COLUMN: Cheers to the RCMP team building

As long as they are responsible, police should have their mess hall, said columnist Frank Bucholtz

There’s nothing wrong with the RCMP having a mess hall in their new E Division headquarters, now being built at Green Timbers in Surrey.

Having said that, I know there are many others who feel just the opposite.

Surrey councillors certainly know that, as they have been hearing from people since news about the mess hall, where alcohol will be served, came out last week.

The tradition of a mess hall is a deep-rooted one in military and police circles, and it serves a very important purpose.

In both types of work, it is essential for members to work as an integral part of a team, and be ready take orders in challenging situations without question.

Having a place to gather socially is part of building that important team.

That’s why a mess hall is important for police regimental dinners, retirements, special events and commendation ceremonies.

It is also important for members of the community who attend these events to see how the RCMP operate as a team, because as a unified team any police force or military unit is much stronger and more effective.

Some years ago, I attended a retirement lunch for the officer in charge of a Lower Mainland RCMP detachment. It was the exact type of event that would take place in the proposed mess hall.

It was a wonderful event, with colleagues from various parts of Canada coming to pay tribute to an individual who was clearly very well-respected by his fellow RCMP officers. He was also well-respected by local media, which is why I was there.

His commitment to the force, in remote corners of Canada such as the Northwest Territories, spoke volumes about him as an individual and the force he was part of for many years.

This particular event took place in a smaller gathering place, and while the venue was nice, such an event in an RCMP mess hall would have been far more appropriate. I can’t recall if there was alcohol served at this event, which took place during the daytime, but if there was, the amount served was very minimal.

Much of the turmoil which has surrounded the RCMP in recent years has been the direct result of team members such as Cpl. Monty Robinson “going rogue,” and operating in a way that is not at all conducive to building a strong and effective team.

An inability to properly discipline these individuals, which is largely due to the RCMP Act,  has made things even worse. Public trust in the RCMP has dropped sharply.

In fact, that is likely the main reason the mess hall has made the news and attracted public interest.

If the RCMP was operating in the manner that most of us would like to see, such a proposal would be of minimal interest to the public and the news media.

As it turns out, Surrey council has no real power over whether the mess hall goes ahead or not.

The provincial government has to grant a liquor licence, but ultimately the RCMP are a federal agency and local government has no power over them.

The RCMP say that the mess hall will be open for limited hours. The mess hall has a policy that those who are drinking to the point that they shouldn’t drive can get free taxi rides home.

These are paid for by individuals through membership fees – not by taxpayers.

Given the legitimate concern that members of the public have about drinking and driving, and police’s role in enforcing drinking and driving laws, there should be absolutely no tolerance of any RCMP member driving from the mess hall with more than .05 blood alcohol content.

If those conditions are followed, I see no reason why the mess hall should not go ahead.

Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.


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