Police Chief Wayne Holland and his wife Eileen will be moving back to Coquitlam following his retirement Friday.

Police Chief Wayne Holland and his wife Eileen will be moving back to Coquitlam following his retirement Friday.

Wayne and Eileen Holland bid Nelson adieu

In a lengthy interview with the Star, the outgoing police chief and his wife reflect on their past five years in the Kootenays.

Nelson is losing two of its most prominent residents soon, as Police Chief Wayne Holland and his wife Eileen are moving back to Coquitlam following his retirement on Friday.

Both have been active members of the community. During her time here Eileen has worked as a journalist, writer and board member of the Nelson Public Library. The pair enjoyed hiking, traveling and being members of local groups such as Rotary.

The Star checked in with the pair to hear how they feel about their upcoming departure.

The Star: Your retirement’s coming up fast, Wayne. How’re you guys feeling?

Wayne: My moods change. I’m tentative. I want to have in my future the same intrinsic satisfaction I’ve had for these past five years. I want to feel good about what I do, and I want to feel the way being police chief made me feel. I was asked to accomplish things and I accomplished them. That’s how I want to feel about my future.

We’re going back to Coquitlam for all the good reasons. We’ll be returning to Nelson on a regular basis, but we have to reacquaint ourselves with our son and daughter, our family and friends. They’ve only had glimpses of us over the past five years because Nelson is the place that pulls you into its web and fully occupies you.

Eileen: I know Wayne’s personality. I still believe he has more that he wants to do, and we’ve been married for 34½ years so that’s long enough being with him to fully understand he still has more to do.

It’s been a joy for me to see Wayne in this role. He’s had some exciting roles in Vancouver where he’s excelled, but this was something he really wanted to do, so what a pleasure it was to see him excited about his career and loving it.

The Star: Eileen, I heard you’re related to the Clay family from the Slocan Valley, which was part of your reason for moving here. Can you tell me more about that decision, and your relationship to the area?

Eileen: When we decided to move it’s something we’d discussed because I’d been in this general area multiple times with a main focus on the Slocan Valley. My grandfather came to Canada in 1906, and he was travelling with a trunk along the CPR and he worked for the railway. He got off in Revelstoke and bushwhacked south, and when he hit Lemon Creek he went west and came out in the vicinity of Valhalla Ranch.

Over time, because of negative circumstances that happened to the two brothers who owned it, my grandfather bought it. He met my grandmother and they eventually moved to Victoria, which is how I ended up there. As it turned out packing apples into crates and the farm work tired my grandmother, so they moved with happy memories of the Slocan Valley, where my father was born.

I have the trunk, and we brought it with us, so we always talk about how the trunk (pictured below) has come full circle. Then, recently, Greg Nesteroff published a story about Lemon Creek and he put a postcard from my Aunt Winifred in the West Kootenay Advertiser. In those days unmarried women came out to help on pioneer farms, and she kept house for him. Greg bought the postcard and included it in his story, but he didn’t know my connection, so I called him up.

It meant so much, and it meant so much to Wayne too, to be here. We walk all the time on the Slocan Valley Rail Trail and that goes right over the property.

Wayne: Prior to this I had other opportunities to apply for chief, and I would bring those opportunities back to Eileen, but I wasn’t allowed to even move off the block when our kids were born. She said the kids need roots. When I got a call asking “Would you consider taking the job as chief of police in Nelson?” I said “That’s a real honour, I know a lot of the officers there, but I won’t bring it up with my wife because it’s verboten.”

But that night I happened to mention it, and she leapt off the couch. “Are you crazy?” she said. “You go down there and apply!”

Eileen: It just had a feeling of rightness.

Wayne: I’m a newbie but the rest of my life is going to be significantly involved in this area. I’m a Kootenay guy now. I had no idea the Kootenays were like this.

The Star: How have you kept busy for the past five years?

Eileen: The one that jumps right now to me is writing The Story of the Nelson Public Library, 1986 – 2013.

When I became member of the library board, [head librarian] June Stockdale and the board chair asked me to come and sit in the Dominion Cafe. They said “Let’s plan what you’ll do on the board” and it involved this huge job, and I kind of immersed myself in it.

I’ve got a stretching group, I took some drawing and painting courses with local artists, and another big one for us was Rotary. That’s the most fabulous group of people I’ve ever met. They’re selfless, kind and they never gossip. I will miss those people.

I also have a writer’s group. We talk every day on the Internet and we help each other, back and forth editing.

(Pictured above is the big orange bridge in Nelson, the scene of a suicide attempt interrupted by the heroics of Det.-Cst. David Laing.)

The Star: Wayne, when I first met you upon moving to Nelson, the first thing you told me about was the mental health crisis and the strain it was putting on your police force. On leaving your position, do you think any progress has been made? And what should new Police Chief Paul Burkart keep in mind when tackling this complex issue?

