SOLIDIFYING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS

Kathryn Lymburner
March 10, 2014
By Kathryn Lymburner
The leadership legacy of OPP Sgt. Marty Roy Singleton can be summed up in one line: the guy you want in your corner when the chips are down. Singleton became a police officer in 1999, serving initially as a constable with the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service in Pickle Lake. He began with the OPP in northwestern Ontario in October 2000, serving as a general duty officer first in Ignace and later transferring to Dryden. In his first year of service, Singleton was singled out for a commendation for outstanding service: while on patrol and working alone, he pulled an individual out of a burning home, saving their life, extinguished the fire and contained the area while waiting for assistance. His special regard for people and communities, especially youth needing positive role models and leadership skills, was already being noted.

The leadership legacy of OPP Sgt. Marty Roy Singleton can be summed up in one line: the guy you want in your corner when the chips are down.

Singleton became a police officer in 1999, serving initially as a constable with the Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service in Pickle Lake. He began with the OPP in northwestern Ontario in October 2000, serving as a general duty officer first in Ignace and later transferring to Dryden.

In his first year of service, Singleton was singled out for a commendation for outstanding service: while on patrol and working alone, he pulled an individual out of a burning home, saving their life, extinguished the fire and contained the area while waiting for assistance. His special regard for people and communities, especially youth needing positive role models and leadership skills, was already being noted.

As a patrol officer, he was dedicated to traffic safety, consistently setting high enforcement standards for the detachment and motivating others to do the same. As a first responder and investigator, his compassion in dealing with victims of crime and commitment to ensuring their access to all available support earned him respect. He formed close relationships with community members and leaders, particularly in First Nations communities served by the OPP. As a community services officer, his pride in his job and dedication to the safety and security of members of the community were palpable.

Singleton took on the added duties of crisis negotiator in 2001, a demanding role not only because of the stress of dealing with people in crisis and critical situations. Northwestern Ontario is vast, with calls often not easily accessible. Always willing to help, Singleton became known for his ability to remain calm, focused and to act appropriately under stress.

Communication skills, composure and empathy for people in crisis were, and are, Singleton's strong suits. While not every dangerous situation can be peacefully resolved through negotiation, many events have been safely resolved with his help.

Given its responsibilities, the OPP either directly polices or supports First Nations policing in many communities throughout the area. As a proud police officer and member of Eagle Lake First Nation, Singleton rarely missed an opportunity to connect with communities, especially youth, which he wholeheartedly embraced.

From taking conversational night classes in Ojibwe to increasing his ability to communicate with community elders to supporting recruitment initiatives for aboriginal youth interested in policing careers; from investing time, energy and enthusiasm into youth programs to caring about local relationships with community members and leaders; from efforts to be a positive role model for First Nations youth to training for and completing the Winnipeg Police half-marathon in 2013; there are few better examples of leadership through actions.

Promoted in 2008 to sergeant, Singleton is the Provincial Liaison Team (PLT) regional coordinator, responsible for overseeing the PLT program in OPP North West Region. The 16-member team is dispersed throughout the region at various detachments doing operational duties and assisting when needed. The program is a proactive component of police preparedness and response to major events and critical incidents, principally focused on communication and conflict resolution.

Singleton is a keen coach and mentor for newly appointed PLT members. Through his tutelage, part-time members are able to effectively fulfill their roles. He continually works to build and solidify community partnerships with aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities, other police services, municipal leaders and community groups. He is tireless in maintaining contact with First Nations leadership and being aware of and understanding potential contentious issues so that he can advise, mitigate and help to resolve in the interests of public safety.

Singleton is also a dedicated family man. Without complaint, he routinely turns his attention to the task at hand and carries on, even though that can mean missing family committments. He rarely misses an opportunity to share his pride in his two children.

{Leadership through service}

– Insp. Dave Lucas, Kenora OPP Detachment Commander)

Singleton has been part of numerous negotiation teams, often as the primary negotiator, successfully resolving many critical incidents in a peaceful manner. Getting a distraught, often violent, intoxicated person at the lowest point in their lives to surrender is not an easy task.

