HUNTSVILLE – Linda Gillis Davidson has swapped her globe-trotting life as a member of prime minister’s protection detail for retirement in Muskoka.
Linda Gillis Davidson, left, reviews material with Huntsville air cadet commanding officer Capt. Melissa Wordragen during a regular cadet meeting at Huntsville Public School. Davidson is adjusting to her civilian life after retiring from the RCMP, where she spent more than seven years on the prime minister’s protection detail.
Raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Davidson now lives in Bracebridge and is an active volunteer with the Huntsville air cadets, helping to teach them discipline and the respect she learned while in the military and with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
She spent seven and a half years as a member of the prime minister’s protection detail, where she had to meet with every government and military agency, representative and person who would come into contact with the prime minister at his destinations and assess locations. She also had to establish and negotiate personal security, motorcades, site security, exit plans and emergency procedures, among other duties, with her team.
But her career in the military and police force began long before that.
Davidson said she was drawn to the police force at age 15 after a high school visit by a police officer.
“Everything about him, from his shiny shoes and badge to his smile, I just wanted to be that person, to help,” she said.
Davidson filled out an application to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at age 19. But she didn’t file it.
“For whatever reason, I just didn’t,” she said. “Women weren’t (RCMP officers) until 1974. And I just didn’t think I would get in.”
However, when she filled out another application at age 26, she sent it in. She was accepted several months later to the RCMP academy in Saskatchewan and spent six months there, a stint that was accelerated because she had already spent 11 years in the military.
After her graduation from the academy, she was assigned to Grand Falls, Newfoundland. She had several duty changes and relocations in the province until she transferred to Toronto Pearson International Airport. That was followed by a series of promotions and after taking and passing several exams, she found herself officer in charge of human resources for Ontario.
She later became officer in charge of the Hamilton Niagara Detachment, where she worked closely with the FBI and New York authorities because of the proximity to the border, and commander of customs and excise for the Greater Toronto Area before becoming the continuity planner for the Ontario RCMP.
It was with this background that Davidson was asked to join the prime minister’s protection detail in 2005.
On the prime minister’s protection detail she became a travel officer. That meant travelling nationally and internationally to establish security plans for the prime minister and his family.
“I loved every second of being on that detail. I loved the excitement, I loved the travel, I loved the life that went on around it, the meeting of new people and visits to new countries,” said Davidson.
She remembered visiting the Sydney Opera House in Australia to layout a security plan. Despite having more than 25 years of experience, she said she still had to pinch herself.
“I never took it for granted,” she said. “I always felt it was an honour to do what I was doing. Especially to be a Canadian in these countries. We’re well thought of, we’re well liked.”
Davidson said working security for the prime minister often involved negotiating him to a head of state position with some countries that view the governor-general as the head of state.
But in other countries, it was more a matter of enhancing security to acceptable levels.
“He’s not just somebody going to meet with someone. He’s the head of state. If something happens to him, then your government is in a bit of a quandary,” she said.
She said some countries would laugh at her for the security procedures she and her team demanded because, according to them, nothing ever happened.
“Well, I want to make sure nothing ever happens, so you have to edge them forward and meet on some middle ground,” said Davidson. “Whatever it takes to ensure the prime minister is carrying out his business and that he does it as safely as humanly possible.”
Davidson stated before the interview started that there would be some questions she wouldn’t be allowed to answer. One such question was whether she could discuss the greatest threat the prime minister faced while she was on the protection detail.
“That’s not something I can talk about,” she said quietly.
But she said she was trained for any type of threat.
“A lot of things in the movies are not what happens in real life,” said Davidson with a smile. “But there are incidents where you have to secure your prime minister and make sure nobody gets in where they’re not supposed to get in. That’s the job.”
And the prime minister’s family needed protection, too.
Davidson seemed sympathetic for the family’s lack of privacy.
“You have to be considerate of the fact that they’re in a fishbowl and they have us around 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “How would you like it to have five people on you and everywhere you went, including the washroom, someone had to stand there with you. It’s not comforting. So, we try to be as unobtrusive as we can be.”
She said her job took her all over the world, often more than once.
“I’ve gone on one trip that took me from the Arctic Circle to Edmonton to Barbados to Columbia. Pack for that trip,” she challenged, with a laugh.
“You make every trip twice. You have to go first to lay the trip out, to see where everything is and what’s happening. Then you come back (home) to make your plans before bringing your team with the VIP to the site,” she said.
But she said there were more somber moments during her international travels when she saw firsthand the poverty of some of the countries she visited.
“I met one woman in Uganda. She was about 86 years of age and she had 16 grandchildren she was looking after because her daughters and sons, that middle generation, had succumbed to AIDS,” said Davidson. “She was the last person left in the family to look after these children. She lived in a hut with a dirt floor. There was sewer water on the ground.”
Davidson took a photo with the grandchildren, who were both fascinated and apprehensive about the digital camera. It was the first time many of the children had seen a picture of themselves.
“We went several places like this. Every time I came back, I would think, ‘What a great country I live in,’” she said. “I thanked the heavens I’m from here and had the privilege to grow up the way I did.”
Although she was guarding Canada’s highest-ranking political figure, Davidson said national politics didn’t enter into how she did her job.
“If I go to a foreign country, the politics would be something I would take into consideration for the security aspect,” she said. “But the politics in my country, while I read about them, were not my job. My job is to protect the individual.”
Davidson said she was drawn to Muskoka as her retirement destination because her family had a cottage here. And this is where she wanted her son to go to school.
She retired on Oct. 31, 2012, and now runs her own executive security company.
And she said she will continue to give back to the community through volunteering, like she does with the Huntsville air cadets.
Her son, who is captivated by aircraft, joined the group and Davidson quickly got to know the organizers.
“They are wonderful people. I can’t say enough about how dedicated they are and what they give,” she said. “And these kids benefit.”