The laws are the same across Ontario, but policing is a different experience in some parts of the province.
Orillia OPP Const. Martin Hill was reminded of that during a recent stint at Pikangikum First Nation in northwestern Ontario.
It’s common for OPP officers to spend a couple of weeks at a time at the First Nation to help boost its police service, which is administered by OPP. Officers have to ask to go there, and Hill’s request was granted. After taking a COVID-19 test in Sioux Lookout, he was off to his northern assignment.
“I really enjoyed my time there,” he said, adding he is no stranger to policing in northern Ontario.
Hill began his policing career with the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service, working in a fly-in community. He spent almost five years there before joining Orillia OPP, where he has been a constable for about five years.
His recent experience at Pikangikum reminded him “it’s not like downtown Orillia.”
“It’s a fly-in community, so it’s very isolated,” he said of the First Nation that has a population of about 4,000. “It’s more community orientated. You get to know people and talk to people. It’s really important to build relationships with the community.”
That’s true for policing anywhere, but especially in small, isolated communities, Hill said.
While at Pikangikum, he went to a house where there were 10 kids ages seven and younger.
“Policeman!” Hill recalled the children excitedly saying when they saw him. “They were all high-fiving me and giving me a hug. It’s definitely not something you see every day in Orillia. It’s just a nice feeling that there are people, especially children, who are like that.”
“It’s not much different,” he continued. “Ninety-five per cent of the people like that you’re there. Five per cent of the people don’t like that you’re there.”
None of the calls he responded to were out of the ordinary, he said. The big difference was the resources available to police.
Orillia is home to OPP General Headquarters, Central Region Headquarters and the local detachment, so assistance is always close by.
In a place like Pikangikum, “not having all of the fancy resources at your fingertips, sometimes you have to improvise,” Hill explained.
For example, a scenes-of-crime officer — who attends scenes to gather evidence and conduct forensic analysis — might not be available. So, officers who are on scene will call those specialists, who will advise them over the phone.
“As a positive, you get a lot of experience doing calls you might not get (elsewhere),” Hill said.
Hill’s Orillia duties include his role as a marine officer, and he got to tour Pikangikum Lake while up north.
He didn’t have a lot of free time while he was there, but he did manage to get in some fishing in the fish-rich lake.
“It’s not fishing up there,” he corrected. “It’s catching. You just put your line in and something bites.”
He encourages other officers who have not requested an assignment at Pikangikum to consider it.
“It would be a fantastic experience for them,” he said. “They should go there with an open mind. They’ll have interesting stories to tell.”
Hill said he will “definitely go back again.”