Wayne: This was discussed last night at the police board. I think progress has been made. Did we get Car 87? We didn’t. But that’s no one’s fault.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on Interior Health’s list of to-dos, but what I am pleased about, I’d like to think myself and others were sufficiently concerned we stirred up the muck a bit. We did that by monitoring for five years now every single call, and with Simon Fraser University studying those findings, we found out we have an inordinate number of calls. The best practice recommended by those I consulted with is to have a mental health car, where a mental health practitioner and a police officer work together to get ahead of people who may be having problems in their lives.

It’s proactive, it’s on the street, and it’s real life.

For some reason not everybody agreed. Certainly the feet on the street are enthusiastic, but the Interior Health Authority had other priorities. I’m not the sort of person who sits back. I can take no for an answer but if the issue continues to be exigent, I’m going to keep pushing and get people at the table.

We’ve now got at least 23 stakeholders, business owners, mental health workers, Crown counsel all working together issue by issue, and in a collaborative fashion, to resolve the situation. We’ve only had two or three meetings but we’ve already discovered 84 per cent of these calls occur in a five-block area. If you have finite resources, you don’t have to go too far to figure out where the work’s going to have to happen.

Our beat cop is back. For the last few years we haven’t been able to have one. With me retiring and a new officer coming in as a new recruit, that freed up one person —  Cst. Jarrett Slomba — to take that beat. We’re so pleased.

Good came out of this, I think. I always look at the glass half-full.

(Below, Holland is seen celebrating retired Fire Chief Simon Grypma at a gala in December.)

The Star: You’ve had a famously combative relationship with Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak, particularly in the deliberations around the police budget. How do you think your relationship stands, and how do you think Burkart can repair relationships between police and the city?

Wayne: With respect to Deb, I wouldn’t disagree but I wouldn’t use the word “combative.”

I’m a person who loves a debate. I’ve been put in a position by the provincial government and the police board to advocate for people in this community and my police officers. Similarly, Deb Kozak and her predecessor John Dooley have a very difficult portfolio. I have to wear two hats, and the mayor needs to be head of council and head of the police board as well. So we’re in similar situations.

What I will say is my interaction with Deb Kozak is no different than with John Dooley. I invite you to ask him. We had some great debates and enjoyed that. We’re good friends as result. I’m the type of person, as is Deb Kozak, who will not relinquish our position if we believe we’re in the right and acting on behalf of the people we lead.

We’ve just gone through an extraordinary process where I asked the police board to appeal to the deputy minister. That hasn’t been done before and I think it will be a good thing for this community. We’ve had academics, other police chiefs, all kinds of people look at the Nelson Police Department, and I’m confident if the police services division comes forward as a third independent arbiter, if they say what Wayne Holland and the police board is asking for is legitimate and based on facts, I think we’re in a good place.

And I don’t think council or Deb Kozak will feel bad that what we’re asking for was required. In fact, I feel confident we underestimated what we needed. I feel confident whatever the decision is we’ll abide by it.

I do point out at UBCM approximately two years ago and at a policing forum the Nelson Police Department, based on a study of our budgets from 1982 and going forward 29 years, was declared best value of any police service in the province inclusive of RCMP. That presentation has been made in public, the documents have been tendered to council, so I feel confident the people who came before me did a good job and the five years I’ve been here we’ve done a good job as well.

But they all determined: we’re not down to the bone here, we’re down to the marrow.

What should Paul remember? I think he’ll remember over this five years of interaction with the board, the councillors past and present have been professional, accommodating and willing to listen and I like to think that while we had enthusiastic, boisterous debate, at the end of each session we shook hands and had collegial relationships. All this work and sweat off our brows is going to pay dividends for Paul Burkart (pictured below), the community and Nelson as a whole.

Someone’s going to make the right decision, and that should happen in the next couple weeks.

The Star: Drew Turner is a name nobody in this community can forget after his assault trial. We wrote a strong editorial urging him to quit. I understand his trial created a schism in the police department, yet he is still employed there. When can we expect to hear news of the result of the internal investigation, and when will this situation be resolved?

Wayne: It was my hope the matter would be concluded during my tenure as chief. It won’t be but it won’t be that much longer. (Editor’s note: Turner resigned the day after this interview was conducted.)

I’m prohibited by the act to comment on specifics, but I can assure you that as a result of the information I received recently there will be a determination very soon. That is both for the benefit of Cst. Turner, who has been through a troubling two years, as well as the public.

As far as the schism within the police department, I’m not arguing that but what I am arguing is the extent.

The public has to remember a few things: very few people were there. There’s no way once an investigation has been locked down that we can share information.

So from May 1, 2014 to today a lot of the police officers in the department who you expect would know the details know nothing, or nearly nothing. I myself told everyone I don’t want to hear or say anything. I appointed an independent outside agency because we all work together cheek and jowl, and because I think the community would have screamed for an independent investigation.

