Canadian officer now trains cops in Afghanistan
mitch potter/torstar news service
Staff Sgt. David Bedard has been a Sudbury cop for almost his entire adult life.
So working abroad in a Canadian police-mentoring mission is a first for the 51-year-old. With two grown children well into adulthood, and having run out of challenges in the business of policing Sudbury, the time was right when he noticed a job posting for Kandahar, Afghanistan last summer.
“It is everything the brochure says and more,” says Bedard, who began his one-year deployment at Canada’s fortified Provincial Reconstruction Team headquarters in Kandahar City on Halloween.
“I was one of those guys talking the talk: I thought we were doing great things over here. So now, this is walking the walk — the other half of the equation.”
Direct contact with his Afghan counterparts is difficult, Bedard admits, given security considerations.
“We’ll spend four hours in an armoured vehicle to have a half-hour meeting with a police chief. But it is necessary to insert ourselves at the higher levels.
“We go to the chiefs and say, ‘Why don’t your men have uniforms or ammunition for their guns?’
“What we are trying to do is challenge the mindset that each detachment is on its own, feeling the need to be their own private army to survive. We are encouraging a chain of command and the creation of logistical systems of support down the line.
“The goal is to make sure that the good guys really are the good guys.”
Bedard is mindful that it was corruption and warlordism that helped pave the way for the Taliban’s arrival in Afghanistan in 1996 — and that a similar scenario must not be allowed to develop.
And has an observation to make about the seemingly impossible task of weeding out the culture of corruption that permeates the Kandahar police force it is now his job to mentor.
Give it time, says Bedard. Lots of time. Lots of effort. Lots of training. And change, eventually, will come.
“I liken it to the culture of drinking and driving in Canada,” he says. “It was a problem embedded in our culture. But we targeted the young with education, awareness, everything we could think of for 25 years — and the culture changed.
“I came here with my expectations firmly in check, because corruption, including police corruption, has been a way of life for these guys. You really need patience, perseverance. But with the degree of training underway now, the hope is I can come back here on vacation in 25 years and find people with freedom of movement enjoying a better life.”
At this time of year, Bedard would normally be celebrating Christmas as part of a “picture postcard” gathering of immediate family, usually at his mother’s house in the Sudbury-area community of Garson. But with the children grown up, he feels OK about sitting out one in Kandahar.
“No little kids, no driving to soccer and the arena — I felt like this was a time when I could do this without drastically disrupting the family,” he says. “Besides, with today’s technology, my wife sometimes says it’s like I never left.
“We’ve got a webcam set up in the kitchen so I can actually get a glimpse of home any time we want.”