Man found guilty of sexual assault in Hinton provincial court

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


A man accused of assaulting an underage female in 2016 and unlawfully marrying a child was found guilty July 15 on four counts laid against him.

Michel Frank Bouvier, was found guilty on two counts of sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, and assault.

Bouvier was found not guilty of marrying a child, something the victim said during her testimony consisted of an indigenous pipe ceremony after which she believed Bouvier was her husband.

He was initially charged with eight criminal offences, including two counts of sexual assault, two counts of assault, aggravated assault and two counts of uttering death threats.

In rendering his decision in Hinton’s provincial court, Judge R. Shaigec stated that he did not believe multiple accounts of Bouvier’s testimony, resulting in the guilty verdicts. He further explained his rationale for the non guilty verdict for the marrying a child charge.

In light of eradicating practices such as marital rites and ceremonies with individuals under the age of 16, the events needed to be determined objectively, he stated.

The question he posed was if the ritual or event was a genuine cultural practice that was actually intended to result in the marriage of a child. He believed this event paved the way for months of assault and sexual assault but with the absence of evidence on this point, he had a reasonable doubt whether the events described by the victim, which he believed to be true, actually constituted a genuine customary indigenous marriage rite or ceremony intended in the two being married.

Bouvier continuously interrupted while Judge Shaigec explained his reasoning before finding him not guilty of marrying a child.

Bouvier was scheduled to appear in person for the verdict, but a COVID-19 outbreak at the Edmonton remand centre forced a change in plans and he instead appeared via closed circuit TV. 

He mumbled and talked over the judge as the verdict was read out in Court of Queen’s Bench in Hinton.

Testimony during the trial, which began in February, outlined how Bouvier was 54 while the complainant was a teenager at the time the crimes occurred between Oct. 1, 2016 and May 9, 2017.

The now-19-year-old woman from a small town between Edmonton and Red Deer, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, met Bouvier when she was 15 years old at an indigenous craft market in Edmonton. At the time she felt she needed help spiritually and emotionally, she explained during her examination in court.

Bouvier was a medicine man, which can be described as a traditional healer and spiritual leader who serves a community of indigenous people, and offered to help the complainant.

The woman went on to testify during the trial that Bouvier had brainwashed her into believing she could trust him and love him.

Their relationship quickly moved from mentorship to being intimate with each other.

Bouvier first kissed her while they both stayed at her relative’s house and he told her not to tell anyone, according to her testimony.

In Bouvier’s testimony, he claimed the 15 year-old walked into his room that night wearing nothing but a robe and underwear attempting to seduce him.

The judge stated in his reasoning that he did not believe Bouvier’s account of this incident to be the truth.

Bouvier and the teenager began engaging in sexual intercourse regularly and Bouvier asked her to be his partner while knowing that she was only 15 years-old, she said.

The judge noted the two had sex mutliple times and accepted the victim’s best estimate of around 30 times while she was 15. These occurred in absence of consent and proves Bouvier committed the offence of sexual assault, the judge said. During the time, she didn’t know what the age of consent to sexual activity was and felt like a daredevil, she said.

At one point in her testimony, she described when Bouvier first became aggressive after being away too long with male friends. That same night, he threatened her with a curse and told her horrible things would happen to her.

According to her testimony, Bouvier then asked her to come with him to Hinton where they stayed with friends in October 2016. Her family first reported her missing on Oct. 13, 2016, and an amber alert was sent out.

When police found her in North Edmonton after Bouvier dropped her off, she lied about her whereabouts, testifying she had been instructed to do so by Bouvier.

She eventually told police she was with Bouvier and that he was helping her spiritually, she said. Soon after she ran away to Hinton again, Bouvier told her she could not look other men in the eyes and accused her of being intimate with the friend they stayed with.

After returning from participating in Halloween activities against Bouvier’s wishes, things escalated quickly. He questioned her about being with their male friend and accused her of lying.

After throwing her candy across the room he physically assaulted her to the point where her teeth fell out. She later lied to the dentist and said she slipped on ice and hit her face on concrete.

For this reason, Bouvier was found guilty of assault causing bodily harm.

The complainant testified that Halloween was the beginning of a torturous relationship, including spiritual abuse where she was made to stay up late to beat off the devil from her sleep, and also physical abuse.

