THOMAS KERVIN PHOTO Port Hardy RCMP Cst. Paul Starr has transferred to Ladysmith after five years of working with the Indigenous communities in the North Island.

Mountie says his good-byes to North Island Indigenous communities

Paul Starr saluted after years of fostering reconciliation between RCMP and First Nations

“It’s very humbling that you hear your name used in the community about the good work that is being done.”

Port Hardy RCMP Const. Paul Starr spoke those words recently as he reminisced about his years of work in the North Island.

Starr bid the community farewell at a going-away feast organized by members of the Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation, acknowledge his dedication to the First Nations communities surrounding the Port Hardy area.

A member of the Indigenous Policing program, Starr worked tirelessly to help create a restorative justice program for the North Island, but the RCMP will now be transferring him to Ladysmith.

Starr, who transferred to Port Hardy from Prince George in 2015, explained in an in-person interview what sparked an interest in becoming a mountie and what his experience was like during his tenure in the North Island.

“I was born in England and we (his family) moved to Canada when I was three,” he said, “so we had to go through the whole citizenship piece.”

“I remember in 1978 or 1979, I believe, we went to Prince George because I grew up in Fort St. James, and Prince George was the largest urban centre, and that’s where they did citizenship swearing in ceremonies,” he continued. “I remember we went to Prince George, and it’s all done by a judge, you put your hand up and you say an oath and even though I was little I remember there was a mountie, and I said, ‘Wow, that would be pretty cool to be a mountie and be able to do that’, not knowing a lot about policing at that time.”

The father of an elementary school friend and another mountie who helped his basketball team go on to provincials were two other positive role models.

Starr spent a bit of a hiatus overseas teaching in Pakistan, Kuwait and Mongolia after completing university, but always had that lingering thought of becoming a mountie in the back of his mind. He finally applied with the encouragement of his brother and his sister-in-law.

Starr remembers his first experience with Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw Nation.

“I can remember the first day I walked into the Elder’s Centre,” he said. “I was going to take over the role and if I want to be good at my job, get to know the community, then I better get to know the Elders. I remember the conversations going on and I walked in, I went there for Wednesday lunch, and then the room went silent, so I introduced myself and what my role would be and that I would be doing what I could to assist the community. I just kept going back.

“Now we’re at a point where if I missed Wednesday lunch I get in trouble by the Elders,” he joked.

He tried to live up to the RCMP’s mission statement of promoting safe communities, leadership and partnership with the diverse communities the force serves.

During his time, Starr liaised with the three neighbouring First Nation communities where he promoted and eventually helped put into place a restorative justice program and an Indigenous court for the North Island. That will come full circle when the Indigenous court launches in the next year or so.

Closing the circle is becoming an ongoing theme.

“Right before leaving Prince George for Port Hardy, there was a swearing in ceremony for new Canadians, so I was asked to go and do the red serge duty for that and I said ‘absolutely I will go and do that’.”

“When I went there I talked to the judge before the swearing in and I told (my) story,” he said. “She actually told that story to all the new Canadians.”

When talking about how to address what could be considered many people’s attitudes toward the RCMP, he mentioned:

“I just think to look beyond that and look at a person when I deal with people,” he noted, “but once they do get to know individuals (mounties) you can definitely see that (attitudes) are changing.”

“It’s very humbling that you hear your name used in the community about good work that is being done,” he noted, “but in a way it’s a little disheartening to hear that that isn’t the norm.”

“I truly believe that that should be the norm. It should be that you’re continuing the good work of other people. I think we do a good job but we still have room for improvement.”

– Thomas Kervin article

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