Singleton was the negotiator lying with Emergency Response Team (ERT) members in the bush in close proximity to a violent young man with a loaded shotgun. Despite his best efforts during a long, uncomfortable and dangerous negotiation, lethal force ultimately had to be used to eliminate an immediate threat to the officers' lives.

In critical situations requiring specialized units, Singleton often acts as the liaison between police, community leadership and families, bringing much needed calm through skill, patience and understanding. He spends countless hours talking with people, resolving conflicts, addressing issues while emotions are at their highest, coming away well respected by the community and its leaders. No matter the outcome of each interaction, he always asks for feedback after an incident, looking to improve for the next one.

– Insp. Darrell Smiley, OPP North West Region.

Singleton has played a role in many major and critical incidents. While always working as part of a team, his leadership, whether overt or behind the scenes, is notable both in immediate results and longer term, meaningful alliances. Some notable events that underscore his leadership and commitment include:

  • In July 2006, protesters set up an illegal blockade on the Kenora bypass to protest logging. A 30-foot steel tripod was erected in the middle of the highway with a protester suspended from the top. A second member of the group crawled under a logging truck and secured herself to the trailer axle. A cement filled barrel with a protester secured to it was also used to block the highway. The protesters, mostly not from the area, were a disparate group of environmentalists, some Mohawk warriors, anarchists and people from Grassy Narrows First Nation. The protest wasn't sanctioned by either Grassy Narrows or Treaty Three First Nations leadership.

Over the course of some 12 hours, Singleton was tasked as the lead liaison officer. His leadership and engagement with the protesters and First Nations leaders contributed significantly to a peaceful resolution and re-opening the highway. Over another four days, communication was maintained with First Nations leadership while an investigation was carried out, charges laid and protesters encouraged to leave and return to their homes. This focused, ongoing communication ensured there were no misunderstandings or issues related to the role and scope of the action that the OPP was taking to resolve the events.

  • In the early 2000s, Big Trout Lake (Kitchenuhmaykoosig Inninuwug (KI) First Nation), a remote community 580 kilometres north of Thunder Bay and mining exploration company Platinex Inc. were in litigation over licensing a mining operation. Platinex sued KI for $10-billion after being told to vacate First Nation traditional land in February 2006. The issue – government licensing of mining on traditional territory, various decisions and the ongoing tension highlighted the complexities of current First Nation – Crown relationships, particularly in the context of private sector interests.

Over the course of almost three years (2006 - 2008) -- a period which saw tension, protest action, the jailing of six KI community leaders for contempt of court and police involvement -- Singleton served as Aboriginal relations team member. He successfully maintained ongoing, respectful relationships with the KI leadership and the company and was the face and ambassador for the OPP.

Through his work and straightforward approach, the OPP was able to maintain the peace without hostility or violence and didn't have to deploy the significant resources that could have been needed to maintain peace in such a remote area. There have been no conflicts with police or opposition to the policing role in the matter and not one criticism of the OPP in relation to it. Singleton's relationship with the community has only grown over time, a meaningful recognition of leadership through action.

  • In May 2010 First Nations protest action in relation to the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) was widening throughout Ontario. Couchiching First Nation in northwestern Ontario organized a major protests, erecting a toll booth on Highway 11 near Fort Frances. Over the course of 10 days of highway disruption, Singleton led the liaison team through tense and sensitive issues and negotiations.

Focused on resolving the protest action, they had to navigate conflicting interests of government and First Nations interests. Under Singleton's guidance, their efforts directly contributed to the situation remaining calm and non-violent. Their approach to de-escalation also supported an environment in which a negotiated agreement was eventually reached.

The primary incident commander at the scene noted the emotional toll the situation and environment placed on the Singleton as he liaised with and navigated through the interests of each stakeholder, "but he demonstrated strong leadership for his team through his perseverance, which ensured the rest of his team held up as well."