The following day, the victim said a marital ceremony took place at that same friend’s house in Hinton and photos of the ceremony were soon deleted by Bouvier, because he did not want any evidence.

She claimed that Bouvier hit her regularly and she would count how many days she didn’t get hit.

Bouvier introduced her to his family using a fake name and claimed she was older than reality, she said. Believing he would change, the woman said Bouvier began forcing her to have sex with him when she didn’t want to.

With another missing persons alert out while they were staying with family in Saskatchewan, Bouvier put her on a bus headed for Edmonton. Police pulled over the Greyhound bus just outside of Vegreville on March 23, 2017, after receiving info from various people, and took her to the police station.

After being interviewed she was taken home to her grandfather, but she continued texting Bouvier.

She testified she was still brainwashed and believed Bouvier was a good person. She agreed to run away to meet him again.

Police then located her at a home near Rocky Mountain House on April 11, 2017, and she was brought back to the police station again.

Court documents show that Project KARE Unit, an RCMP unit that investigates and reviews files of missing vulnerable persons throughout Alberta, became involved due to high-risk behaviour and frequent missing persons reports.

As of April 18, 2017, documents state that members of Project KARE were suspicious of Michel Bouvier and thought that he might be sexually exploiting her. 

She made no criminal allegations and the focus of any interviews at the time was on “gathering information and stabilizing her in the community.”  

She returned to her relative’s house and said it was nice being back with family but was paranoid about Bouvier.

“It was disgusting, I didn’t think much of the abuse but thought, he’s my husband, I need to go back,” she testified.

It was during the final trip back to Hinton when he took her to the ceremonial grounds outside of Hinton where they stayed in an abandoned trailer as Bouvier taught her about ‘culture’. The police arrived on May 9, 2017 and arrested Bouvier on unrelated matters.

Bouvier was taken into custody, and the teenager was placed “in care,” according to legal documents. Children’s Services was also involved due to the number of times she disappeared and returned, and she claimed they wanted to put her under protection.

At the time, she believed she was just going to Bouvier for help. She now claims she didn’t realize Bouvier brainwashed her.

At 17 years old, she contacted the police and alleged that Bouvier had committed serious crimes against her during a seven-month period two years prior.

During those seven months, the police took witness statements from various people as part of five separate missing persons files aimed at trying to find her and keep her safe. Those witness statements focused on finding her but had all been lost in the meantime. The judge dismissed an application for a stay of proceedings in regards to these missing statements.

Court documents say that each time police found her throughout 2016 and 2017, she denied that Bouvier had engaged in any criminal wrongdoing.

Bouvier denied all allegations, saying after meeting the victim in the summer of 2016 he did not see her again until police found the two together in May of 2017.

A psychological assessment of Bouvier was ordered at the Alberta Hospital in support of a dangerous or long term offender application within the next 60 days.

This matter returns to court on Oct. 21, 2020 to be spoken to as a docket matter. While a dangerous offender hearing was spoken to in court following the verdict, the Crown has yet to make an application for a dangerous offender hearing.

In October, a possible Crown application can be scheduled and sentencing dates. 

Bouvier went through a dangerous offender hearing in 2011 after he was found guilty of assault with a weapon in Saskatchewan, but was instead declared a long-term offender and put under a 10-year supervision order. The Hinton Voice apologizes for these errors.


* This version of the article has been edited to include corrections made since print publication. The Hinton Voice apologizes for previous errors.*

Two men charged after break and enter


Two Hinton men face charges related to an early morning break and enter incident at The Brick on June 21.

Hinton RCMP responded to a call of a break and enter at The Brick around 4 am and it was reported that two male suspects continued to remain inside the premises.

One suspect, James Ray Horn, was located and arrested outside the location, while the other suspect was seen fleeing the building upon arrival. A large 40” television was located nearby that had been stolen from the business and was recovered.

Efforts to locate the second subject, Jakob Brian Martens, were unsuccessful at that time and he remained at large until July 20, when the Hinton RCMP reported he was located.

Further investigation into this matter revealed that one of the suspects had allegedly attended The Brick the previous day and was observed on video surveillance carrying a large television, which he had not purchased. As a result of this investigation, two individuals are facing charges.

Horn, 37, of Hinton is charged with break and enter commit theft to business and disguise with intent.

 Horn was released from custody with conditions to appear in Hinton Provincial court on Sept. 2, 2020.

