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Because of the line of duty – Honouring Ontario police officers lost to suicide

June 2024

On Sunday, 23 June, hundreds of police officers and their supporters gathered at the site of the Ontario Police Memorial in Toronto to commemorate the first annual Ontario Police Suicide Memorial ceremony. Unlike the existing police memorial, which pays tribute to police officers killed in the line of duty, this new memorial pays tribute to those who died “Because of the line of duty.”

Organized by Toronto Beyond the Blue, the Toronto chapter of Canada Beyond the Blue (CTTB), a national non-profit organization with chapters across Canada, that has been advocating for the establishment of a permanent, physical monument to officially memorialize police officers who have died by suicide.

While a separate physical monument has yet to be erected, Toronto Beyond the Blue, the local chapter of CBTB, decided to hold the long-overdue ceremony regardless. Suicide still have a stigma and holding a special ceremony to acknowledge the loss of officers lost goes a long way to recognizing their service in a respectful way, rather than just pretending that nothing tragic happened.

Law enforcement has long been recognized as a dangerous and stressful occupation, where police officers frequently see and experience traumatic events. Sometimes the impacted officers are able to shake off these traumatic events, occasionally because it genuinely doesn’t bother them, but usually it’s due to the stoic resolve that showing natural emotion is seen as weakness. Continued exposure to traumatic and highly stressful events can slowly chip away at this stoicism, leading to self-destructive behaviours, up to and including suicide.

Both Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and Queen’s Park in Toronto, have monuments dedicated to police officers who have died in the line of duty. Neither monument honour officers who have taken their own lives, as eligibility for inclusion on the memorial is restricted to officers who, “…died as a result of an external influence…” and the deceased officer, “…must have been on duty at the time of death, or if off duty, acting in the capacity of a peace officer or the circumstances leading to the death must have been brought about because of the officer’s official status.”

This criterion specifically excludes officers who have taken their own lives; suicides usually brought about by the job itself. The term “On-Duty Death” can be extended to officers who die of a physical illness, like cancer, if the death can be linked to their on-duty actions. We see that honour accorded to fire-fighter deaths all the time. An officer who dies by suicide, related to a mental health injury incurred during the course of their duties, is not extended the same honour.

In 2019 alone, six police officers took their own lives. Two of those officers, Toronto Police Constable Vadym Martsenyuk and Ottawa Police Detective Thomas Roberts, took their own lives one day apart, just days prior to the Canadian Police & Peace Officers Memorial on Parliament Hill. No mention, not even a cursory one, was made of either at the ceremony, even to simply acknowledge their tragic deaths. Hundreds of police and peace officers from across Canada and other countries were standing solemnly in front of Centre Block to honour and remember all the officers, past and present, who had died in the line of duty. But not Constable Martsenyuk and Detective Roberts.

Although both Toronto Police and the Ontario Provincial Police have recently dedicated monuments to their own officers lost to suicide at their respective headquarters buildings, this will be the first monument in a more public location and one dedicated to all police officers in Ontario.

As the Canada Beyond the Blue web site states, “Canada Beyond The Blue Police Suicide Memorial (Ontario) which will record names on a separate wall. As of now, this is the most respectful way to honour all our officers who have died.”

Further, the monument will go a long way to addressing “The isolation and shame that is endured by these bereaved families is deepened when they lose the opportunity to see their police member forever memorialized. Canada Beyond The Blue wishes to ensure that they are never forgotten and formally record their names on our Heroes in Life Monument, remembering their service when they lived, not how they died.”

During the ceremony, York Regional Police Chief Jim MacSween, who is also president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, pointed out, “The death of any police member is tragic and one we all must mourn. A ceremony and memorial to commemorate police members who have died by suicide related to their duties offers us an opportunity to both honour their service and come together to acknowledge the immense sense of loss their families, friends and colleagues feel.

Mark Baxter, president of the Police Association of Ontario, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, also spoke to the assembled crowd of officers, surviving family members and civilian supporter.

Also in attendance was Dilnaz Garda, the current President of Toronto BTB, and Vice-President of Canada BTB. Garda is also the sister of Toronto Police constable Darius Garda, who died on 3 February 2016, consumed by PTSD brought about by the guilt he felt as a result of a fully justifiable shooting in 2009, involving a man suffering a mental health crisis.

A decades-long effort

The movement to have suicide deaths honoured goes back to the efforts of the family of the late Staff-Sergeant Eddie Adamson of the Metropolitan Toronto Police, who took his own life in 2005 after suffering from PTSD for 25 years. S/Sgt Adamson’s death was officially declared a work-related injury in 2008 by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, brought on by post-traumatic stress related to the death of fellow Metropolitan Toronto Police Constable Michael Sweet in 1980.

Sweet had been wounded and taken hostage during a botched robbery and bled to death while police commanders attempted to negotiate with the robbers for the next 90 minutes. Adamson was in charge of an Emergency Task Force platoon, but was ordered to stand-down during the negotiations. By the time Adamson violated those orders and led a raid into the building, it was too late.

Adamson never forgave himself for not disobeying that order sooner, something that haunted him until the day he put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger.

Unknown how many officers lost to suicide

According to Canada Beyond the Blue, there have been 51 documented police suicides to date, but that numbers is undoubtedly much, much higher. Hopefully by reducing the stigma surrounding suicide, especially amongst law enforcement officers, many more survivors will feel comfortable coming forth with the stories of officers who lost their lives “Because of the line of duty.”

Also read:

Is it time to honour police officers who die from suicide? – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com)

Honouring police and peace officers who die from suicide – A conversation we need to have – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com)

OPP dedicates monument to officers lost to suicide – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com)

No mention of officers who took their own lives at annual memorial service – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com)

What if I had chosen suicide? – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com)

Overdue honour: Staff-Sergeant Eddie Adamson to be honoured on the Toronto Police Honour Roll – Canadian Military History (militarybruce.com)

Sources: ‘Enduring legacy’ of officers who died by suicide celebrated | Toronto Sun, Beyond The Blue | Support to Police Members and Their Families (canadabeyondtheblue.com), Why do police killed in the line of duty get memorialized, and not those who die by suicide? (yorkregion.com), Ontario holds first annual Police Suicide Memorial – Blue LineBlue Line.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/because-of-the-line-of-duty-honouring-ontario-police-officers-lost-to-suicide/

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