I’m in the women’s change room and I cannot figure out how to get my pants on. I’ve been issued white workout pants for a police defensive tactics course and I can’t tell if they’re on backwards; there’s a whole series of loops and ties that I just can’t figure out. Like everything here, I have to assume this is part of the challenge.
And it’s just the first of many. My mouthguard doesn’t fit. My boxing helmet is suffocating me. And now there’s a six-foot-tall giant coming towards me.
“Please don’t hurt me,” I plead.
I’m about to box in the gym at the RCMP Academy “Depot” Division in Regina, Sask., (where all Mountie cadets in Canada head to train) to see if I have what it takes to join Canada’s federal police force. It’s not going well.
“Keep your hands up!” shouts the boxing instructor.
While I understand the principle of protecting my head from a barrage of punches, what, then, protects my torso?
So I hop from one foot to the other like I’ve seen in the movies to avoid getting hit, until it happens: I can feel my pants slipping.
“Time out!” I shout, hoping this is a boxing term and that I have the authority to call it. Sorry head, but right now I need my hands to protect my pride. I try to keep my pants up with my gloved hands, but it’s not working.
After being primped and prodded to perfection all day—a fellow cadet “glued” my hair so it wouldn’t fall on my collar, a corporal informed me that a rather unfortunate button on my shirt wasn’t done up and a sergeant yelled that I could be jailed for impersonating a constable for failing to wear my cadet epaulets—I don’t think they would have appreciated my bum making an appearance.
The other cadet looks awkwardly away. Desperate now, I tear off my gloves, catch my pants, make sure they’re secure and go back to boxing. Talk about a hit below the belt.
Afterwards, in my snug Mountie pants, I head to the outdoor driving track where cadets must pass a series of mind-blowing tests. There’s the one where cadets must go from zero to 70 km/h in seconds before a blinking light tells them whether to turn left or right at the last second. Then they must do it again, pulling into a parking spot, backwards.
I’m not ready for that yet, so the instructor takes me through an obstacle course and tries to teach me a method called push-pull steering.
“Pfft, I’ve been driving for years,” I think. “I’ll use my own system.”
I race through it, sometimes using one hand, sometimes using my knee, slamming on the brakes when I arrive at a particularly daunting set of pylons. The car whooshes back and forth like we’re on a roller coaster, only there’s a very real chance we might go off the track.
I finish the course in a little over the allotted time, having only knocked over a few pylons.
“So,” I say smugly, “am I a safe driver?”
“Not on this course,” he says, without a hint of humour.
After all this—and lots of doubling (marching in double time), performing in the Sergeant Major’s Parade and shooting a gun (almost at my feet)—Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown, Depot’s Commanding Officer, presents me with a piece of paper saying I have completed the boot camp.
Thank God. I am so ready to get out of here. Most cadets call Depot home for about 24 weeks. I’ve been here one day.
“Does this mean I’m an honourary constable now?” I ask Cpl. Dan Toppings, the guide who has shown me the ropes today.
I have one last question for him, another very real concern about my pants: “When do cadets ever find time to use the bathroom?”