Through the looking glass: Have you seen my ghost?

Have you ever heard a song that caused you to check your house for cameras? One that was so intimately accurate the subject matter could only have been plucked from a page of your diary? For most of the people I frequent on a typical drive through Edmonton it seems to be ‘Lost in a Daydream’, with a few ‘Search and Destroy’ thrown in for entertainment value. While most of us could probably catalogue life through a series of songs, when I posed the question to my best friend she didn’t hesitate to reply with ‘Highway to Hell’. This particular article refers only to one: ‘Weighty Ghost’ by Wintersleep. Now, according to Wikipedia the band is a Canadian Indie Rock band that formed in 2001 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Well, if a police officer didn’t have a hand in the writing of this particular song, I’ll eat my bra. It’s OK, it’s candy anyway.

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It all began in 1873. Prime Minister Sir John A. MacDonald received reports from army officers claiming that a few, or more like a hundred, men with rifles and horses could keep the rough and rowdy in check in the Northwest Territories. Originally the ‘Force’ was to be named The North West Mounted Rifles. Apparently this name was much too abrasive in the face of our neighbours to the south, fearing Canada was building a military force, our fine Prime Minister decided to quell the mounting (pardon the pun) political unrest and renamed the Force North West Mounted Police. From their original trek to Fort Whoop Up (I couldn’t make that up) on July 8th, 1874 to the Klondike days of 1896, the North West Mounted Police outshone every expectation to the point that when dissolution was discussed in the House of Commons in 1898, the gold rush prospectors (I envision them with spades and sieves in hand) raved so earnestly that it sparked worldwide fame for the undoubtedly humble officers. Not one to be left out of the loop of fame, King Edward threw in his two cents in June 1904 and added a touch of ‘Royal’ to the Force. The RNWMP was at the top of their game. Were women donning dainty little panties rather than bloomers at that time, I would imagine many being thrown at the feet of these rock stars.

Not to get completely lost in the plot of historical jargon, there is a method to my madness. My question is: Where the hell did it all go wrong? How did this organization go from a royally recognized entity to one comparatively savage enough to eat their own young? I mean that metaphorically of course, but the connotation can’t be ignored. Not only are the police glared at by the society they have vowed to protect and serve, they are also scrutinized, neglected and abandoned by the very organization they have pledged their lives to. Now, I might be a tad bitter but consider this scenario: A police officer jumps to attention at the crackle of his radio. Someone needs help. Urgently. No time for a detailed briefing, the Officer races into action, gathering information on the fly. Upon reaching an intersection whereby the Officer is faced with a red light, protocol dictates a ‘proceed with caution’ approach, which is dutifully carried out by the Officer. Lights flashing, siren wailing, the Officer proceeds slowly through the intersection, on route to save a life when met with the not-so-cautious slam of a vehicle trying to escape the amber light. Now, understanding that ‘back in the day’ this would have had a very different outcome, despite the fact that the vehicles in question would have been dog teams or horses, one would assume that the Officer in question would have had sufficient platform to chastise and possibly charge the oncoming vehicle operator. In this case, one would be wrong. This particular Officer was not only denied such a platform, they were met with abhorrence in the form of a ticket. One close to $300. Given that this particular event is a matter of public record I have no problem telling you that the Officer in question, of course, was my husband. This was but one of many kicks to the nads he’s received over that past two years. And, one that was comparatively minor in the scheme of them all. It was all these subsequent, ego bashing kicks that led to the gasp of recognition when I heard the song ‘Weighty Ghost’. Every word could describe him. You should look it up on YouTube. I’ll wait.

Now, here is where it gets interesting. One might think, and by ‘one’ I mean me, that after the second, possibly third, definitely the fourth, sterility inducing blow, that one would concede defeat and move on. Not so. Each time my husband relays another ground shattering blow, I provide constant support in the form of a beration of the Force and how I would do things differently. And each time he continues back the next day for more. Beyond the very literal added weight of the gadgets and vest, the uniform also adds a very metaphorical weight. If you’ve ever theorized that an Officer walks with a gait of arrogance, maybe take a moment to look again. He or she may very well be compensating for the insurmountable weight they are trying to uphold.

This weight was never more apparent to me than last Sunday at a gas station in Westlock. We were on our way, late as usual, to spend Grandma’s birthday with her in the hospital she was now calling home since her diagnosis of cancer and subsequent pelvic fracture. To say my husband’s mother is a pillar of strength would be an underestimation of her character and presence. A very young 65-yr-old, this disease has all but broken her both physically and emotionally. By Tuesday she would be airlifted to Edmonton after developing pneumonia and unable to breath properly on her own. Due in part to medical intervention, but more likely her sheer will and determination, she would be off the respirator by Thursday and asking for her iPhone. As I write this, I have never been more in awe of the indomitable human spirit. But I digress.

An intended quick stop at a gas station for snacks ended up reminding me of the true essence of a Mountie. As we parked, we noticed a gentleman filling his tire. I was initially annoyed at how he had taken two stalls to fill a tire; remember, I’m NOT the Mountie. Upon leaving the gas station, he was still there. Tire still flat. The gentleman appeared to be mid sixties and had a somewhat perplexed look on his face. Gaining our attention he asked if there was a place open in Westlock where he could get his tire changed. Sunday in Westlock… not so much. His look of complete defeat was ignored by my husband who, without hesitation, went about changing this gentleman’s tire. It was cold, even by Alberta’s standards. We were late for Grandma’s birthday… in the hospital. And my Mountie, fractured by society and his own organization, is kneeling on the frozen ground changing a tire for a stranger. When asked by the gentleman if this was his trade of choice, my husband answered simply, “Some days”. I was about to offer that he was a Mountie, but decided against it. If he wanted anonymity, who was I to take that away? He finished with the tire, declined any compensation of gratitude and we continued on our way. When I asked him why he didn’t disclose that he was an RCMP Officer he just said that it wasn’t relevant to the situation. I guess that was fair. He went on to tell me about the van full of teens and three or four nuns who had a flat once and he was ‘lucky enough’ to be in the vicinity and changed it for them. And then there was a woman who had driven for an hour when he pulled her over, having no clue that she even had a flat. OK, admittedly that’s an embarrassment to women everywhere, but the point remains the same. I began to wonder if other Officers spent as much time on their knees for society. My naivety says they do. Some of the Officers I’ve met would speak to the contrary. As with any profession, there are good employees and those that make you wonder how effective psychological screening really is.

There are a lot of good people wearing that yellow stripe, or maybe it’s wearing them. Either way, some still have their ghosts. If you meet one who has obviously lost their ghost, maybe pat them on the back (not too aggressively, some are pretty skittish) and thank them for giving it all. And maybe write a letter to the Commissioner and ask him why the RCMP isn’t more concerned about the ghosts of its members. Tell him I sent you! I will happily defend that the strength of the RCMP is in the character of its members, not the skill of its administration.

Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune

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