Alberta’s outgoing RCMP boss reflects on triumphs, tragedies and challenges facing Mounties
Just days after announcing she was retiring from her post as Alberta RCMP deputy commissioner, Marianne Ryan – the first woman and first openly gay person to hold the title – opened up to Global News about the milestones and tragedies she has experienced since taking the job in 2014.
“All I really wanted to be was a good cop,” Ryan said in a one-on-one interview. “I don’t consider myself to be an outstanding police officer but I feel I’m a good student. I feel I learn things quickly, I watch other people, I’m very observant and pick up on some of those sensitivities and try to do the right thing.”
In January 2014, Ryan accepted the job which has her overseeing 112 detachments and over 4,000 RCMP employees in the RCMP’s K Division. While she acknowledges the significance of becoming the first woman and openly gay person to have the position, she said it’s the bigger picture she’s concerned about.
“It’s good to get recognized for those things but really, I would be very happy if I was recognized as just being a good commanding officer,” she said.
Being a gay woman working for the RCMP
In June, the Pride flag was flown at Alberta’s RCMP K Division Headquarters in Edmonton for the first time in history. It was Ryan who raised the rainbow flag which symbolizes support of LGBTQ rights and equality.
“It was a very poignant moment for me personally but organizationally, I was very proud to do it,” she said. “Whether I’m gay or heterosexual, I just think organizationally, we have come a long way. We want to demonstrate that we are that inclusive organization both to our employees inside the force but also in the communities that we serve so that people know that we are approachable, we do understand the differences of sexual orientation or even cultural differences – I think that’s really important.
“Raising the flag that day, it was something that was perfect,” Ryan said. “It was a perfect day. It was very symbolic on so many levels.”
Watch below: Just days after announcing she was retiring from the RCMP, the Alberta RCMP’s Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan spoke to Global News and reflected on becoming the first woman and first openly-gay person to hold her position.
Being the first female Alberta RCMP deputy commissioner is not insignificant either, especially in an organization that has had a sometimes troubled reputation for how it treats female employees. In October, the RCMP announced it was earmarking $100 million in compensation for sexual harassment endured by female staff. RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson also delivered an abject apology for alleged incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment dating back 42 years.
While Ryan didn’t say she was ever the victim of ill-treatment, she acknowledged it was an issue she was familiar with.
“I certainly, looking back, know of occasions and know of incidents but I also feel that we weren’t the only organization and aren’t the only organization to go through it,” she said. “The military, other police forces, other services that you’ll talk to, went through the same period of time. I think even the society, I don’t think we’re as aware of the negative influence of treatment with respect to women in the workplace as we are now. I am really proud of the organization and the RCMP for a number of reasons and I’m really proud to be leaving at this particular time because we’ve seen significant change.”
Ryan grew up on a farm in Ontario and said she was encouraged to begin a career in law enforcement by a family friend who worked for the Ontario Provincial Police.
“He said, ‘Marianne, the OPP is looking for women. You should think about applying.’ I really didn’t know what I was going to do.
“I went into it with the idea, ‘OK, I’ll give it a couple of years,'” Ryan said. “I was intrigued, I had been taking some criminology courses and I had done some volunteer work in probation and I was kind of drawn to that but mostly, it was his encouragement to go for it and it came down to the RCMP and I was very successful and very happy to be accepted into the RCMP.”
She said while there were very few women working for the RCMP when she joined, her male co-workers treated her well and often treated her “like their sister.” She said she was surprised that until a few years into her career, female Mounties weren’t outfitted with the same iconic red serge and Stetson hat her male counterparts were given.
“Eight or nine years later, there was thankfully a recognition that it really is the symbol for RCMP, for all RCMP, to be in the red serge – that iconic uniform – so we were all issued it and I think that was a really positive move forward. Women needed to be fully in and fully accepted.”
Officers shot in the line of duty and the death of Const. Wynn
Of course there have been painful and difficult moments in Ryan’s career, perhaps most notably during her time as deputy commissioner in Alberta when Const. David Wynn – one of her officers – was killed in the line of duty.