Martens, 23 of Hinton, AB. is charged with two counts of break and enter commit theft to business and one count of disguise with intent.

No information was provided about his appearance dates and whether he was released from custody.

Run In The Rockies to go virtual for 2020 event

Allison Rutley photo

Masha Scheele
reporter@hintonvoice.ca


Due to COVID-19, most big events had to be cancelled but the Hinton Run in the Rockies is going virtual for 2020

Organizers ditched the registration fees and to keep things simple they decided against sending out race packages.

“We just want people to get out and experience the Hinton trails,” said Matt Davies, one of the board members and organizers.

Between Sept. 12 and Sept. 20, runners can take on 5km, 10km, or the half-marathon on their own time. The course will be set up similar to last year on the Hinton trails and organizers plan to flag the course by mid-August.

“If you don’t want to do our courses you can go out and do a trail of your choice on the Hinton trails, that’s the format this year,” Davies said.

Davies added that runners don’t need to track their race but some proof that they ran the trails must be provided.

“If you don’t have a GPS watch, we’re not going to fault you for that. We just want to have people out there experiencing the trails. But we do require some sort of proof, so a GPS file or just a photo of you on the trail. Something to show you completed the distance,” Davies said.

Those who completed their distance will be entered into a draw for door prizes since race times can’t be accurately tracked.

Organizers hope to support local businesses through buying prizes locally.

Maps of the Run in the Rockies tracks will be posted online and organizers hope to also put together a GoPro video of the different courses for people to physically be able to see it as well.

Guided tours will also be offered for people who want to do the course but aren’t comfortable on the trails by themselves.

Anyone can join two of the board members to run the race, while staying at a safe distance from them. Back in April, the group already decided they would attempt a virtual event.

As they watched other big races cancel or postpone their events, they knew the race wouldn’t be going ahead as normal. 

They discussed registration, fees, and mailing a package with shirts and medals, but realized it was complicated.

They simplified the event just to get people out and enjoying the trails.

Post a running photo to runhinton.wordpress.com in the comments section or tag @runhinton in your photo on Instagram between Sept. 12 and 20.

The Hinton Run In The Rockies was formed in 2011 and last year the race attracted almost 300 participants.

Last year local Shaughn Lalonde edged out Mario Rauber to finish first in the half marathon, while Chance Basaraba, Riley Beauchamp and Brenden Hunt finished first through third in the 10km event.

Public input sought for Boutin-Drinnan project

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


The Town of Hinton is calling for public input on development opportunities for the undeveloped, town owned lands at the intersection of Boutin Ave and Drinnan Way.

Town administration hopes to come up with a final concept design for the area by July 26, following a four-day design charrette.

The design charrette is created to incorporate the visions and ideas of local stakeholders and the public based on their current and future needs to develop a site plan for the three lots, totalling 4.8 hectares.

“We are seeking input to inspire our vision and guide the creation of concepts for refinement based on feedback. The end product would be a preferred concept,” stated Josh Yaworski, Hinton communications coordinator.

He added that the public can provide input, observe, make comments on what they see, and comment on which scenario or combination of scenarios they prefer.

Town staff in Development Services have used this planning methodology in previous municipalities, and their experiences are being drawn upon for this new endeavour in Hinton.

This moment is the culmination of years of work surrounding the McMillan lands, stemming from the purchase three years ago, Yaworski explained.

Council approved the purchase of the land in October 2018 with the intent of using it for social, affordable and 55+ transition housing development.

“The purpose of the charrette is to imagine the possibilities for all types of housing, not just seniors housing,” clarified Yaworski.

In September 2019, an RFP process was approved to select a consultant to complete a geotechnical site assessment on the McMillan Land.

Council also approved $25,000 of unused South Area Structure Plan funds to support a geotechnical site assessment.

Unused funds from the South Area Structure Plan were used to expedite the process, rather than waiting until after the 2020 budget deliberations.

Developing this land for seniors’ housing was established as a priority in council’s strategic plan. 

Stakeholder groups invited to the charrette include the general public, builders, community service groups, and council and town staff.

The Boutin Avenue design charrette is described as an intensive engagement process that sees the project go from a vision stage to a final concept design over a four-day period. 

The design team, V3 Companies of Canada, takes information from stakeholder groups and creates a series of site plans that capture different visions. 