  • In June 2010, an incident involving the arrest of a Pikangikum First Nation member deteriorated into an event that led to the temporary withdrawal of OPP personnel from the remote, fly-in community once replacement officers arrived. Singleton received a Commissioner's Commendation for stepping up to defuse a tense situation during the incident and contributing to a solution.

On scene with others, he attempted to resolve the initial issue as events turned chaotic. A rock-throwing group attempted to forcibly remove OPP officers from the police station, their residence trailer and the community. The angry crowd forced its way into the station, causing extensive damage, cutting power and telephone lines and disabling or blocking police cruisers.

The officers managed to retrieve their belongings and police equipment. The crowd followed them to their residence trailer, where two off-duty constables were asleep. With some in the crowd shouting to burn it and the officers grossly outnumbered, Singleton negotiated with the angry crowd to get the officers out with their belongings and gear.

In an effort to further de-escalate the situation, the 11 OPP officers then withdrew to the airport, walking the approximately two kilometres followed by some 200 people, vehicles and a front-end loader. The officers remained at the airport as further negotiations led to an agreement for new officers to be flown in to police the community.

An OPP inspector involved in the event pinpointed Singleton's intervention as just one of "many things aside from his knowledge of the community that kept our officers safe and got us out of there. Again his leadership and willingness to put his self forward and utilize the relationships he maintains in the community is what he does on a regular basis."

Over the next days, weeks and months, Singleton and others worked steadfastly to restore a working relationship with the community.

{Covers huge area}

In his role as PLT regional coordinator in northwestern Ontario, Singleton covers a vast geographical territory meeting and maintaining contact with a wide range of stakeholders.

Through 2010 and 2011, he supported Marathon Detachment through four potentially volatile First Nations issues and a number of community events. The first event, where Pic River First Nation maintained a blockade of a Marathon community access road to protest the transfer of commercial chemicals from the recently closed Tembec Paper Mill, was followed closely by the same First Nation taking over an area of Pukaskwa National Park protesting a violation of treaty rights.

A third incident involved the blockade of Highway 17 as a HST protest and the fourth involved a pending blockade of the CP Rail mainline to bring attention to Pic River First Nation land claim issues.

Singleton travelled great distances for each incident and worked extremely long hours undertaking lengthy consultations to find an operationally sound, informed and flexible approach to resolving the conflicts. He made it clear to all that his goal was to find a framework that could accommodate the positions and interests of the parties involved.

According to the incident commander:

<It quickly became apparent that Singleton wasn't only the catalyst, but also the engine room for the turn-around that satisfied all concerns and requirements in an unbelievable timeline … I learned first-hand from all stakeholders that Singleton was viewed as a leader to all progress in the consultation processes.

I (heard) countless testimonials labelling Singleton as a one-stop, learned mediator... It was the successful efforts of Singleton facilitating communications working magic under short time restrictions, (that) ultimately prevented extremely costly and potentially volatile situations from exploding.>

In late 2012 and early 2013, Idle No More demonstrations and protest events were taking place in communities large and small across Canada. The original call to action was to raise awareness of the impact of federal funding and legislative changes on First Nations communities. Ontario saw well over 200 events, all placing significant demands on policing.

Through established community relationships and the work of PLT members, the OPP was able to engage with organizers pre-event, establishing what could and could not be done in terms of legal protest, which helped in most cases to decrease the potential for violence and the need for extra police resources. Singleton's leadership and ongoing focus on positive relationships through effective communication contributed significantly to the successful management of activities.

{Commitment to community}

Singleton has always demonstrated a commitment 'beyond the job' to youth and to remote northern communities in Ontario. As a young constable, he carried forward his love of sports, coaching the Dryden high school football team for many years.

Most recently he has worked in conjunction with a southern Ontario business to gather donated hockey equipment for distribution to youth across the north, supporting healthy development and activities. He has also helped co-ordinate the collection and delivery of clothing and winter wear to several remote communities.

