It was after working in bread-and-butter jobs for more than eight years that Inspector Ryan Comaniuk applied to the RCMP. The happily married St. Albert husband and father of two took stock of his future and it was time to make a change.
Now after a rewarding career crisscrossing rural Alberta, the 20-year veteran returns to where it all started as commander of the St. Albert RCMP detachment beginning Jan. 4.
Arriving in St. Albert with 10 years’ experience as a detachment commander, Comaniuk is fortunate in having dealt with government officials, elected politicians and community stakeholders.
“I want to continue to focus on the St. Albert Performance Plan (APP) and those priorities which are crime reduction, enhancing public confidence, and engagement and accountability to stakeholders. Those three pillars – I look forward to carrying them forward to meet the community’s needs,” Comaniuk said.
Dr. Kristopher Wells, chair of the St. Albert Policing Committee, who along with Mayor Cathy Heron and city administration were part of Comaniuk’s interview process, is enthusiastic about the new leadership.
“He’s very motivated and compassionate and cares deeply about the community. He wants to make a difference in a positive way and that’s what we’re looking for,” said Wells.
Prior to the St. Albert posting, Comaniuk served at Edmonton’s K-Division as the Alberta RCMP federal intelligence commander for an elite group that focuses on organized crime syndicates and networks that perpetuate crime.
“I made the jump in November 2019 to federal policing. It was more of an opportunity to diversify my career. I was coming up to 20 years of (rural) detachment policing experience, 10 years as detachment commander. I felt I needed to spread my wings and try something different," he said.
"I got appointed to head up the federal intelligence program for the province. It was a very good opportunity to work with the federal mandate which is transnational organized crime, national security as well as more complex cybercrimes.”
International crime presented its own challenges, but working alongside U.S. law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and DEA to solve the daunting problems of dismantling organized networks was extremely satisfying.
“It was a short tenure in intelligence policing, but nevertheless very enjoyable.”
Comaniuk, a self-proclaimed Star Wars junkie, calls his decision to return to detachment policing the “tractor beam” effect.
“It pulled me back to detachment policing where I established myself over the years and I can bring the best. So I returned to what I know best.”
St. Albert ties
Born in Quesnell, B.C., Comaniuk is a second-generation RCMP officer. His father is Retired Staff Sgt. Ed Comaniuk, whose last posting was the St. Albert detachment. His uncle, the former Staff Sgt. Terry Shuttleworth, served at K-Division.
From B.C., the elder Comaniuk was transferred to several postings including Breton, Fort McMurray and the Edmonton area before settling in St. Albert where his son graduated from Paul Kane High School in 1990.
It was the Ralph Klein era when the province still controlled the AGLC liquor portfolio. The young graduate immediately found a job at the liquor control board’s distribution centre for several years before completing a six-year stint at Safeway’s dairy division.
“I started getting interested in policing when I was in my mid-twenties and I joined the St. Albert RCMP as an auxiliary constable volunteering in 1997. That was when the detachment was still over at the Grandin location. My dad was the Staff Sgt. in the mid-90s, so it was shortly after that I joined as a volunteer.”
He volunteered for two years before receiving an acceptance call to attend the RCMP training academy as a cadet. In reflecting on the past, Comaniuk explains the exposure to policing at a young age and admiration for both his father and uncle through their jobs nurtured his first seeds of dedication.
“I was drawn to the RCMP and what they stood for, the rich history and the reputation. That passion began to further fuel itself as I got into my late teens and 20s. The auxiliary program really gave me that backstage pass into policing ... That was the fork in the road.”
It was a sense of fulfillment and contentment arising from assisting people that courted the young Comaniuk.
“On many occasions, you are dealing with people that are in the darkest of places, people in crisis. To be able to come and go to those people and help them – that was what galvanized my interest into making the RCMP a career.”
The team culture within the RCMP was another pull that meshed with his personality.
“I like the people. I love that team environment. I love the camaraderie that I shared even as a volunteer. It really solidified my desire to do it as a career.”
After graduating from the RCMP training academy in 2001, he was posted to Athabasca where he served for six years.
“It gave me that solid foundation. I got to do a lot of different persons crimes, property crimes, drug enforcement, and I fortunately got to work a lot of the time at First Nations' Calling Lake.”
By 2006, Comaniuk was transferred to Hinton as general duty officer before receiving a promotion to corporal.
“I started up a general investigation section. It is a plain-clothes unit ... It dealt with more complex investigations and serious property crimes. I dealt with a lot of prolific offenders and with some of the more time-consuming drug investigations. And in some cases, we would work with a major crimes unit which is homicide."
In 2009, the rising officer was promoted to sergeant and transferred to Whitecourt as the operations NCO. Two years later, he made the jump to the Town of Mayerthorpe as detachment commander, where he honed a new set of skills developing relationships and networking within the community.
By 2014, Comaniuk was back in Whitecourt once more as detachment commander working with a larger team consisting of about 25 individuals including officers, municipal employees and public sector employees.
One of the big challenges Comaniuk foresees in the coming months is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe as the RCMP, as the police service in St. Albert, we need to really focus on being able to adapt to all the changes and all the socio-economic impacts I expect will be far reaching into the community. I think, I hope I’m wrong, but I think we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.”
The commander noted statistics for St. Albert’s third quarter revealed a fairly significant increase in domestic violence.
“That doesn’t surprise me one bit. People are in crisis financially with unemployment numbers being as high as they are ... People are going to be looking to drugs and alcohol to cope with their stress. We’ve (RCMP) got to be agile. We can’t be stuck in one model of service. We’re going to have to be super agile in 2021. I don’t want to make a bunch of big changes. I don’t want to get sidetracked when we really need to just strap in and get ready for what potentially could be a very difficult year.”
Wells said he believes Comaniuk is the right man for the job.
“I noticed his openness to innovation and bringing a diverse perspective to meet the challenges and complexities of policing and working with the most vulnerable people – people in the community we’re not reaching," Wells said, in addition to describing the commander’s genuinely positive outlook.
“He has a very global perspective and I appreciate his position. It’s easy to be cynical and not tackle problems. But he focuses on finding solutions.”