The Town has been coordinating efforts with Evergreens Foundation, which manages the nearby Pine Valley Lodge, on this project.

The intent is to have a preferred concept design that has the support from those who participated in the design charrette.

After the charrette, the town will complete a development pro forma that will position the Town to decide on next steps. 

A pro forma analysis is a set of calculations that projects the financial return that a proposed real estate development is likely to create.

Participants are requested to attend the events on at least three out of the four days to enable the project to reach its full potential.

Day one of the charrette on July 23 is the learning and visioning day, where information and input on vision and design concepts will be gathered.

Four sessions will run from 7 pm until 10:45 pm, starting on the hour.

The following day is the design day, where the concept ideas will be refined. While day two is optional for attendance, all stakeholders and the public are invited to drop in from 10 am to 8 pm.

On day three, attendees will offer feedback on the design concepts during five sessions between 6 pm and 10:45 pm, starting on the hour.

A presentation on the preferred design will be done on the final day, on July 26. Day four again will be done in five sessions between 6 pm and 10:45 pm, starting on the hour.

The Town noted that it will be maintaining physical distancing during the event at the Hinton Government Centre.

Province announces ‘near normal’ return to class this fall

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Students will return to daily learning in K-12 classrooms at the beginning of the school year, announced the Alberta government on July 21.

Earlier in June, Alberta Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange, released three scenarios of what K-12 schooling could look like in the fall including the targeted scenario of near-normal operations with in-school classes and some health measures.

This week, LaGrange announced that schools would be moving ahead with that targeted scenario.

Only 14 per cent of all Alberta infections have been amongst youth under the age of 19 and over the past five months only eight school aged children have been infected with COVID-19, stated Premier Jason Kenney during the update.

He added that a survey done by the Alberta School Council Association found that more than 86 per cent of parents supported a back to school plan.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, noted that extended school closures negatively impact children’s overall long term mental, emotional, and physical health.

The government developed a re-entry tool kit to prepare parents and students and health officials will continue to closely monitor the situation and update the guidance for schools based on the best evidence available.

“School days will look mostly the same as before COVID-19 but with some modifications,” stated LaGrange.

Guidance offered by the government includes placing hand sanitizer at all entrances, frequent cleaning, grouping students in cohorts and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing. 

Students are recommended to be cohorted by class, which will decrease the number of close contacts a case of COVID-19 would have in a school and assist public health officials in their efforts to trace contacts and contain an outbreak.

Masks will not be mandatory for kids in school.

Parents, students and school staff must review the self-screening questionnaire each day before going to a school building. 

Parents are encouraged to talk to schools about their child’s pre-existing medical conditions and the schools must keep a confidential record of these conditions.

If a student shows symptoms at school, parents should pick up the child immediately. 

The student will be asked to wear a non-medical mask and be isolated in a separate room or kept at least two metres away from others. 

In the case of a COVID-19 infection, the zone medical officer of health will work with school authorities to identify cases, identify close contacts, and create isolation measures when needed.

A COVID-19 case will not automatically lead to school closure. 

It could be that only the group of students and staff who came in close contact will be required to stay home for 14 days.

School authorities can reduce time spent teaching non-core subjects to allow for additional instruction time on core subjects.

Around 600 COVID tests conducted in Hinton

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


A total of 587 COVID-19 swabs had been done to date in Hinton and the North Central Zone’s top doctor says that data shows testing rates have been steady with no real surges in demand. 

AHS categorizes tests by positive and negative results, and doesn’t record how many of those tests were asymptomatic.

Those local tests are transported to the laboratory, mostly in Edmonton, and it can take anywhere between two to five days to get results.Transportation from Hinton may add time to get results back, as well if there is a sudden surge in demand.

“I do know that the lab has certainly and amazingly ramped up capacity between the early days. This all had to be developed new, this is a brand new virus and a brand new test. Things have become very much more streamlined and automated as we’ve gone,” said Dr. Kathryn Koliaska, North Central Zone Medical Officer of Health.

Nasal swabbing was initially developed and validated at the laboratory and later on they also validated throat swabs. 

Both are effective swabs, but it can come down to supplies, sometimes provider experience and qualifications, and occasionally, client preference, Koliaska explained.

She added that additional tests can be done on one or the other in medical settings, and that sometimes there’s another rationale for nasal or throat swabs. From a COVID-19 perspective, more throat swabs than nasal are being done currently in the north zone.

