As RCMP and Canadian Pacific come together to raise awareness of railway safety, locals are saying they have been unfairly fined by CP Police.
On Tuesday, April 30, Cranbrook RCMP officers joined up with Canadian Pacific Police Service officers to remind the public about the importance of safety near train tracks.
Throughout the day Tuesday, the two law enforcement agencies performed checks at railway crossings in Cranbrook to mark Public Rail Safety Week in Canada, April 20 to May 5.
The exercise was designed to remind people that CP Police are peace officers just like RCMP and sheriffs, and to deter people from trespassing on railway property.
There are now two CP police officers based in Cranbrook whose task is to cover CP’s property throughout the East Kootenay.
The CP Police Service is made up of constables who are employed by Canadian Pacific but work on behalf of the Crown. Many CP Police officers have previous police experience, and their job is to enforce the Canadian Railway Safety Act, as well as the Canadian Criminal Code and provincial traffic safety legislation.
“Their priority is public and employee safety,” said Kevin Hrysak, CP’s media relations manager. “They are here to protect our railway infrastructure and public safety.”
Hrysak said that CP Police generally issue a warning for trespassing before issuing a fine, which can be as much as $10,000.
“In most cases we will warn someone first, but in some cases we will issue a ticket because it is a deliberate act,” said Hrysak.
“Unfortunately, in some cases, warnings are not enough and one way to deter people is to hit their pockets.”
But Marysville resident Rawley Garrels said he complied with CP Police in Cranbrook last month and was still issued a fine rather than a warning.
Garrels rode his bike into Cranbrook for a meeting on April 10 and stopped for a coffee at Starbucks. When he came out of the cafe, he realized his bike had a flat tire.
“I had about 10 minutes to make the meeting so rather than change the flat right there, I said to myself that I would walk the bike to the meeting and I would change it afterwards,” said Garrels.
He walked his bike behind the Greyhound station on a trail about six metres from the track that goes all the way to 6th Street North.
A CP Police officer came down the trail, stopped and asked Garrels for identification.
“I wasn’t running or hiding,” Garrels said, adding that until the officer arrived, he hadn’t crossed the tracks.
Still, the CP Police officer issued Garrels a $115 fine. Garrels is now disputing that fine.
“Lots of people use it and there are vehicles parked along there,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s right that they are charging people without giving them a warning.”
Garrels went on to say there is no indication the trail is CP property.
“If there was a sign saying this is private property, no trespassing, or don’t enter, that’s fine. But if you go and look there, there is no indication anywhere along that says do not enter.”
Hrysak said CP property can extend 200 feet or further from the centre of the tracks.
“We are going to put up more signage,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s not deliberate trespassing; they are just unaware of the dangers.”
Other East Kootenay residents have raised concerns off the record that if CP are to become more stringent on trespassing laws, it could limit access to popular recreational areas, such as the Kootenay River at Bummers Flats, just north of CP’s Fort Steele exchange.
But Hrysak said if people stick to pedestrian crossings, they won’t be fined.
“Pedestrian crossings are there for one reason and that’s public safety,” he said.
CP does consider adding pedestrian crossings if a site is frequently used, depending on safety and funding, among other considerations.
Anyone with concerns about access over CP property should contact an elected official, such as their Regional District of East Kootenay representative, mayor, MLA or MP.
“We have a community relations department that deals with elected officials,” said Hrysak.