COLUMN: Licensed mess hall for the RCMP? I say yes

The tradition of a mess hall is a deeply rooted one in military and police circles, and it serves an important purpose.

There’s nothing wrong with the RCMP having a fully licensed mess hall –where alcohol will be served – in their new E Division headquarters, now being built at Green Timbers in Surrey.

I know there are many others who feel the opposite. But the tradition of a mess hall is a deeply rooted one in military and police circles, and it serves an important purpose. In both types of work, it is essential for members to work as an integral part of a team and be ready take orders in challenging situations without question. Having a place to gather socially is part of building that important team.

That’s why a mess hall is used for police regimental dinners, retirements, special events and commendation ceremonies. It is also important for members of the community who attend these events to see how the RCMP operate as a team, because as a unified team any police force or military unit is much stronger and more effective.

I once attended a retirement lunch for the officer in charge of a Lower Mainland RCMP detachment. It was the exact type of event that would take place in the proposed mess hall.

It was a wonderful event, with colleagues from various parts of Canada coming to pay tribute to an individual who was clearly well-respected by his fellow RCMP officers. He was also well-respected by media, which is why I was there.

His commitment to the force, in remote corners of Canada such as the Northwest Territories, spoke volumes about him as an individual and the force he was part of for many years.

This particular event took place in a smaller gathering space, and while the venue was nice, such an event in an RCMP mess hall would have been far more appropriate.

Much of the turmoil which has surrounded the RCMP in recent years has been the direct result of team members such as Cpl. Monty Robinson “going rogue” and operating in a way that is not at all conducive to building a strong and effective team. An inability to properly discipline these individuals, which is largely due to the RCMP Act,  has made things even worse. Public trust in the RCMP has dropped sharply.

In fact, that is likely the main reason the mess hall issue has made the news and attracted public interest. If the RCMP was operating in the manner that most of us would like to see, such a proposal would be of minimal interest.

As it turns out, Surrey council has no real power over whether the mess hall goes ahead or not. Even though council will be recommending the provincial government not grant a liquor licence, ultimately the RCMP is a federal agency and local governments have no power over them.

The mess hall will be open for limited hours and free taxi rides will be available for members who have had too much to drink. These rides are paid for by individuals through membership fees – not by taxpayers.

Given the legitimate concern the public has about drinking and driving, and police’s role in enforcing impaired driving laws, there should be absolutely no tolerance of any RCMP member driving from the mess hall with more than  the legal blood alcohol content.

If those conditions are followed, I see no reason why the licensed mess hall should not go ahead.

Frank Bucholtz is the editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.


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