Accuracy of the test is amazing, said Koliaska, although an erroneous result is possible in very rare circumstances, similar to other medical tests. While chances of inaccurate test results are extremely small, follow up tests can be done at the laboratory if something doesn’t seem right, or repeat tests can be done, according to Koliaska.

With numbers slowly ticking up again – Alberta had 1193 active cases on July 22, which is up from 333 in the first week of June – she noted it is hard to know what a second wave will look like until the province is well into it.

AHS can use the data collected from the first COVID-19 wave to determine how to move forward and with what restrictions.

“We have the ability to adjust what we’re doing in society to make it into a small little blip instead of a huge second wave,” Koliaska said. 

Encouraging people to continue with their good hygiene habits and physical distancing is important as these measures have actually made a big difference, she added.

The only difference between when COVID-19 first entered the province and now, is that medical experts know a little bit more about how it spreads and about what works to prevent the spread.

Better testing is also available, leading to better decision making, Koliaska added.

Initially, the limited testing was targeted towards Albertans returning from international travel, but now testing is available for all symptomatic and asymptomatic Albertans.

“So much has been built and opened up compared to where we were at the beginning,” Koliaska said.

AHS created an integrated system consisting of a partnership with public health teams to make sure that people with positive results find out about them and are interviewed for contact tracing.

Those they were in contact with while they were at risk of spreading the virus are then given a heads up as well.

Positive tests results means those individuals and their close contacts must stay home and self isolate, especially now that AHS knows people can transmit the virus very early on, perhaps before symptoms show up, Koliaska said.

She noted it can be a very scary phone call to receive and there is a wide range of reactions depending on personal circumstances.

Conversations between AHS and the infected individual come from a public health point of view and protecting the public, but the results can impact everyone very differently.

“I think some of the support programs have helped but the positive tests do have implications for individuals and I think sometimes there can be a range of implications people may have,” Koliaska said.

As well, individuals may or may not remember where they were at each moment in the last number of days, which limits contact tracing.

Those contact tracing conversations vary depending on the person’s symptoms and how long they may have exposed anyone else. An exposure assessment is done in every contact case to determine further contact tracing and further recommendations.

The medical officer of health may become involved in making recommendations when complexities arise in certain cases.

Koliaska explained that the follow up of someone who was very symptomatic in a packed grocery store is very different from someone who was only mildly symptomatic and ran into a store at a non-peak period for five minutes.

“It really depends on circumstances, as it should be. It shouldn’t all be treated the same,” Koliaska said.

Individuals who test positive need to stay home for either 10 days from the first day they showed symptoms or until their symptoms resolve, whichever one of those conditions is longer, Koliaska added.

“If you’re sick for three days you need to stay home for ten, if you’re sick for 12 days you need to stay home for 12 days,” she said.

Another system is set up for those returning from international travel that will advise them of the protocols and review plans for self-isolation.

Check ups on those individuals aren’t done through AHS directly but AHS works with a multi stakeholder group.

Hinton has had three confirmed cases of COVID-19 during this pandemic, while Yellowhead County had two, and the entire north zone has had 454. 

All Hinton cases have since recovered, with no deaths.

Ninety-three individuals are currently hospitalized in Alberta and 16 are admitted to the intensive care unit.

For more up to date information about COVID-19 in Alberta, go to covid19stats.alberta.ca. To book a COVID-19 test, go to myhealth.alberta.ca/Journey/COVID-19 and take the self assessment test. 

Even without symptoms, the final question in the assessment will ask to take part in asymptomatic testing.

From there, a form will appear to fill out and a test location and time can be chosen.

Feds consider Vista Coal impacts

Image from bighornmining.com

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


Decision expected by July 30 on potential federal study

While Canada plans to phase-out coal-fired electricity by 2030, 47 organizations have voiced concern over how the expansion of the Vista Coal mine outside of Hinton will affect that goal.

Groups argued in a public letter that if Canadians are lobbying to phase out burning coal, then Canadians shouldn’t feed thermal coal for consumption overseas, and urged the federal government to reconsider an earlier decision not to conduct an impact assessment.

Federal Environment Minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, stated last week that an impact assessment is now being considered on the Vista mine, operated by Coalspur Mine Ltd., also  known as Bighorn Mining Ltd.

