Author Tags: Law, Non-Fiction
Born on a farm near Duffield, Alberta, near Stony Plain, on July of 1939, Charles Scheideman joined the RCMP in 1961, at age 21. He arrived in B.C. in the spring of 1962 and practised law enforcement at Nelson, Williams Lake, Lytton, Golden, Quesnel, Prince George and Courtenay, until his retirement in the fall of 1989. His first memoir, Policing the Fringe: The Curious Life of a Small-Town Mountie (Harbour, 2009), has been followed by Tragedy on Jackass Mountain: More Stories from a Small-Town Mountie (Harbour, 2011). He lives in Victoria.
Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Policing the Fringe: The Curious Life of a Small-Town Mountie
Tragedy on Jackass Mountain: More Stories from a Small-town Mountie
Policing the Fringe: The Curious Life of a Small-Town Mountie (Harbour, 2009)
Tragedy on Jackass Mountain: More Stories from a Small-Town Mountie (Harbour, 2011) 978-1-55017-550-9 $24.95
Policing the Fringe (Harbour); Tragedy on Jackass Mountain (Harbour)
from John Moore
Numerous literary and television accounts have been devoted to the glitz and squalor of urban police work. In Canada, television programs like Corner Gas and the old Beachcombers series have also tended to treat small-detachment Mounties as figures of fun, bumbling Dudley Do-rights.
Charles Scheideman’s two volumes of memoirs, Policing the Fringe and Tragedy on Jackass Mountain, provide an uncompromising look into the lesser-known world of small town law enforcement. In Scheideman’s series of tales, crime-lab-less officers often find themselves responsible for not only a town, but its rural hinterland and a stretch of major highway as well.
We’re not going to Dog River here.
The hardest years for Charles Scheideman, a straight-arrow farm boy from Stony Plain, Alberta, were those when he tried to be true to his RCMP training while serving under lazy or corrupt ‘senior’ officers inherited from the old BC Provincial Police service.
“During my police experience, I found that the smaller and more isolated a community was, the more colourful were the local characters,” he notes. His stories abound with the kind of marginal characters who might fade into the wallpaper in an urban setting, but in a small community, they have the stature of titans, for good or ill.
Scheideman served in Williams Lake, where the local vagabond drinking fraternity was known as the Troopers. A friend of mine served in a similar unit called the Iron Creek Cavalry in another Interior town. No one has satisfactorily explained the cavalry nicknames these groups of wandering drunks adopt, but it may be simply a mocking reference to the Mounties, a.k.a. the Horsemen, who are the opposition to be outwitted. Familiarity with the cast of characters in a small town beat has advantages—when a case of whisky mysteriously disappears from the back of a truck, you know where to look for the Troopers, the empties… and sometimes the bodies.
One of the funniest stories is recounted in “Clinton 1, Bikers 0,” an event I recall from the newspapers in 1968 when a bunch of Hell’s Angels wannabes calling themselves Satan’s Angels tried to imitate the movie The Wild One by taking over a small Interior town. Unfortunately for them, being urban scum proved to be poor preparation for intimidating a cowboy town like Clinton, B.C., where a rifle rack in the pickup is a functional accessory, not a decorative one.
After gang-beating a couple of cowboys in the tap-room of the old Clinton Hotel, the bikers soon found themselves surrounded by a large posse of cowboys, mostly Native and mostly heavily armed. They required an RCMP escort all the way down the Fraser Canyon. You could hear the laughter in Montreal. Satan’s Angels disbanded soon after. Surviving members are probably still pushing brooms at your local Sunday school, glad just to be alive.
Scheideman’s story “The Gunpowder Cure” recounts his harrowing visit to ‘the Camp,’ a collection of abandoned company houses on the edge of town occupied by eccentric squatters, one of whom has decided to end his marginal life by shooting himself in the head with a Lee Enfield army rifle. Tip-toeing through a gruesome death scene, the young Mounties are startled by a resurrection as miraculous, and a lot messier, than that of Lazarus.
After extensive reconstructive surgery, “he never attempted suicide again,” Scheideman observes dryly. “Whatever had been bothering him had apparently been shaken loose by the blast.”
Law enforcement is arguably the most stressful job anyone can do—a routine of duty, rectitude and attention to detail, enlivened by unpredictable chances to be killed and, in countries with strong constitutional protection of individual rights, the frequent experience of watching the guilty walk smirking from the courtroom to re-offend at the first opportunity.
Some police officers fall into the bottle or vent the stress in ways that make for disgraceful headlines.
A few, like Charles Scheideman, write it all down in an attempt to set the record straight. For Scheideman, integrity is absolutely essential for any officer tasked with enforcing the law in any circumstance, not only in far-flung rural areas. The RCMP book says the law is to be enforced “without fear, favour or affection” and Scheideman recounts abundant incidents in which combinations of all three weigh heavily on the judgment and interpersonal skills of the officer who answers the call.
Sometimes, the rule of law has to get bent in the interests of justice; when a woman is being beaten by her husband and a couple of her male relatives lay such a monumental shit-kicking on the guy that he becomes a model husband, you can forgive the local Mounties for borrowing the blindfold of justice for the evening. Discretion is the better part of policing.
Despite his distaste for lawyers adept at twisting the law to free the guilty and some opinions that will inflame the ’roids of the politically correct, Scheideman is also highly critical of the new breed of RCMP officers who subscribe to the doctrine of overwhelming force. He points out that the Taser-death of a Polish man at Vancouver Airport a few years ago could probably have been avoided if the call had been answered not by four Mounties, but by one—who would have had to use interpersonal de-escalation skills second nature to any small town officer, instead of relying on force to resolve the situation.
Many of the stories in Policing the Fringe are necessarily anecdotal, especially the stories Scheideman recounts of misadventure on the highways due to driving unfamiliar roads, lack of sleep and over-supply of alcohol.
Police officers usually only see people at their worst, when impaired judgment and bad luck put them in harm’s way. But they also see the worst people at their worst—frequently—and knowing the family history of some of those whose sad short lives he memorializes conveys a sense of how impossible it is to protect certain people from their fates, and how emotionally difficult it is to watch them go down without being able to save them.
What RCMP officers of Scheideman’s generation will never get credit for is the number of people they probably did save from tragic fates brought on by stupidity.
Back in Scheideman’s rookie years, when I was in my teens, I mouthed off at a six-foot constable who just laughed as he tapped me lightly behind the ear with a flashlight packed with four D-cell batteries. When I woke up, he informed me in the friendliest way that if I continued to lie down in the street, he’d have to arrest me for vagrancy. I never mistook a police officer for a legitimate target of my existential angst again.
They’re just ordinary human beings doing a very extraordinary job.