Group photo of a police officer surrounded by children.

Overcoming adversity

Officer shares story to help others

Cst. Dwayne Pardy's personal history helps him to connect with people, from youth to elders, in the communities he polices. Credit: Cst. Kenji Welch, RCMP

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Cst. Dwayne Pardy has a unique ability to connect with the residents of each community he works in, which isn't an easy feat as a relief officer in Canada's North.

On an almost monthly basis, the RCMP member rotates in and out of communities to cover temporary vacancies at local detachments.

In addition to responding to emergencies, he gets to know the residents, often on a first-name basis. He has also taught the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in northern schools.

Norma Hickey, a nurse in Paulatuk, N.W.T., has witnessed the little things Pardy does on and off duty. She recalls one example where she watched as Pardy helped an elder down the stairs of the local store.

"He cares about people," says Norma Hickey. "I've seen Dwayne in several communities and he leaves a lasting impression everywhere he goes. People are always asking after him when he's not there."

One secret in his bag of tricks is for the kids. "I always bring candy when I go to a new community," says Pardy.

The other is a secret he shared for the first time in 2007 with a group of children in foster care when he was working in Summerside, P.E.I.

It's the story of his childhood.

A child's tragedy

When Pardy was 10, he and a friend ran their snowmobile straight into the back of RCMP Cst. Keith Atwin's snowmobile in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L. The impact from that would shape his life.

Pardy was going through a difficult

time — his father had recently died from cancer and his mother was also sick with the disease.

But Atwin, who drove both children home, must have picked up on it.

"Looking back on it, it was obvious my mother was quite ill," says Pardy. "I don't know how it came to be, but I didn't get into trouble."

After that, Atwin started to drop by the house to visit. The two forged a strong friendship.

"It got to the point where I was spending more time with him than I was at home," says Pardy.

It was at Atwin's house that he received the life-changing news that his mother had died.

Foster care

Pardy, now orphaned, was taken away from his home, his brothers and his sisters — and Atwin — and was sent to live with a foster family in Grand Prairie, Alta.

Life in Alberta was far from ideal. Pardy suffered physical abuse at the hands of one of his foster fathers — to the point where Pardy couldn't recognize his own battered reflection in the mirror.

He left to live with his friend's older sister and her boyfriend. With them, he felt at home with people who cared about him. But after a disagreement, he took to the streets, dropped out of school and ended up living in an old junkyard van.

"I was afraid of two things during that time," says Pardy. "That I was going to freeze to death or end up getting crushed in the scrapyard."

Pardy knew he needed to do something.

He got back in touch with social services, got a place of his own and a job. He eventually found and reconnected with his siblings and moved back to Labrador, where he got married and became a father.

Pardy didn't always think he was good enough to join the RCMP. But it was still in the back of his mind — to follow in Atwin's footsteps.

After unsuccessfully applying once, he reconnected with Atwin, who urged him to apply again.

In 2005, at the age of 35, Pardy became a Mountie. A short time later, Pardy learned that Atwin had died. And it was then that the apprentice became the teacher.

He still recalls the look of disbelief on the foster kids faces when he revealed that he was a police officer.

"I started the talk in my street clothes, then left the room and returned in my RCMP uniform," says Pardy. "As good as the talk was for them to see they can succeed, it was good for me, too."

It was the first time he shared his story publicly. And he's been sharing it ever since.

"As police officers, we very often deal with people who come from unfortunate situations," says Cst. Lyndon Martin, from the Paulatuk detachment. "I have a great respect for Cst. Pardy because he has a better insight into what a lot of people go through."

Pardy's message for young people is that they can succeed no matter what life throws at them as long as they work hard for it.

"I'll tell my story 1,000 times if it helps one kid."

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