It's exam time at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) and a dozen students pore over biology textbooks and political science notes.
They sit in chairs at study carrels along the south facing glass wall of the library at the new Canada Education Park campus in Chilliwack. The only sounds are clicking laptop keys, shuffling papers and distant chatter among library staff.
Suddenly, just after 1 p.m., the quiet is shattered by the sound of multiple bursts of 9mm pistol fire from RCMP officers training less than 200 metres away.
Volleys of gunfire can be unnerving to the uninitiated, disruptive to the studious or a mild irritant to those resigned to the fact that their school, their classrooms, their labs are right next to an open-air firing range.
A Dec. 10 Tweet from a UFV student with the handle @JakeKuban-ski says it all: "I'm such a dumbass... go study in the Chilliwack campus library that's a brilliant idea. I mean its right beside a active firing range."
UFV owns the land where the RCMP's Pacific Region Training Centre (PRTC) firing range is located, and administrators' response to the situation remains diplomatic yet defiant.
"We at UFV really recognize the service that they provide," UFV facilities director Craig Toews told the Times. "We want to support them meeting their education goals. Having said that, gun noise is definitely a disturbance on campus and we have received some complaints from students and faculty."
UFV's new campus building is surrounded by the RCMP. The force's main Pacific Region Training Centre (PRTC) campus is to the north, parking is to the east and the firing range is to the south.
Thousands of RCMP members receive training every year at PRTC, as do Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers, Canada Border Service Agents (CBSA), Corrections Canada officers as well as men and women from municipal police forces.
The CBSA no longer uses the open-air firing range as it installed 18 modular units at a cost of $3.9 million in June of 2010.
At that same time, complaints to Chilliwack city hall led to consideration of the city's noise bylaw, which the PRTC firing range violates. City council decided not to enforce its own bylaw out of goodwill for the federal agency, but that doesn't mean the mayor is unsympathetic to complaints.
"It's not acceptable to have that noise happening on that site," Gaetz told the Times last week. "I'm thankful that the RCMP are learning how to use their weapons and protecting us, but it's not a good mix to be right beside the university.
"The city could just shut them down for noise bylaw violations but they could just pick that up and move that to their property so that's not in our best interest to do that."
Two years ago at a community forum hosted by the RCMP, the PRTC's man in charge at the time, Chief Supt. Bill Dingwall, said he hoped a new indoor firing range would be in place in three years at a cost of between $20 million and $30 million.
That plan brings us to November 2013, but there is no chance of anything being built in the next 11 months.
"The 2013 deadline is not going to be the deadline for sure," PRTC's new man in charge, Supt. Michel Legault told the Times.
"All of us have been impacted by the [federal government's] reduction action plan. We are all re-evaluating where funding has been going."'
Legault said the business case is now in the hands of senior management and given the RCMP's long-term plan to be in Chilliwack, the facility will be built eventually.
While nothing will be in place by 2013, something has to be built by the end of 2015. The RCMP's lease on the UFV land expires March 31, 2016 and will not be renewed by the school. This means they need a new facility by Dec. 31, 2015, because of a 90-day decommissioning process, according to Legault.
Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl said he has spoken with the Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, as well as provincial and municipal officials, representatives from UFV, the city, Canada Lands and the RCMP, both at PRTC and national headquarters.
"RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson has recently replied to a letter I sent him regarding the firing range at PRTC," Strahl told the Times via email. "He indicated the following: 'Once the RCMP has completed the process of determining training needs among the various units that use this campus, we will engage all interested parties in a competitive and transparent process to determine the most efficient and cost-effective process to build, operate and maintain such a facility.'"
Strahl continued: "The RCMP operates at arms'-length from the federal government and therefore this operational decision falls to them alone. That said, I have not been told that financial constraints are causing delays at this time."
Back on campus, Toews said the more complaints the school receives, the more they can pass that on to the RCMP, whom they meet with weekly to discuss the situation.
When asked if UFV would consider renewing the RCMP's lease in a worst-case scenario that saw no new range built by the end of 2015, Toews was, again, diplomatic yet firm.
"I think we would review it," he said. "We would be open to reviewing that request. . . . But I think they've been given plenty of time."
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