Students at the University of British Columbia Okanagan had a rare chance to talk anything and everything police-related with RCMP officers on campus Monday morning.
It was part of the Coffee with a Cop, which offers the public the chance to engage with police.
“We know that they’re a really valuable service,” said Cade Desjarlais, student union vice-president external. “And they have lots of connections and interactions with our students and so it’s important that we have these kind of informal settings where our students get to meet an RCMP officer and kind of get a story behind, you know, the uniform.”
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In this case, it was UBC Okanagan that requested the event to take place on campus.
“We really want to just have students and staff engaged with the RCMP, ask them some questions that they’ve always wanted to ask a police officer and just kind of break down that barrier to understand that RCMP are here as friends and as protection,” said Robyn Boffy, the community safety manager at UBC-O.
Fatima Canales is an international student from Mexico. She welcomed the opportunity to speak with the RCMP.
Her area of concern is the Okanagan Rail Trail, which she uses regularly to get to class but doesn’t always feel safe on.
“When it’s darker, I feel very vulnerable there,” Canales said.
Igancio Benito, a third-year microbiology student, also had a lengthy chat with one of the officers.
He wanted to thank them for the work they do and learn more about the challenges they face.
“Their experiences dealing with people, with the issues that plague our community, versus the issues I see as a civilian on my day to day,” Benito said.
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While topics of conversations varied and even included some students asking about careers in law enforcement, safety was top of mind for many, especially in the wake of a March 17 attack on an international student at a public transit bus stop.
“That concern is prevalent in the minds of all students,” said Desjarlais. “When they’re taking public transit, when they’re walking by themselves late at night, you know, there are important resources that we need to improve safety and security.”
Even though the attack happened off-campus, the student union would like to see more RCMP resources dedicated specifically to the university, as is the case at the UBC campus in Vancouver.
In February 2022, a 24-year old security guard was killed while on duty at the Kelowna campus.
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Harmandeep Kaur died in the early morning hours of Feb. 26 after being attacked.
Dante Ognibene-Hebbourn is facing charges of second-degree murder. He was working the night shift as a janitor on campus.
The case goes before the courts this April.
“Our campus is growing,” Desjarlais said. “Increased supports and dedicated resources to our campuses is something I would be interested in and advocating for…and I think some of the more recent events show that we need increased security for our students.”
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The student population on the Vancouver UBC campus is nearly five times the size of the Okanagan’s and has an RCMP detachment on site.
While there are no such plans at the Kelowna-based university, discussions are underway on how to create more of a regular police presence on campus.
“There are almost 10,000 students. They have 3,000 living on campus and then they have the Academy Way development there that are mostly students, so yeah, having police presence here is probably, in the future, going to be addressed.”
That’s something many students said they would welcome.
“I think if there were one or two officers on campus that we could refer to, that certainly wouldn’t be anything terrible, it actually would be appreciated,” said Benito.
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