The Columbia Valley RCMP were busier than normal through the fall and into early winter, due at least partly to the fall TransCanada closures that rerouted all cross country-bound vehicles through the Columbia Valley, dramatically increasing the volume of traffic on local highways here.

The news was not surprising, and came during quarterly RCMP reports delivered by Columbia Valley RCMP Sergeant Darren Kakuno to both Invermere council, on Tuesday, Feb. 8 and Radium council, on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

The October to December quarter “certainly has been a busy time for us,” Kakuno told Invermere council., noting that calls for service in the valley were 985 in that timeframe, a big jump from 739 calls during the same quarter the year before. “The highway diversion is certainly part of that,” he said.

There were 105 traffic complaints during this past fall’s TransCanada closure (which lasted from Sept. 21 to Nov. 30), as compared with just 58 during the same time period the year before (when there was no TransCanada closure). There were 69 traffic collisions during the fall closure, as compared with 40 during the same time period the year before.

“The majority (of collisions) occurred in Kootenay National Park,” Kakuno told Invermere council.

Kakuno explained that the Cranbrook RCMP’s highway patrol had been helping out during the closure, and spent a cumulative total of more than 1,000 hours on patrol on Columbia Valley highways between Sept. 21 and Nov. 30. The next TransCanada closure will be this coming spring from April 19 to May 20. Closures are expected to continue every spring and every fall until at least the end of 2024, when the Kicking Horse Canyon Project on the TransCanada, between Field and Golden, is complete.

The TransCanada detour is not the only thing driving up calls to the RCMP, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also playing a role.

“I’m seeing more mental health calls. It’s been increasing since the pandemic started, and it’s definitely an issue,” Kakuno told Invermere council, adding that other B.C. RCMP detachments are seeing similar trends.

At the Radium council meeting, Kakuno addressed the Radium bighorn sheep, which have been suffering traffic fatalities at a record clip so far this winter. “One of the issues is that the sheep, they’re very comfortable on the highway,” he told Radium council.

Kakuno added that he recently parked on the Radium Hill to observe drivers and sheep, and noted that a Tesla came within a foot of hitting a sheep.

“He was going about 60 kilometres per hour, so speed wasn’t the issue there (the speed limit was 80 kilometres per hour). When I pulled him over, he said he didn’t see the sheep because he was too focussed on the police car,” he said. “This is not to say that speed enforcement isn’t part of the answer for the sheep. It is. But it may indicate that speed enforcement alone might not solve the problem.”

Radium Councillor Dale Shudra asked Kakuno if the local RCMP have experienced any small-scale protests or acts of civil disruption related to the freedom convoy in Ottawa, and similar large vehicle blockade type events in Ontario and Alberta.

“We haven’t had any major issues,” replied Kakuno. “We are monitoring it, because things can change quickly. But all we’ve had so far is some complaints about honking. If that’s the worst, we’re doing okay.”