For the first time ever, a Yukon community had a say in choosing its next RCMP detachment commander.
Corp. Cam Lockwood, soon to be promoted to sergeant, was picked to head the Watson Lake detachment by a committee that included a local representative.
May Stewart, a justice worker for the Liard First Nation, was appointed by the chief and mayor of Watson Lake to sit on the hiring board.
She was given a list of questions and a booklet on the interview structure and was made to feel comfortable and welcome, she said in a recent interview from Watson Lake.
When she eventually sat down with two RCMP members and an observer to do the interviews, she had equal opportunity to ask questions, she said.
“Personally, what I was looking for was experience in the North,” she said. “And experience with small communities. I think they have to be in this job position and work with the people to find answers together. That’s the way I see them working with this community and building a relationship.”
And more than anywhere else in the territory, the relationship and trust between the community and the RCMP needs work in Watson Lake.
Ever since officers Graham Belak and Shawn McLaughlin were accused of sexual assault in the community in 2009, relations have been tense.
Only time will help to fix that, said Stewart. But this gesture by the RCMP to include the community in hiring the new detachment commander was an important step.
“We have a say and we’re going to get someone who we feel is suitable because we need the RCMP to understand our community, and our community needs and wants to work with them,” she said.
Belak and McLaughlin were acquitted in court in 2010 and the RCMP’s internal hearing into the matter was heavily criticized as ineffective in 2011. During that time, the territory-wide police review focused on building trust between police and women and First Nation people, particularly in remote communities.
Things in Watson Lake have quieted down, said Stewart.
“It’s kind of like a wait-and-see kind of attitude now,” she said. “But I just feel the RCMP have stepped up to the plate. They’re willing to make changes and they’re willing to work with us.”
Stewart has been working as a justice worker for the First Nation for six months. In that time, she has had regular communication with the police and seen a willingness from their end to work together. The First Nation is currently working on an agreement with the force, Canada and the territory and has lots of ideas on programming and different ways to work together, Stewart said.
“You can sit back and say, ‘We don’t like them and they don’t understand,’ but I think we have to play our part also and get involved with them and see their side of the world,” she said.
And now is the time to build that trust.
In most remote Yukon communities, violence and substance abuse leave many women with the police station as their only refuge.
In Watson Lake, the “plague” of domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse is worse than ever, Stewart said.
“We’re at a crisis state,” she said. “It’s awful. We have to do something about it. We have to find some solutions to work with the people here.”
Lockwood grew up in Saskatchewan and served in Manitoba and Nunavut before being posted to Carmacks in the Yukon. He eventually moved to Whitehorse, where he became the crime reduction co-ordinator for the territory in the spring of 2010.
Lockwood and his wife have not yet moved to Watson Lake but he is expected to be transferred soon.
“He’s got big shoes to fill,” said Stewart. “But I think we have the right person.
“I’m confident that he’ll work with us. We just have to get the community’s confidence. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at