Top cop in Nunavut
by Gary Francoeur
Lindsey Brine’s first day on the force in 1987 was anything but dull.
While patrolling the serene streets of Bridgewater, N.S., the rookie RCMP officer and his veteran partner pulled over a car for reckless driving. What should have been a routine traffic stop quickly escalated into a high-speed car chase, with the two officers swerving to avoid beer cans hurled at them by the drunk driver.
But, as the old adage goes, the Mountie always gets his man – and this case was no different. “He was arrested in the end, and it was all very exciting,” says Brine, BA’86, with a chuckle. “I was immediately hooked on the job.”
That first shift set the pace for what has become an extraordinary career in law enforcement. Over the following years, Brine has led high-profile investigations into organized crime, tracked down terrorists and worked with the United Nations half a world away. Now in his 26th year with the RCMP, Brine is taking on what might be his greatest challenge yet: serving as chief superintendent and commanding officer of the Mounties’ V Division in Nunavut.
As the division’s top cop, a position he assumed a year ago, Brine oversees 25 RCMP detachments throughout the territory, which serve and protect 25 communities spread out over two million square kilometres. While the notion of moving to Nunavut might not appeal to everyone, Brine jumped at the chance.
“This is Canada’s remote and rugged final frontier. Policing here, in the North, is an opportunity to bring safety and security to these unique homes and communities,” he says. “Isolation is a major factor, so a police officer really has to become part of the community and build the trust of the locals. The community knows each officer personally and building relationships with community members becomes far more critical than in a major city.”
But with the opportunity comes its unique blend of challenges. The most obvious obstacles, Brine explains, are the harsh climate – the temperature regularly drops to a bone-chilling -50°C during the winter – and the scattered pockets of villages, all of which can only be reached by airplane.
Violent crime also poses a leading problem for Brine and his team. In 2012, as Canada’s crime rate dropped to its lowest point since 1972, the level of illegal activity in Nunavut continued to climb. Nunavut had the second-highest per capita rate of crime among all provinces and territories, including the country’s highest rate of violent crime and homicides, according to Statistics Canada. Substance abuse and suicide is more prominent than elsewhere in the country.
The challenges are many, but Brine is up to the task. His vision for policing includes strengthening the RCMP’s outreach programs and services, which include working with at-risk children and teenagers and supporting awareness campaigns to reduce drug use, prevent suicides, and stop elderly abuse and neglect. He also wants to change the very face of the RCMP in the territory by bolstering efforts to recruit and train more Inuktitut-speaking members. Currently, only 15 per cent of RCMP employees in the territory are Inuit – a number he aims to change in the coming years.
“The Inuit are a kind, caring people and they embrace outsiders, but linguistic and cultural differences can form barriers. The best way to police and protect the Inuit is to have the Inuit police and protect themselves,” he says.
It’s been a long, weaving road to the top for Brine, who grew up in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and completed a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at McGill. He signed up for the RCMP’s training academy a few months after graduation, driven by a desire to contribute to society and seeking a career that provided the opportunity to travel.
Donning the Mounties’ red serge has certainly given Brine the chance to achieve both of those goals. He’s served in three provinces and in all three arctic territories, amassing an impressive track record along the way. In 2010 and 2011, Brine was enlisted to help with the United Nations’ stabilization efforts in Haiti following the devastating earthquake that ravaged the country. As chief-of-staff, he was responsible for overseeing the work of more than 4,000 police officers from 52 countries.
“The experience opened my eyes to how difficult life can be in other parts of the world. It gave me a greater appreciation for the comforts we have in Canada,” he says.
Before that, he was selected to serve as an RCMP team commander in Africa, where he headed an important investigation into the terrorist kidnappings of two Canadian citizens. To this day, he isn’t permitted to discuss the cases due to security issues, but he confirms that “they were both resolved.”
And during a prior appointment in Iqaluit during the late nineties, he took part in an investigation that dismantled a drug smuggling operation linked to the Hells Angels’ Sherbrooke chapter, which resulted in more than 40 arrests.
Because of such good work, Brine may soon run out of space on his uniform for all of his medals. He’s so far earned the Queen’s Diamond and Gold Jubilee Medals, the RCMP Long Service Medal, the Canadian Peacekeeping Services Medal, the United Nations Peacekeeping Services Medal and the Commanding Officer’s Commendation for his role in the biker bust.
Brine says his McGill education has played a part in his success, teaching him to think critically and approach situations from different perspectives.
“When you become a police officer, every day offers a new adventure and a new story to share,” he says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living.”
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