July 11, 2013
Louise Lafrance was a child of about 11 years of age attending a fair in a small Quebec community when she came face to face with her future.
“There was a Mountie in red serge ... He looked so professional,” she recalled. “I didn’t know what the RCMP was, but I said one day I want to be like that man.”
Had someone told her when she entered the RCMP Training Academy as a cadet in 1985 that she would return one day as its 56th commanding officer, Lafrance admitted, “I would have laughed.”
Instead, she cried.
Lafrance unexpectedly became emotional during Wednesday’s change of command ceremony as the RCMP ensign was transferred to her from outgoing commanding officer Roger L. Brown, now assistant commissioner of the force in New Brunswick.
“It really got to me right here, in my heart,” Lafrance said. “It means the world to me to run this place.”
She becomes only the second woman to hold the post — something neither she nor Canada’s top Mountie dwell on.
“She’s being promoted because she’s very competent. She’s very capable,” Commissioner Bob Paulsen told reporters when asked about the significance of having a woman at the helm of Depot when the force is facing allegations of sexual harassment by some female Mounties. “From an organizational point of view, obviously, we benefit from having women in key roles in leadership in the organization,” Paulsen added.
Lafrance, 49, credits hard work, dedication and “putting heart and soul into what you do” — the same qualities she encourages in new recruits — for her achievements.
“Just like every woman in this organization, we — the women of the RCMP — want to be recognized for what we do, not because we’re women,” she said.
Seated in her office overlooking Depot’s parade square — hours after its pomp and pageantry — Lafrance shared some of the wit, wisdom and drive that brought her to this point in her career.
She was a reluctant trailblazer at age 19, becoming the first woman officer on a 15-member municipal police force in her hometown of Mont-Laurier, Que. She aspired to policing because she wanted a career with challenges — and she found them.
Responding to calls, she was told by some, “I will wait for a male police officer.
“I even caused a traffic accident one day,” she said, explaining how a gawking motorist drove into a post while she was on traffic duty.
But the bumps on the road only gave her momentum.
“Each obstacle fed me with energy,” Lafrance said. After about 18 months in municipal policing, she headed west for RCMP training at Depot. A francophone in a mostly anglophone troop, she spent her evening hours honing her English.
Her first postings were in Ontario, working various sections, on numerous international visits and on the security detail for the Governor General. Lafrance was a communications officer in Ottawa when 9-11 hit, and found herself on call 24-7 fielding reporters’ questions as a sense of panic overtook the world.
While some of her favourite duties were on the front lines, she kept the door and her mind open to opportunity, working on strategic planning and later recruiting at national headquarters.
Three years ago, she came to Depot as the training officer, a secondary role to the one she now holds.
She also carved out time for marriage — her husband Michael Robineau is also a Mountie — and their three children, now aged 23 to 18. The eldest, daughter Alex Ann, hopes to one day also wear red serge.
Her mother has no qualms about that choice. “I do believe we have evolved. We have made our mistakes. And we can’t change the past. However, we’re in charge of the future,” Lafrance said.
And she welcomes the opportunity to shape that future in her new role.