If misconduct is substantiated, and it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t be, after that it’s a simple timeline process to inform the member they have to proceed to a disciplinary proceeding and hearing.

We appreciate the public’s support and understanding that we’re restrained by legislation to protect both the officer, the victim and the integrity of the process.

I want the public to be reassured: from the first day, within two hours, our police board was working with the complaints commissioner, the Vancouver Police Department, and we made sure everything was put down in writing and a competent investigator was assigned.

The Star: Your police officers have received a number of awards and commendations over the years. They successfully apprehended bank robber Andrew Stevenson and last year Det.-Cst. David Laing received a Lieutenant Governor’s Award for his rescue of a suicidal woman on the big orange bridge. Looking back on these accomplishments and others, what are you most proud of? And what lessons have you learned?

Wayne: With respect to the conduct of my personnel, I think we have kept the community safe and peaceful and I’m very proud of that. (Below Holland is pictured awarding Sgt. Nate Holt with a Chief Constable’s Commendation.)

We don’t have many police officers — we get in excess of 6,000 calls per year, so that’s a very significant case load. But that’s not a complaint, that’s good news: our people like to stay busy.

But if you can do all that and still successfully save lives and spend time with people who are disturbed or suicidal, then I’m really proud. Nothing matters more to me, not traffic tickets or arresting someone for drinking in public. If you’re there responding to a person in distress, that’s what impresses me.

David Laing would be the first to say, and every one of these officers will say this: this is what everybody does. But there are those exceptional circumstances where you have to say “You did something way beyond expectations and deserve to be recognized.”

I think for the community, that shows they’re getting their money’s worth with their police force and I think it re-inspires and reassures the officers that they’re being recognized and doing good work. The fact the community is being told is inspirational and I think that’s very healthy.

The Star: The marijuana dispensary situation in Nelson is escalating, with five operating downtown currently. I heard you on the radio praising MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair and his attitude towards legalization. Do you have any thoughts on how Nelson should approach the marijuana question from a policing angle? And if Justin Trudeau follows through on his promise to legalize, how do you think that will change your job?

This entire issue is a bit of a cautionary tale, and it has been for 40 years-plus.

I’m not speaking on behalf of the chiefs of police but I did speak to the other chiefs provincially about what might transpire from Prime Minister Trudeau’s promise. Personally I recognize and applaud anything that’s different from the status quo.

Unless you’re a fool or disingenuous, anyone who says what we’ve been currently doing is productive or worthwhile or has reaped dividends that are commensurate with the work, effort and cost that went into our efforts is deluding themselves.

I’m all for doing things differently and support Bill Blair’s position. It’s just like Harjit Sajjan, who was recently appointed minister of defence. He’s a former police officer I worked with who has walked the streets. He’s been there, done that, and that’s got to make a difference.

I think it’s going to be a longer story and a longer process than people anticipate. Our No. 1 rule as police is to keep people safe and healthy. We want to prevent violence. In Nelson myself and the future chief agreed we will continue to monitor activities such as storefronts. We’ve been told they’re illegal, no ifs ands or buts.

That being said, we like to be balanced in Nelson. We’re not big enough to be pursuing all aspects of the Criminal Code. Now if we think they’re involved with organized crime, or predators, or just in it for themselves — we’re going to take action. But if they’re being run by well-intended individuals who want to do good for people medicinally, it’s better they’re out there in the open where we can observe.

For now we’re going to ensure medicinal and recreational marijuana is not going to young persons, and we’re going to hope the federal process speeds up. It’s their game. It’s their portfolio. We hope it moves faster than the previous regulations.

Nelson is comprised of mature people who can make good decisions for themselves. I’m not too worried about Nelson. I think we’ve come to a pretty good consensus with the police board, city hall and council. We’re only going to take action if something is manifestly dangerous to somebody’s health.

The Star: what’s next for you guys?

Eileen: We love to travel, so we’ll be doing a lot of that. I’d like to do Route 66 just because I’ve heard of it. I want to do the Eastern seaboard.

Wayne: We want to revisit Yellowstone. We’ve waited too long.

Eileen: It’s been a hard struggle being away from our kids, but it’s wonderful that a major part of our next step is being back with them.

The Star: Any final thoughts to share with us?

Wayne: Very simply, I applaud the citizens of Nelson for their willingness to collaborate, their fearlessness in bringing forward issues they may have. Those who sit in isolation muttering, that doesn’t create a good community culture.

What I learned quickly is the willingness of citizens to do their research and offer possible solutions. Ordinarily people bitch and expect us to fix their lives, but everyone here is so self-sufficient they come forward and tell us what they’ve already done and show they’re willing to work with us. I think that’s just amazing.

It’s been a joy to be Nelson’s chief of police.