“The Minister and the Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) of Canada have received requests to designate the Coalspur Vista Coal Underground Mine and Expansion Activities Project, proposed by Coalspur Mine (Operations) Ltd. The agency is currently conducting an analysis and will make a recommendation to the Minister on whether to designate the project,” stated Moira Kelly, Wilkinson’s press secretary.

“Our government has also launched a strategic assessment on thermal coal to better understand the potential impact of thermal coal mining activity to ensure effects within federal jurisdiction—especially related to climate change – are fully considered in the federal impact assessment process.”

The Minister is expected to make a decision on designation by July 30. 

The designation request that is before the minister concerns the underground expansion to the existing Phase I project, which was not part of an earlier request in December considered by the minister. 

On December 20, 2019, the minister determined that the Phase II did not warrant designation under the IAA and he left it up to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) to decide if the Vista coal mine expansion should be approved.

Wilkinson reasoned the potential risks to the environment and Indigenous rights would be dealt with by a provincial approval process.

Adverse effects within federal jurisdiction are expected to be managed by legislative mechanisms such as the Fisheries Act by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the provincial environmental assessment and regulatory processes, he stated.

A federal news release on Dec. 20 stated that the Coalspur Vista Coal Mine Phase II Project was undergoing an environmental assessment by the Province of Alberta. 

The Alberta Energy Regulator is responsible for the comprehensive environmental review of coal projects in Alberta including input from the Aboriginal Consultation Office (ACO) that directs project applicants to consult with First Nations and Métis settlements that may be impacted by a potential project. 

“The Coalspur Vista Mine has submitted applications supporting a potential expansion to the AER,” stated Kavi Bal, senior press secretary of the Ministry of Energy.

Several environmental, Indigenous, health, civil society, and faith groups, are behind the letter that called out the Canadian government for hypocrisy following its failure to designate Coalspur Ltd.’s expansion plans for an environmental assessment.

The letter stated that allowing the expansion clashes with the country’s commitment to “powering past coal.”

“Requesting a federal assessment for the Vista coal mine expansion is about safeguarding Alberta’s wilderness from a legacy of industrial scars and contamination, ultimately preserving the quality of life of all Albertans,” stated Nissa Petterson, conservation specialist of the Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA), which signed the letter.

AWA is concerned that Alberta’s current case-by-case regulatory approach, along with incomplete provincial land-use planning, will not sufficiently address and mitigate the potential negative impacts this project could have on local wildlife populations and environmentally significant landscapes.

While thermal coal produced from the Vista mine is destined for export markets and won’t affect the domestic phase-out of thermal coal use, AWA believes it will maintain or increase greenhouse gas emissions in those markets. 

“It diminishes our collective, global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” stated Petterson.

Coalspur Mine Ltd, owned by U.S. coal giant Cline Group, began shipping coal to primarily Asian markets from Vista mine in May 2019 The company proposed to expand its existing Vista Coal Mine Project, an open-pit surface coal mine for the extraction and export of thermal coal. 

The expansion would be located approximately 3.5 kilometres east of Hinton at its western boundary.

The coal mined from the combined phase 1 and 2 operation would be transported by rail to west coast ports and then shipped overseas. 

A government webpage states Coalspur would operate the mine as one complex with potential to increase annual production from 10M to 15M tonnes on average.

Coalspur (Bighorn Mining) did not respond to questions from The Hinton Voice by our press deadline.

Council holds on to vacant CPO position

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative


A recommendation was made by council during the standing committee meeting on July 21 that the vacant third Community Peace Officer Level 1 (CPO1) position be held pending a decision in the 2021 budget.

In the meantime, a high level service discussion regarding bylaw and the town CPO positions will be held at the standing committee meeting on Aug. 18, 2020.

Cutting the third CPO position would mean reducing the service level and communicating that to the community, explained CAO Emily Olsen.

Mayor Marcel Michaels noted the upcoming discussion is an opportunity for council to make service level decisions to avoid staff burnout.

“Let’s hash out what two or three CPO’s look like and how it’s going to affect us in 2021 to make a good decision in November and December for the budget,” said Michaels.

Hinton’s third CPO gave notice of resignation on July 27, 2020 and the Town initially began preparations to fill the vacancy to maintain service levels.

Due to the CPO’s involvement with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cancellation of vacations for essential services, the CPO’s have been working throughout 2020 with minimal breaks. Administration expects this summer to be busy for the CPO’s and hoped to fill the position quickly.

