The three women seated around the table at the RCMP’s G Division headquarters in Yellowknife could not have had more different paths through policing to get to where they are today.
Cpl. Charmaine Parenteau, who is Cree and Metis from Duck Lake, Saskatchewan, began her career with the Blood Tribe Police Service. From training at Depot in Regina, Parenteau has worked on homicide, drugs and covert operations in Alberta and Quebec. She was even seconded to St. Bernard-de-Lacolle, where a large number of migrants and asylum seekers crossed into Canada in 2018. With a 15-year career under her belt, Parenteau is now on an RCMP recruitment drive with stops in the South Slave this week.
Cst. Heather Cosenzo comes from a policing family and began her own career with the RCMP straight out of high school. She has worked in communities across Alberta with community policing, relief work in remote fly-in communities and working with VIPs and media.
“It’s the same in that we wear the same uniform and we have the same expectations to help people, but every day has been a different task,” Cosenzo says. Marie York-Condon, director of communications and media relations, agrees. A civilian member of the police force, York-Condon came into the RCMP from a career in the communications industry.
There are an average of 200 to 215 RCMP officers across the NWT, supported by 55 to 65 employees. While York-Condon cannot say how many of the NWTs RCMP officers are women, she says 12 per cent of NWT officers identify as Indigenous but the number could be higher as it does not include support workers. Parenteau stressed the goal of the RCMP is to recruit a diverse workforce.
“They’d like to see that, over the next couple of years, to be 30 per cent women, 20 per cent visible minority and 10 per cent Indigenous.” Parenteau says she has been reaching out to these groups, including Yellowknife’s Muslim and LGBTQ communities.
Cosenzo says life up North prepares people for a career in the RCMP. “The challenges associated with living in a small community are so different than what someone raised in a city might be. That person might not believe they have what it takes, and they totally do,” she says. “The women of the North are the toughest people I’ve ever met and I think they would be amazing police officers. So many women are so strong and so resilient and have such great moral ethics, it would just make us such a stronger force.”
People often have preconceived notions of what you need to become a police officer, Cosenzo adds. “Before you had to be a certain height and a certain weight and a certain chest size and now, when we look around even our detachment here..we’re from all different backgrounds, there are people that speak so many different languages here.”
The basic requirements to apply to join the RCMP are: to be 18 years old, have an unrestricted drivers license, Grade 12 or equivalent GED, and be either a citizen or permanent resident for 10 years.
Within the RCMP there are 150 different specialties and, in the North, the needs are varied. Northern RCMP officers work in forensics, canine units, major crimes, general investigation, media and technology including drones and robots, among others.
“We also hire pilots and people that want to do diving, or be on the musical ride or travel overseas,” Cosenzo says.
Cpl. Parenteau will be holding meetings in Fort Resolution July 3rd (6 p.m. at the community hall), Hay River July 4th (7 p.m. at the recreation centre) and Fort Providence on July 5th (noon at the community hall).