While securing donations is one thing, delivery in the remote north is another, especially when many communities are accessible only by air and, in the winter, ice roads. Treacherous conditions and very long distances are givens when using ice roads. Singleton, well known for his kind heart and deep compassion for people and communities, takes this in his stride – it is just what needs to be done.

Largely because of whom he is and the high regard of First Nations communities, Singleton is often called upon to liaise and communicate with families and community leadership during major investigations and inquests. Always professional and compassionate, he takes the time needed to help them through the ordeal, explaining and addressing concerns and listening.

The OPP has had a long relationship with Pikangikum First Nation, a remote community that for many years has struggled with systemic challenges, including high rates of substance abuse and youth suicide. In 2008, Singleton was a driving force and organizer for a special mentorship initiative for youth at risk in Pikangikum.

{North of 50}

The North of 50 Cops and Kids project was a week-long summer camp experience for identified youth, with a small core of police officers acting as mentors and camp counsellors. The camp experience focused on building self-esteem through traditional activities and just having fun. Despite significant operational demands, Singleton devoted time and energy to the project for three years and saw it evolve into a broader initiative for youth in the community.

One co-organizer explained his impact:

Singleton is also a welcome figure in many schools, where he organizes and/or facilitates a curriculum-based, 10-week program called Walking the Path, designed for aboriginal and non-aboriginal youth to help them appreciate and understand the history, beliefs and traditions of Aboriginal peoples.

In one instance, where the policing of a First Nation community was primarily response-based and the community was dealing with several social problems, Singleton not only assisted in a solution focused liaison capacity, but stepped up to make it possible to run a Path program at the community school.

Singleton leads by example, whether on duty or off. Hearing that a colleague whose husband had recently died could not face dealing with a dead animal on her property, without hesitation he found her address and took care of the problem – only letting her know after the fact.

In another off-duty situation, Singleton came across a single car crash on a winter day. He stopped, explained he was an off-duty OPP sergeant, called 911, extricated the driver from her vehicle and stayed with her until a patrol officer and ambulance arrived.

She expressed her thanks, in writing, to the OPP, acknowledging that he had never given her his name. "I would like to see him recognized for his actions as he did not have to stop to assist and the fact that he did speaks volumes as to the kind of person and officer that he is."

{Leadership and commitment to peers}

On July 1, 2010, a Rainy River OPP officer drowned while off duty. The officer was also the detachment PLT member and a well-known and respected member of the neighbouring Couchiching First Nation.

The loss was significant for the detachment, community and especially his family. A long time friend who had worked closely with the officer, Singleton came to assist throughout this gut wrenching ordeal.

From the initial call through the search for and eventual recovery of the body, he dealt professionally with everyone affected: the Couchiching community, detachment members and, most importantly, family members, even though the tragedy was significant and personal for him.

"His professionalism, dedication and compassion were nothing short of exemplary throughout the ordeal and afterward," his detachment commander noted.

{Extraordinary dedication}

Singleton shows extraordinary dedication to advancing the PLT program and through it, effective relationships for the OPP with communities, police services, municipalities and different stakeholders with interests in northwestern Ontario. He embraces the opportunity to coach and mentor newly appointed members. Through his tutelage, its capacity has expanded and members know they are supported and well prepared to effectively fulfill their roles.

After being involved in so many critical incidents, he understands what needs to be done. On a typical day, according to one incident commander, "he arrives with a beaming smile; the hand goes out for a hearty handshake and a 'good to see you'.

<After some small talk I ask 'what's the plan?' and he articulates exactly what he has to do and then goes and gets it done providing regular, relevant and required updates.

In our northern First Nations communities during a critical incident, this includes meeting with chief and council, the principal of the school, elders and families and addressing all of their concerns. Not an easy task when everyone is at the height of their emotions and an atmosphere of fear and unease is present. Marty has done this perfectly numerous times – without complaint.>

Insp. Dave Lucas, Kenora OPP Detachment Commander, says it best:

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