Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

RCMP will honour UN missions, participants

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There won't be a big parade, but police will be celebrating their own Friday to mark National Peacekeepers Day.

The day celebrates the efforts of Canadians who have gone or are on peacekeeping missions, including about 3,000 police officers, said Assistant Commissioner Kevin Brosseau, commanding officer of the RCMP D division in Manitoba.

Aug. 9 is a date of significance for peacekeepers; it's the anniversary of the 1974 deaths of nine peacekeepers whose plane was shot down over Syria.

The day of commemoration also has significance for RCMP, who lost two members in the 2010 Haiti earthquake while they were serving on a peacekeeping mission.

"This is something that's obviously been of importance and significance for the RCMP and for policing for a number of years, but that memorial took on a special significance over the past few years," Brosseau said.

The RCMP have a program in place that allows members to take part in UN peacekeeping missions, Brosseau said. Those who choose to go receive orientation about the countries in which they'll be serving. Officers who have done tours give advice to those who are planning on going, he said.

"Police officers will call each other and say 'What is it going to be like? What are the things that I'm not going to hear in those orientation sessions that I need to prepare myself for,' " Brosseau said.

RCMP officers have been sent to Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, South Sudan and the West Bank, said Sgt. Line Karpish, media relations officer for the RCMP.

RCMP Cpl. Gilbert Saillant went on a peacekeeping mission in Haiti from 2011 to 2012. He trained the Haitian national police while there and was struck by the poverty, violence and corruption.

"It's poverty at the extreme. That's the most shocking thing. Prior to going there, I'd never seen anything like that," Saillant said.

The lack of resources and level of crime meant if there was not a "loss of life," a call would often not get investigated by police. With so little support, Saillant said he had to learn to adapt with his job. He said he remembers one time when a police car they were supposed to use was out of gas. But there was no money to buy gas for the car. Instead, they siphoned gas from a broken-down car to use in the police cruiser.

"You learn to improvise and just to work with the flow... You have to use whatever is in your means," Saillant said.

"There's not a day I don't think about the mission. Quite frankly, I think about it every day," Saillant said.

If it weren't for his family, he said he would go on another mission.

Brosseau said he's heard how the missions affects the soldiers. He said it's never easy letting members of the force go on these missions, but their experiences make them better officers.

"They're going to be away from the communities they have to police here, (but) we get so much in return in terms of a much more culturally aware and sensitive police officer," Brosseau said.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 8, 2013 A8

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