As a line of 16 motorcycles sat outside the Sechelt Royal Canadian Legion on June 19, inside a crew of leather-clad bikers gave an emotional presentation about their mission to help children live without fear. They are members of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), a non-profit organization with chapters in 18 countries around the world who offer free help to protect children who have suffered from documented cases of abuse. Nationally, there are 22 chapters in Canada, and five in B.C.
Whether it’s a call in the middle of the night, a motorcycle escort to the courthouse, a teddy bear picnic or helping fund therapy, these motorcycle-riding brothers and sisters are ready to help. Beyond making the child feel safe, the goal is to help a kid be a kid again. While there have been members of BACA’s Greater Vancouver chapter on the Sunshine Coast for three years, the volunteer group is trying to raise awareness about their cause and invite people to get involved.
“We’re not a vigilante group,” local member and events coordinator, Kevin (Foghorn) McGarry, told Coast Reporter.
“We’re here for the kids, to empower the children.”
Each child, known as a hero, receives a blanket, teddy bear and dog tags with their primary BACA contact’s road name and phone number. They will also get a vest adorned with the BACA patch, and their own road name to protect their identity. They meet the group for a motorcycle ride, with 40 to 50 members in formation, and can contact them whenever they feel scared or need support.
Richard Poulin (who goes by the road name Pooh Bear) is the Greater Vancouver chapter president and the provincial press relations manager. After the presentation, he told Coast Reporter that child abuse is on the rise, not just on the Sunshine Coast, but in general. “This is the busiest our chapter’s been in five, six years,” he said.
“It’s always been on the Coast,” McGarry said of child abuse. “But we’re just now starting to get recognition out here and create awareness enough that we’re being made aware of it.” Membership for BACA brothers and sisters must be earned through a rigorous training program, a criminal background check every two years and a year of riding with the chapter and volunteering at every BACA event.
McGarry told Coast Reporter he first became a BACA member in 2014 to feel like he was part of something. He wanted to get involved in the cause against child abuse, an issue he says “tugs at your heart.” Over time, his efforts became less about his desire to be part of a community, and more about helping the kids who need it most.
Since then, McGarry has been part of five “Level Two” interventions when BACA responds to an immediate threat, such as a perpetrator being released on bail. That’s when bikers will do all they can to make the child feel safe, including going to their house and making their presence known to deter further abuse.
A BACA chapter in Arizona once stood guard outside a child’s home for nearly three months, with members as far away as Italy joining to make sure the kid felt safe with round-the-clock protection. This was the first chapter McGarry joined before he moved back to the Coast. BACA relies on donations to fund private therapy for children, or to pay for them to join a sports team or do an activity like horseback riding lessons. Volunteer costs are not reimbursed.
As Poulin says, BACA is a standalone organization that associates with all and affiliates with none. The group does not receive government funding, but the RCMP and the Ministry of Children and Family Development will refer families to them. Before their members ride into a community, if a large number will be going, Poulin said they’ll get in touch with the RCMP to give them a head’s up. “You see a whole bunch of people in leather and on bikes, people automatically get a little freaked out,” Poulin said. They want the community to know they are actually there to help.
On July 24, the Greater Vancouver BACA chapter will give another presentation at the Roberts Creek Legion at noon. More information about the group can be found at www.bacaworld.org or by calling their helpline: 778-953-2004. “If doing this gets one child that we can help protect, it’s worth everything I do,” McGarry said.