Kurt John demonstrates a restraining technique on fellow security team member Wally Thomas.

Kurt John demonstrates a restraining technique on fellow security team member Wally Thomas.

Groundbreaking first nations security team trains in Saanich

Standing on blue floor mats, members of Ahousaht’s fledgling security team practise taking each other down.

After a stressful Christmas season, their first as a team, the men travelled to the capital region from their island reserve near Tofino to get trained in self-defence and basic security training.

“Through the holidays, weapons were drawn, knives had been pulled on Ahousaht security,” says Kurt John during a break in the course taught by the Commissionaires, who are based on Cloverdale Aveune in Saanich.

The goal in training is to learn how to diffuse a situation before it gets physical, he explains. “We’re not there to be stabbed or shot, but at the same time, we think we need those kind of protections.”

The Commissionaires has worked with several First Nations, training new employees as prison guards or security staff, said Stan Verran, CEO of the Victoria division. But this is the first time it has trained First Nations to run their own security team.

“It is very unique,” says Ahousaht’s deputy chief, Curtis Dick. “It’s not a new idea, but it’s taking the next step where it’s being supported and funded.”

It’s been one year since the 10-member team launched and so far, the part-time volunteer job has proven more demanding than any of its members suspected.

The team started with a conversation.

“I invited these guys to sit at my kitchen table to discuss,” says John, a recovering alcoholic. After being released from the Comox Valley treatment centre more than two years ago, he saw the need to protect his community from within. “It’s our homeland, so why get somebody else from the outside to look after it?” he asks.

The majority of the Ahousaht people live off reserve, in Victoria, Port Alberni and other communities. On reserve, the 650-member community struggle with high rates of alcoholism, crime and suicide.

“Ahousaht’s always in the paper but it’s never positive,” John says. “You have to (show) leadership by example.”

The team was deputized by its hereditary chiefs to impose band council resolutions. Duties include imposing a curfew for youth, and confiscating alcohol on the dry reserve.

In August, the team enforced its council’s controversial orders by escorting chronic drug and alcohol offenders off reserve for mandatory treament. Standing by to keep the peace, but duty-bound not to participate, was the RCMP.

“Some security members didn’t understand these limitations,” explains Sgt. Jeff Preston, of the Tofino-Ahousaht detachment. “Some other people … were upset with us for not helping.”

The band resolutions aren’t federal law and RCMP are restricted by the criminal code and other federal statutes, he explains. “There are certainly some growing pains outlining the roles each organization will have … (but) ultimately, our end goal is the same. ”

As the security team takes on more responsibility, both Preston and John say their relationship is good.

“The more eyes and ears that are on the road, that certainly helps in any community,” Preston says.

When traditional and mainstream law overlap, the two enforcement groups work co-operatively.

Ahousaht security team makes citizens’ arrests, assists people to their jail cell and calls on the RCMP when crime happens.

“We’re there before some things actually happen, so we become a witness at the same time,” John says. “We get called more than the RCMP does,” he says. “It’s slowly coming.”

Getting certified in basic security training is one more step to being recognized by the community, says Dick.

“We supported them in that, because that’s one of the things that people ask: Are they trained? What qualifies them?”

And they might be back to Victoria one day to take the next step.

“Eventually, that’s going to be one of our goals, to become peace officers down the road,” Dick says.

Back in the classroom, instructor Dusty Miller demonstrates how a simple move can restrain without injuring. “All these guys gave up their own demons to do that job and I admire that totally,” he says.

Student Wally Thomas chuckles, wincing slightly as John twists his right arm, demonstrating a move they’ve learned.

“I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to Ahousaht,” says Thomas, once freed. “I think we were on a big downfall before any of this started. It changed my life. It changed my family’s life. They have a new respect for me and the guys because were putting our lives on the line.”


Just Posted

Two volunteers work to sieve a sample of sand and ocean water through a filter, capturing any potential microplastics. (Courtesy of Ocean Diagnostics)
Victoria startup making waves in microplastics research

New products from Ocean Diagnostics will make research faster, more affordable

Chef Trevor Randle leads a June 21 online cooking featuring recipes – beef zesty lettuce wraps, blueberry strudel and blueberry spritzer. (Courtesy We Heart Local BC)
Free online cooking course explores B.C. blueberries and beef

Chef Trevor Randle calls them the province’s most flavourful foods

Willows Beach in Oak Bay. (Black Press Media file photo)
Seven days of sun set to shine on Greater Victoria

Special weather statement warns of higher than usual temperatures

Google Maps shows significant traffic backups after a crash reported shortly before noon on Father’s Day, June 20. (Google Maps)
Father’s Day crash in Saanich closes lane of McKenzie Avenue

Police say there were injuries, traffic impacted

Andrea Lewis (left), board member of the Shoreline Medical Society, receives a $3,000 cheque from Andrew Hansen, owner of Boondocks Bar and Grill. They are joined by Elizabeth Rhoades, executive director Shawna Walker, as well as board members Richard Flader and Andrew Tidman. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney bar owner helps doctor recruitment for Saanich Peninsula clinics

Boondocks Bar and Grill raised $3,000 in May for Shoreline Medical Society

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

A Lotto 6/49 ticket purchased in Parksville for the June 19, 2021 draw is a $3M winner. (Submitted photo)
Winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth $3M purchased on Vancouver Island

Lottery prize winners have 52 weeks to claim jackpot

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Most Read