With the very recent death of Windsor Police Constable John Atkinson still fresh in my mind, I attended the annual Ontario Police Memorial ceremony at Queen's Park in Toronto on May 7 th. This internationally attended event honours Ontario police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. Once again the law enforcement community is left mourning the senseless death of another peace officer. According to reports, Constable Atkinson interrupted a drug deal outside a local convenience store. He saw something that didn't look right and went to investigate, just like a police officer should. He did his job as his community expects and tragically lost his life. It didn't need to happen.
Every day, police and peace officers face danger just by putting on a uniform, something that can be extremely sobering. Now I know that there are lots of jobs that are dangerous; lots of jobs where death can be one slip or lapse in attention away. However, there aren't many professions other than soldiers, where people purposely try to kill you. Law enforcement officers have uniquely dangerous jobs in that we are expected to protect as well as serve. When others are running away from a gunman shooting-up a school, police officers are running towards it. When a fire breaks out in a prison, it is correctional officers who are running into the fire area with fire-suppression equipment, rescuing any inmates trapped in the area (yes, even the ones convicted of child murders). When a hiker becomes lost in a Federal or Provincial Park, it is the park wardens who lead the search crews. This causes a strong bond to be formed between law enforcement officers because we all know that could have been any one of us who lost their life.
Some situations that we face are inherently dangerous, such as domestic disputes. Chief Denis Nadeau of the Sainte-Marie Police Service was shot to death in 1995 when he responded to domestic dispute. The shooter was a man whom he had known for years.
Even seemingly routine activities could lead to our deaths. Ingersol Police Constable Scott Rossiter was shot to death investigating a male cyclist while on routine patrol in 1991. Cst. Robert Vanderwiel of the Calgary Police Service was shot to death during a routine traffic stop in 1992, as was Constable Joey MacDonald of the Sudbury Regional Police Service in 1993.
Police are trained to watch for danger clues, but even OPP Senior Constable Thomas Coffin could not have expected what was about to happen to him. Constable Coffin was shot in the back of the head in 1997, while off-duty and enjoying a beer at the Commodore Hotel in Penetanguishene. His shooter was a man whom he had charged with impaired driving. Constable Coffin died instantly.
Constable Odette Pinard of the Montreal Urban Community Police Service was similarly caught off guard when she was shot to death in 1995. She was alone in a sub-station completing reports when her killer simply walked into the station and shot her in the head without warning.
Even though law enforcement officers do have protective equipment, sometimes this is not enough to save their lives. Constable Benoit L'cuyer of the Montreal Police Service was shot and killed by the suspects of a stolen vehicle he was chasing in 2002. Constable L'cuyer was wearing his "bullet proof" vest at the time.
Not all law enforcement officers are purposely murdered while conducting routine duties. Parks Canada Warden Michael Wynn was killed in 2002 while conducting a snow stability and avalanche hazard assessment in Jasper National Park with two other park wardens. A large avalanche released above them, covering all three. Park Warden Wynn died the next day in hospital.
As I look back on the Ontario Police Memorial ceremony, I reflect on why I attend this ceremony and other annual police memorial ceremonies, and have done so since 1997. One reason is that I know should I die in the line of duty, my wife and daughter can take comfort in the knowledge that numerous peace officers will attend to each year remember me.
Most importantly though, I do so to pay tribute to those killed in the line of duty. All peace officers know it could happen to any of us.
In an ironic turn of events, Windsor Police Chief Glenn Stannard was the guest speaker at this year's Ontario Police Memorial ceremony, a task he agreed to several months ago. While talking about his fallen officer, Chief Stannardï¿½s voice broke and he was noticeably fighting back tears. He wasnï¿½t the only one. I have seen many veteran officers, men and women, crying at funerals of fallen officers (or atleast choking back tears). It is especially heart-wrenching when the officer has young children, and you know that someday the child is going to ask why their Daddy/Mommy isn't coming home?
Most people only have contact with law enforcement officers when they are pulled over by the police for speeding, have their hunting licenses checked by conservation officers or their cars searched by customs agents. These men and women aren't robocops, but are real, feeling human beings.
Every year, on the last Sunday in September, the Canadian Police and Peace Officer Memorial Service is held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to pay tribute to fallen Canadian officers. I wish to invite to my fellow Canadians to be on Parliament Hill this September to remember Laval Police Constable Valerie Gignac, Niagara Regional Police Constable Daniel Rathonyi, Quebec Wildlife Protection Officers Fernand Vachon & Nicolas Rochette, Constable John Atkinson and over 700 other fallen Canadian officers.
"They are our heroes. We shall not forget them." For more information, visit the Canadian Police & Peace Officers Memorial web site at http://www.cacp.ca/english/memoriam