most cases that we investigate.”
Paquet was not new to speaking for the RCMP when he stepped into the role in Surrey. Just over a year prior, he was spokesperson for the Coquitlam detachment, and before that, represented the Integrated Security Unit during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
He described the latter as “one of the most satisfying and challenging duties” he has had since joining the Mounties in 1993.
“Just the quality of people on the unit, just the magnitude of the operation, of securing visitors, athletes, officials, over several weeks, during an era where the big sports, the major events, are known to be targeted by domestic terrorism, or just terrorism, period.”
In the past 2½ years, Paquet has spoken to countless incidents Surrey police have faced – good, bad and ugly.
He was just a couple of months in when the South Surrey community was shocked by the hit-and-run of two women who were jogging across 152 Street at the intersection of 32 Avenue.
Traffic-camera video from the scene captured the impact and – about 25 seconds later– a figure on foot approaching the women and leaning over them before rapidly departing.
Police released the video to the public, appealed for information and three days later, announced the arrest of a 53-year-old Surrey man and the seizure of a BMW X1. A trial is set for September.
Paquet – noting the incident generated international interest – credited the co-operation between police, media and the community with the file’s speedy resolution.
“That was probably one of the incidents that, to this day – associated to South Surrey – probably one of the most prominent ones and one of the most satisfying as well.”
It’s no secret that much of what police deal with over the course of their careers isn’t pretty – death, destruction, senseless violence and profound grief, to name a few.
“It’s often described as 99 per cent boredom, one per cent sheer terror,” Paquet said.
Paquet said his wife of 11 years, Pam, offers support “that has no price, no value,” when it comes to dealing with the tougher side of the job.
“She always pushes me to talk about my days, whether good or bad, and specifically if they were bad,” he said.
Thankfully, there are brighter moments to the job; opportunities to promote good work that is being done by Surrey officers and volunteers; and the humour that sometimes can’t help but be found in the bad decisions of others.
“We see the extremes in our world, a lot of it is unfortunately serious and tragic, but a lot of it is definitely cause for respectful chuckles,” Paquet said.
“Some of the things you see are sometimes hard to comprehend.”
It is those lighter, brighter files that provide balance to his job.
Born in Montreal, Paquet said he never gave policing a second thought until he, by fluke, sat next to two “C” Division officers while attending night school at the University of Montreal. They shared “endless” stories of their careers, and the seed was planted.
Paquet called the recruiting centre the next day.
“Best decision I’ve ever made.”
Paquet starts his post in Winnipeg next week.