Interview : Réal Desrochers
Why did you choose to be marine patrol officer?
When I was a teenager, I had had a small boat that my friends and I would take on the Bécancour River and the St. Lawrence. We liked to have fun and ride in the wake of the large commercial ships because the waves they made were huge!
Over the years, (and with the increase of my financial means!), I took several navigation courses and bought some different types of boats - a sailboat and one for water skiing.
Today, my work allows me to work with my passions - navigation and boats!
What do you like the most about your daily patrol?
It is very difficult for me to choose between the three following activities:
And what do you find most difficult?
The constraints of the physical, territorial and organisational realities.
By definition, an island is surrounded by water, but our water ways have certain obstacles which do not allow us free access around the island during a patrol. It is necessary for us to have several boats at various places (or various base ports) in order to effectively cover our territory and offer an adequate service to the public. That decreases the impact of our Unit within the SPVM.
Can you explain an important aspect of your work?
Even though the SPVM's Marine Unit has been around for 12 years, it is always strange to hear people question us on our authority and powers for police intervention on the water ways!
They say: "You aren't the RCMP! Water is the Feds' jurisdiction!"
They are often unpleasantly surprised to learn that the Feds gave us the authority to be "the police force on water ways"...
I remember end of the 90s, when a boat owner did not stop at our signals. We had to explain to him how "it works"... I was even asked to remove my shoes to board his boat!
What is the principal quality needed to perform your duties?
Good solutions based on good judgement and initiative.
Of course, it is good to be well versed in maritime skills but if not, with some brains and initiative, they will be able to follow the team thanks to the advice of their more experienced colleagues.
What would you say to a young person who is interested in your job?
If the young person has interest in navigation and maritime work in general, and they consider themselves to have the qualities we spoke of earlier, the Nautical Unit will give them the chance to evolve within a completely new field of police work.
I like to tell potential candidates who approach us: "There is a lot to be learned. Bring your knowledge of the Criminal Code, your police sense and your interest. We'll take care of the rest!!"
Do you believe that your work has elements of danger?
Yes, two in particular.
The first is the immediate work environment. The patrol craft can be faced with a police action that deteriorates, where retreat is very difficult, and the exit doors are non-existent!
And the second is the water. The maritime environment in Montréal has several problems: shallow waters, strong currents, commercial ships, etc. Our boat captains must be constantly aware of their geographical location and any potentially risky situations, including rescues under difficult conditions, selected interception points or simply driving at night on certain water ways.
What is your biggest challenge?
To increase my understanding about the SPVM Marine Unit and conform to the highest standards and constantly improving our training program by adding what is necessary to maintain our pursuit of excellence.
What are you most proud of?
To have developed a complete nautical training program (with certain external partners), and especially that this training, property of the SPVM, is one of most complete and best available.
Can you tell us a story that would illustrate the characteristics of your work?
Sure! This is one shows the importance of being qualified and effective.
One morning, when the sergeant and I were in our offices (Lachine Marina), we heard a distress call transmitted on maritime radio, concerning workers in danger close to the Mercier Bridge. The resources, at that hour, were very few...
We arrived at the location within 10 or 15 minutes because of our ability to rapidly intervene. The place is strange because at that part of the bridge, there are no boys due to the shallow waters and the current is very strong. We had to move quickly, because the drift in this area leads to the Lachine rapids!
We expected to see a broken boat drifting (perhaps that was the case earlier), but we found ourselves faced with a half capsized boat crushed against a pillar of the bridge.
On the side of the hull, three panicked workers needing to be rescued because of the precarious situation of their boat and the danger of falling into the cold, rough water.
While we decided on our options and our approach strategy, the occupants of another (smaller) emergency boat, also there, seemed to question our actions.
Finally, after having determined a method, we carried out a side approach into the current (not very common, but we practice it). We moved, in perfect control to the victims, without disturbing the stability of their boat. The workers climbed into in our boat without anyone falling into the water!
I don't have to tell you the joy and amazement of the survivors with our speed and the technique we had used!
That is the SPVM's Marine Unit!
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