Tofino, Police State?
I was sitting on rock on an empty beach when bicycle cop Cpl. Andrew Waddell noticed from afar a can of beer beside me. He rode off and I put this can in my guitar case, to be discreet. I was strumming my guitar after work, alone in the sunshine, and rather enjoying my one beer. I was not drunk and nor did I have any other alcohol. Cpl. Waddell returned, dismounted and quickly scaled the rock, hand at his hip. I was startled. He demanded to search my belongings to find this beer can he’d glimpsed from 50 meters away. He leaned into me and yanked the can out from its spot, safely nestled at the bottom of my guitar bag. It was mostly empty but that did not stop him from giving me a $230 “Illegal Possession of Alcohol” ticket. I was finally protesting. This was unreasonable! True, I had this 50 ml of malty foam and I was technically guilty. But seriously, is this what these laws are for? I was minding my own business in the middle of nowhere FOR CRYIN’ OUT LOUD!
I decided to fight this ticket. When I arrived at Tofino Court, Cpl. Waddell took me aside and threatened me: he said that if I pleaded not-guilty he would be seeking a ban for me from Tofino parks and beaches and a more than doubling of the fine to $460. I was shaken and angry (some of you may be aware of my role organizing the Saturday Market). So Waddell wants me banished from the parks? I asked the Judge for an adjournment, thinking I need legal help to battle this absurdity. Was this dude for real?
It was around the time that Waddell searched and ticketed me that I started to hear stories coming from all directions about Waddell imposing similar and far worse situations upon both tourists and locals. You’ve probably heard some of them.
There are the teenagers given hundreds of dollars in fines for bicycle infractions. Meanwhile, I witnessed, on May 27th at 1:15 pm, Waddell ignore the stop sign at First & Campbell and almost run into Alistair and an elderly First Nation’s lady. Both had to jump out of the way of this speeding, yellow-clad man on a tricked-out bike. They were walking on the CROSSWALK over to Co-op. Alistair reeled back and said, “Whoa buddy!!!” The lady gave him a stink eye. I yelled from the peanut gallery, “Hey Waddell, you ran that stop sign and almost ran them over on the crosswalk.” Waddell circled briefly but didn’t go so far as to return to the scene of the crime. Forget about an apology. He completed his circle and rode off again, perhaps because Alistair was looking pretty mean by then too. She was still glowering and I was shaking my head.
There are the otherwise law-abiding Tofino staffers hauled away in hand cuffs, arrested and made to appear in court (and potentially for trials) for possessing one joint of marijuana. There are several such cases of very minor possession that Waddell is pursuing with vigour. I am personally aware of 5 cases so I can only assume there are more. Aren’t we past all that? Does not a BC majority, and growing number of police, support decriminalization of marijuana for several obvious reasons? (Like the failed war on drugs which has done nothing but line gangster’s pockets and criminalize harmless behaviour). So why are we watching bad, old movie clips from The South in the sixties? How inappropriate for Tofino. This is a place where people treat each other courteously with remarkable regularity. Oh sure, we’ve all seen something or someone go WAY-OVER THE-LINE (think Marky-Mark naked, wasted and hollering on Tonquin). However, generally, Tofino is a free and relaxed place where one doesn’t need their hand held to know how to play nice. That Waddell is bringing in these busts IS A JOKE. And now his jokes are on all of us because he’s clogging our over-burdened, justice system with this petty junk.
There’s the tourist couple, sipping a glass of wine on Chesterman’s watching alarmed as Waddell roars up on a quad to give them $230 fines. Bye-bye romantic sunset, here comes motorman with a gun. These shaken folks promised they would not choose Tofino again to spend their hard-earned thousands on a “vacation.” I’ve heard so many stories like this one that if I were more interested than I am about Tofino’s long-term economic success, like maybe a Tofino Councilor should be, I’d take this man Waddell off the beaches, as in I-want-this-on-my-desk-yesterday.
I heard a depressing and silly tale the other day. I haven’t yet been able to substantiate much of it. If it’s true, Waddell is reaching new heights. There was a woman, Tofino staffer, hauled out of her car the other day and roughly handled for drinking and driving. Here’s the rub: she doesn’t drink alcohol. EVER. Waddell was sure she was drunk because he’s an experienced expert. Maybe faulty equipment was involved. The car was impounded. This man must be stopped! I can at least thank him for constantly motivating me to challenge his actions and bring them to Tofino’s attention.