“It had a tremendous impact on me,” she said. “If anything, it really underscored the importance of making sure that we do everything possible to help the family of the officer but also all of those around that incident and everyone involved and everyone that knew David and get them that help and support.”
Wynn was shot on Jan. 17, 2015 while investigating a vehicle theft in St. Albert, just outside Edmonton. Police said it was a routine licence plate check that led to the 42-year-old husband and father being shot.
“I had had involvement in many near-fatal incidents, where I will never get out of my mind gurneys coming in, and waiting for that gurney to come in with a blood-soaked sheet on top of one of our officers and wondering, ‘Are they going to make it?’ Tragically, with David, he didn’t,” Ryan said. “But I felt that the systems and support things that we had in place were well-established, that we could give our best effort with respect to the tragedy of David Wynn.
“I have blankets that were given to me by aboriginal leaders and I love the symbolism of the blankets and I talk about that in my comments to my folks and that when these events happen, we need to put the blanket around not just the family but the team, the shift, the communications centre operatives – everyone that was involved in that – and make sure that they feel that warmth and that they feel supported.”
Watch below: Just days after announcing she was retiring from the RCMP, the Alberta RCMP’s Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan spoke to Global News and reflected on the death of Const. David Wynn. Wynn was killed in the line of duty in St. Albert in 2015.
In the aftermath of Wynn’s death, Ryan was often seen at the side of his widow – Shelly MacInnis-Wynn – and their children in a show of solidarity and support.
“I felt Shelly and the boys needed absolutely to know – whether it was an embrace, holding hand, or just talking to the boys – which I’ve had the occasion to do… I find that works really well for me,” Ryan said. “I’ll never forget that incident. It’s something that you don’t wish upon anyone… you’re always worried about that safety piece and that’s your worst nightmare come true.”
Growing challenges for Alberta RCMP
As Ryan prepares to end the policing chapter of her life in March, she leaves at a time where Alberta law enforcement agencies face growing challenges with the meteoric rise in the use and sale of opioids and the apparent proliferation of illegal guns across the province.
Ryan suggests it can’t be underscored enough how big of an issue opioids – specifically fentanyl – will be for police in Alberta in the weeks and months to come.
“It’s one of the biggest ones I’ve seen in my life,” she said. “Anyone who doesn’t know exactly what they’re taking is playing Russian roulette in a reverse way, where five of the chambers are loaded and that’s what you’re dealing with.”
“The vulnerabilities and the possibility that death will come from it is very, very high and it’s a big concern for our officers.”
She said the RCMP has done a good job of being proactive by providing officers with equipment and training to deal with the rise in opioid use – particularly with the introduction of Naloxone kits – but that there are still extremely dangerous situations for officers “where no one foresaw a white powder being in a particular spot.”
Watch below: Just days after announcing she was retiring from the RCMP, the Alberta RCMP’s Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan spoke to Global News and reflected on the threat posed to officers today by the proliferation of guns and fentanyl.
Ryan says she believes the risks faced by police officers has risen substantially since she began her career.
“When I first started out… it would be very rare that we would find a gun in a search or a car, now we expect it,” she said. “My first six months in the province here in 2011, we had six officers shot – some of them near fatal – from confrontations with people with guns and that certainly hasn’t lessened.”
Ryan says she believes growing problems with addiction and mental health may play a role in the rise of the use of guns.
With just weeks before she officially parts ways with the RCMP, Ryan says she still isn’t sure exactly what she’s going to do after but that she knows it’s the right time to say farewell.
Watch below: In July 2014, Lesley MacDonald profiled Alberta RCMP Deputy Commissioner Marianne Ryan.
“I did, a while ago, start to think, ‘Are there other opportunities out there?’ I think anyone would, but I found it very distracting,” she said. “I see myself as in the second half of the game despite my age.
“I do want to do something else- I don’t know what that is. I’m hoping I recognize it when I see it.”
-With files from Tom Vernon.
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