Cops and robbers was a favourite childhood pastime of his, though he always preferred to be the 'cop' rather than the 'robber'. His father collected coins with the Mounties displayed on them. While all these symbols stuck with him, it was more than just a young boy's fancy that led Cst. Walter Paige to join the RCMP.
The 41-year-old, 15-year veteran police officer has been working in the Southern Alberta Major Crimes Unit (MCU) which is based in Airdrie for three years. Airdrie's unit is one of two in the province. Police officers in the MCU investigate homicides, suspicious deaths, and missing person cases where foul play is suspected. But what draws an individual to a line of work in which violence, death, and uncertainty go together?
'It's not just a file. We care.'
"For me, that pinnacle of doing persons crimes is major crimes. I can't undo the horrific incident that's already happened. I can't bring that person back to life. But I can at least provide closure."
Cst. Paige said he had recently come back from a murder trial in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. For the Constable, investigative work is but one piece of what he does.
"I want to provide you whatever little pieces I can; if that's giving you a ride to court, if that's picking up a coffee. I want you to know that we care. It's not just a file that we dealt with three years ago. We still care, " he said.
However, that part of policing work is by no means an easy task. The Cst. is all too keenly aware of the difference between what the law prescribes as punishment and that it may not always be equivalent to the justice that families of victims seek.
He learned that difference very early on in his career when he worked tirelessly on a domestic violence case that to this day he thinks upon. The outcome of that case left him feeling deflated.
"I may or may not have thrown a file folder across the room because I was so defeated with what happened in court. I was trying to protect this person within the realm of law."
After a colleague of his had spoken to him, he said that he began to understand that the outcome in a courtroom can't be equated with the investigation. The general public may not be aware of the reality that policing and the courts are two fundamentally different entities. While police are responsible for the enforcement of laws, the courts are the sites of adjudication of disputes.
While Cst. Paige admitted that the desensitization to violence is a part of the work he does, it doesn't mean that there aren't cases that have profoundly impacted him.
'His name was Walter. My name is Walter.'
Cst. Paige was the primary investigator in the brutal murder in 2020 of Dr. Walter Reynolds, a physician from Red Deer. The man accused of Dr. Reynolds' murder, Deng Mabiour, would not see trial as he died in 2021. Reports cited Mabiour had cancer.
The Cst. explained that in investigations, there is a network of officers that take on different roles, including a family liaison being assigned to coordinate between the family. However, primary investigators do not usually shoulder both roles at once to make sure no pertinent information is inadvertently leaked that could damage the case. In this instance, Cst. Paige took on both roles after he met with the widow of the doctor.
"Her husband's watch had got damaged in the assault and she wanted it and we agreed to give it back to her. I felt this connection to her – because her husband and I share the same first name," Cst. Paige reflected. "It was just horrific - what happened. They have two small daughters; I have two daughters."
The case was not only brutal in how police encountered the crime scene, but it was also the senselessness of the brutality that made it all the harder to understand.
But it's not just cases he's investigated that have left their mark on the police officer, it's also the deaths of colleagues and friends. A flash of unfeigned emotion can be seen in the Cst.’s eyes as he divulges that one of his close friends from his days in training was one of the RCMP officers murdered in Moncton in 2014.
The Moncton shooting is considered the deadliest attack on the RCMP since the Mayerthorpe tragedy in 2005. Cst. Dave Ross, Cst. Fabrice Georges Gevaudan, and Cst. Douglas James Larche were all murdered in the line of duty in 2014. Cst. Gevaudan was Paige's troupe mate.
"He should never be forgotten. He was the one at Depot that was the runner - he was like a gazelle. He would finish the race and then he would come back for the rest of us."
Losing friends and colleagues in the line of duty has recently become a morbid familiarity for police in Alberta. The deaths of two Edmonton police officers as well as the death of an RCMP member have reverberated far, wide, and very deep for members. But there is also the reverberation of how the media portrays police that takes its toll.
'Painting everyone with the same brush.'
Cst. Paige remarked that because the RCMP is a federal policing organization, recognized virtually by almost every Canadian in the country, when the disreputable conduct of one RCMP officer is brought to the public's attention, he believes the public generalizes.
"We all get painted with that same brush because we wear the same uniform, but if you go look at any occupation in Canada; you're going to have a bad doctor, a bad dentist, a bad garbage truck driver, a bad gas station attendant," he noted. "You're going to have bad police officers - it's just the law of averages. I don't want to have that bad officer any more than you do because that makes me look bad."
He said that while there seems to be a conflation and transference between the issues that American police departments have been under fire for, Canada's policing system is not the same and should not be viewed with the same lens.
And as for the myriad of policing shows that are ever prevalent in pop culture? The reality is that those shows are closer to science fiction than reality. While police officers on the T.V. screen may be able to solve a case within 60 minutes, reality dictates otherwise for those who wear the uniform in real life.
"CSI for instance is way out in right field - that's what we wish we had. I laugh [because on the show] they got this fingerprint in minutes; we must wait sometimes days or weeks to even get the fingerprints."
'You do this job because you want to do it.'
The RCMP like many first response branches have struggled to recruit new members into their ranks. Cst. Paige himself admits it's difficult to entice people into the job, but he is hopeful that there may be individuals in the midst who want to make a career in the RCMP.
"We're going back to basics. The last couple of years have been hard on all of us," he said.
Cst. Paige reflected that the RCMP offers a multitude of positions for all sorts of interests and passions, though there is one constant that remains.
"You want to make a difference - it probably sounds cliche - I don't like the 'I want to make a difference phrase.' The way I feel about it is, I want people to feel safe. I like that in the community where I live - for the most part people feel safe."
When asked if after all that he has encountered, namely some of the worst in human nature, Cpl. Paige had a very definitive answer.
“Yes. I feel that protecting someone else is worth it. I don't think I could be as happy or fulfilled in my life if I didn't do this.”
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