On a light note, Crazy Ron told me a story that I’ll not relay verbatim due to the many expletives. Ron is indeed a talented storyteller. The German Motor Cycle Gang that rode through last weekend, perhaps you saw the flags, were stopped by Cpl. Waddell. Their bikes were lined up in row and he made each one produce their licenses and insurance. Safety checks, I guess. These bikers were of the my-BMW-costs-a-lot and my-Euros-help-your-Town variety. Waddell was probably fresh from watching the old movie “The Wild Ones.” You just can’t make this stuff up.
All of the above stories make me a little angry, a little sad, and a little tired. Of course Waddell is using laws that exist and many of you readers won’t sympathize much with me or others being put through his wringer. Maybe you also buy into Waddell’s fundamentalist worldview that he’s saving us from ourselves. Perhaps you agree he needs to aggressively lead us in handcuffs toward the guiding light of safety. We were, after all, consuming beer and weed in public places (albeit in secluded spots living the Tofino life of love, creativity, and freedom). However, being harassed by Waddell’s hostile actions makes us feel like victims. Fortunately, it isn’t just us that reject Waddell’s tactics. Many reasonable people believe RCMP officers should use discretion and common sense when applying the law.
There is an even more troubling element to these stories that I’m just now becoming educated about.
Tofino Mayor & Council apparently want these absurd arrests to happen. That’s right: John, Donna, Michael, Gordon, Dorothy, Rose and Stephen want these nice kids, workers at Tofino businesses, to be hauled away handcuffed, man-handled, fined, put into court and convicted of crimes which will prevent their travel and damage their lives substantially. All for one gram of pot! They also want tourists to be given fines for weed and ale. Wine drinkers at the beach are in their sights. I don’t know for sure Council wants these outcomes because I’ve yet to ask them. I’m going by what Cpl. Waddell has told me. He is using Mayor & Council’s names and insists his hands are tied. They are telling him to behave like this, he assures me. I doubt this can be true. It seems unlikely that two jurisdictions upward, over at the federal RCMP, they are being micromanaged by Tofino Council. I do not yet believe that Council realizes the real damage caused by encouraging one driven, misguided officer applying their community policing directives in his unreasonable way. To sort all this out, I intend to find out. I will request to present to Mayor & Council. I will advise them about the economic costs and diminishing quality of life associated with making Tofino a police state. I will ask, what do you intend to do about it now that you know about these unintended consequences? That is if they are unintended.
What of this story am I missing? There must be more. I’ve heard that maybe it has something to do with first profiling and then running people out of Town. I suspected this when I heard from a friend who drove out to Tofino for this past May long-weekend. The RCMP were stopping every vehicle and demanding to know whether the occupants had rooms to stay in. Can’t someone go to Tofino to look for a job? Aren’t visitors allowed to make a day-trip to Tofino?
Maybe it is about making everything prohibitively expensive and unwelcoming for most of us so this Peninsula can be divvied into elite, gated zones. Where are regular, working peeps going to live then? Will there only be staff accommodations? Should my fiancÈe and I start a family here? Like so many couples before us, these are questions we wrestle with. Maybe magical Tofino isn’t so magical anymore. Perhaps we’re past the point of no return, forever destined to be just another tourism town catering to wealthy visitors and absentee owners. Yet, if you’ve scared so many of the regular tourists away, especially the families burned out on high-cost Tofino with tickets and NO FIRES (the most awesome way for families, and a big draw for Tofino, to warm up and enjoy the cold beach at dusk), who exactly is going to fill the hotel rooms? They’re doing a great job of using Waddell to scare the living daylights out of marijuana users and everyone else targeted. Who, then, will be left in Tofino? Well-healed tourists will need their toilets cleaned by somebody, of course. Poole’s Land might still be there to accommodate low-cost labour, like he’s done for the last three decades.
I’ve been spending time in Tofino my whole life. I’ve noticed that every year for the last ten, less and less visitors come in summertime. I know this because of how long it takes to turn onto the Highway. In 2002 it was six minutes, a never-ending line of cars in both directions. Nowadays I’ll wait for a few seconds at the most. Far less people, you see. Do the math forward into the future and it doesn’t look good for certain development plans. It looks downright discouraging for small businesses.
Please don’t let Tofino become a police state. If holding Cpl. Andrew Waddell and Tofino Mayor & Council to account is what’s required to make real changes to bad policies, then rise up Tofino and don’t let this November be another oh-I-forgot-to-vote moment. If you or someone you know would make a good candidate for Council, put yourself forward or encourage them to do so. And don’t forget to make it down to that courtroom below the Legion on July 4th, 9 am. We get to watch Cpl. Waddell cross-examined by city lawyers who don’t like the way he behaves, and a presiding judge who might not view RCMP Waddell’s frivolous caseload so favourably.
God bless Van Isle and free Tofino!