Council identified the vacancy as an opportunity to review the need for the third position and the services levels offered by this Department. 

With only two CPO’s since June, there have been approximately 15 calls per week that could not be immediately responded to as there was no officer on duty, stated Todd Martens, protective services manager.

Those missed files get pushed until the next officer is on duty and puts more pressure on the two officers who are then playing catch up, Martens added.

Without the additional position, the two officers face an extra workload and burnout, explained Nikiea Hope, human resources manager.

“I’ve heard from some citizens, ‘why do we have three [CPO’s]’, but I’ve also heard from a lot more people saying bylaw is not available, and it takes a long time. I’ve seen or heard very little about that since we got the third person,” said Coun. Trevor Haas.

Council approved the addition of a third CPO in the summer of 2019.

Administration stated a reduction of hours would not decrease the number of calls but increase the wait time for a response and add to citizen frustration.

A decrease would also mean that Bylaw enforcement and associated revenue would decrease, and problems associated with reduced manpower due to vacation, illness, or the recruitment and training processes would not be addressed.

Martens added that cutting the position would mean the two officers would cover all services unless council specifies areas they would like to see cut.

This means no coverage on weekends and evenings, unless there is specific direction of services for two positions.

Thirty-five per cent to 40 per cent of a CPO’s wage is estimated in an average year to be recouped through fines and a reduction of overtime, call-out, and stand-by costs, stated administration’s report.

Fine revenue has decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic while the number of calls and the required enforcement increased through this event.

In 2019, bylaw received 2209 calls, while in 2020 as of July 1 the town has received 2090 with a potential to double the calls from last year.

Coun. Tyler Waugh stated he was against adding the third position one year ago without a better understanding of service level impacts, but does not want to see a decrease back to two without that service level understanding. 

He questioned if it was possible to have a one year contracted third CPO1 to allow for a service level discussion and then transition down to two positions without putting current staff at risk.

Hope noted that officers must go through training that is only offered during certain times.

With no guarantee to get someone in the training or relocate officers to Hinton for only one year this might not be a viable or sustainable option.

During the meeting, Olsen noted there was an unexpectedly deep candidate pool from which to find a suitable replacement.

Michaels stated that this is due to a lot of people looking for jobs right now and that it might be an opportunity to attract a contracted position.

A direction to fill the vacant position on a 12-month contract with the expectation that the town return to two officers once the contract expires was voted down with five against two votes.

Without knowing what is in store in 2021, Coun. Dewly Nelson stated he was more comfortable eliminating a position without anyone in it rather than removing it when someone is in it for several months. 

“This puts us back to probably ground zero where we should have been when we made the decision the first time, and we now have opportunity knowing what we learned last year that making the decision when we did probably wasn’t the best at the time in hindsight,” Nelson said.

Administration noted most CPO’s prefer the capital region, where employment opportunities are greater, wages are higher, and relocation may not be required for job changes. 

Historically, the Town hired candidates and sent them to Alberta Justice and Solicitor General Community Peace Officer Induction Program.

This impacts service levels, but increases retention when the department hires local candidates and provides training.

After Hinton’s Bylaw Officer retired in 2014, Hinton hired a CPO1 at the same pay scale. 

Town Bylaw Officers only enforce Municipal Bylaws, whereas a CPO enforces the Municipal and Provincial Bylaws as well as acts and can assist RCMP. 

However, additional training is required.

Due to high community demand, in 2015, the Town went from one CPO1 to two.

That year, they responded to 509 calls for service, while in 2018, they responded to 2,183 calls for service.

This was in part due to changes in legislation as the CPO1 enforces 10 provincial Acts and 14 Bylaws.

Of the CPO’s workload, 66 per cent pertains to Bylaw enforcement, and Animal Control Bylaw accounts for 36 per cent of the service calls received.

If peace officers weren’t available, RCMP officers filled in and dealt with bylaw issues where they could, Martens explained.

Between the two CPO’s, each employee was on-call 50 per cent of the year.

An Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness Review in 2018 identified that the Protective Services Department was experiencing resourcing and capacity issues due to imposed increases in service levels, increasing citizen expectations, new safety and training requirements, and new Bylaws requiring enforcement.

A third CPO1 position was created to meet the community needs and to address internal demands in 2019.