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Honouring police and peace officers who die from suicide – A conversation we need to have

September 2022

Now that Toronto Police Constable Andrew Hong, viciously murdered in the line of duty, has been laid to rest after a full regimental police funeral, it’s a more appropriate time to address a very touchy and controversial subject: recognizing and honouring police and peace officers who die by suicide related to their service.

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. The Canadian Police & Peace Officers Memorial on Parliament Hill honours all police and peace officers who have died nation-wide, while the one a Queen’s Park honors police officers from Ontario only.

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 criteria 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 away from the Canadian Police & Peace Officers Memorial on Parliament Hill. No mention was made of either at the ceremony. Hundreds of police and peace officers from across Canada and other countries were standing solemnly in front of Centre Block, there to honour officers who had died in the line of duty. But not Constable Martsenyuk and Detective Roberts.

This subject is very personal to me as I suffer from PTSD, related to my service as a police officer. If it wasn’t for my young daughter, I might have “accidentally” shot myself while cleaning my gun or taken too many of the sleeping pills that I’ve been taking for over a decade and counting.  The thought of leaving the daughter that I love with all my heart without the Daddy whom she loves with all hers, was greater than the pain I felt and still feel to this day.  Yes, although I’m a lot better now than I used to be, I still have suicidal thoughts now and again.  My daughter is a big reason why I don’t follow through on those dark thoughts. She gives me the strength to fight on and I’m much better today.

Canada Beyond the Blue is an organization that is advocating for the establishment of a permanent, physical monument to officially memorialize police offices who have died by suicide, something that could easily be expanded to include all peace officers. The 3rd annual Canada Beyond The Blue Police Suicide Memorial ceremony was held on 18 June 2022, virtually due to COVID-19, to honour the fallen and continue the grieving process as a community.

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.”

The move 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.

Staff-Sergeant Adamson’s death was officially declared a work-related injury in 2008 by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), 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.

Even my own former police service, West Grey Police, has been impacted by suicide.

Constable Cory Trainor, a 4-year member of the service who also served as the media relations officer, took his own life in his patrol car, parked at the side of the road, on 18 February 2020. He loaded up his issued C-8 rifle, which normally sits in a gun rack between the driver and passenger seats, and pulled the trigger. He was 28 years old and left behind a wife Tyanna, a constable with Peel Regional Police.

Neither Adamson, nor Trainor, have their names engraved on the monuments on Parliament Hill and at Queen’s Park. Progress is slowly being made, but still falling short of what we should be seeing.

By 2017, Toronto Police announced that they would allow officers from their service who died by suicide to be included in the service’s memorial wall, but the battle for further recognition of officers across Canada continued.

On 15 October 2021, the Ontario Provincial Police dedicated a monument outside their headquarters in Orillia, dedicated to officers who lost their lives to job-related suicide, “…whose deaths were related to the line of duty, rather than (in) the line of duty.”

The outdoor monument consists of a memorial gazebo, with a round metal sculpture in the centre. The sculpture was designed by the families of OPP members who have died by suicide. At this time however, the monument doesn’t include the names of OPP officers lost to suicide.

This monument came out of an inquiry ordered by then-OPP Commissioner Vince Hawks in the fall of 2018, into the suicides of OPP officers. I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in the roundtable discussions that made up the body of the internal report, issued in the summer of 2019.

This is a conversation that we must have, because some police and peace officers die because of their job, not just while on-duty due to “…an external influence…”

Below, just some of the police officers who have taken their lives:

Also read:

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Edited version submitted to the Toronto Sun & Blue Line magazine

I want to address a very touchy and controversial subject in law enforcement, that being recognizing and honouring police and peace officers who die by suicide related to their service.

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 criteria 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 away from the Canadian Police & Peace Officers Memorial on Parliament Hill. No mention was made of either at the ceremony. Hundreds of police and peace officers from across Canada and other countries were standing solemnly in front of Centre Block, there to honour officers who had died in the line of duty. But not Constable Martsenyuk and Detective Roberts.

Canada Beyond the Blue is an organization that is advocating for the establishment of a permanent, physical monument to officially memorialize police offices who have died by suicide, something that could easily be expanded to include all peace officers.

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.”

By 2017, Toronto Police announced that they would allow officers from their service who died by suicide to be included in the service’s memorial wall, but the battle for further recognition of officers across Canada continued.

On 15 October 2021, the Ontario Provincial Police dedicated a monument outside their headquarters in Orillia, dedicated to officers who lost their lives to job-related suicide, “…whose deaths were related to the line of duty, rather than (in) the line of duty.”

The outdoor monument consists of a memorial gazebo, with a round metal sculpture in the centre. The sculpture was designed by the families of OPP members who have died by suicide. At this time however, the monument doesn’t include the names of OPP officers lost to suicide.

This monument came out of an inquiry ordered by then-OPP Commissioner Vince Hawks in the fall of 2018, into the suicides of OPP officers. I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in the roundtable discussions that made up the body of the internal report, issued in the summer of 2019.

This is a conversation that we must have, because some police and peace officers die because of their job, not just while on-duty due to “…an external influence…”

*******************************************************************************************************************

Sources: https://www.heroesinlife.com, https://www.wellingtonadvertiser.com/wellington-opp-officers-honoured-at-ceremony, https://www.intelligencer.ca/news/opp-widows-book-aimed-at-improving-access-to-mental-health-support, https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/this-is-part-of-our-healing-fellowship-honours-opp-officer-who-died-by-suicide-1.5353047, https://nationvalleynews.com/2018/08/11/large-police-presence-two-creeks-conservation-area.

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/honouring-police-and-peace-officers-who-die-from-suicide-a-conversation-we-need-to-have/

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