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Loss of a young officer who had great potential – Thousands gather to honour fallen OPP Constable

January 2023

On 4 January, thousands of police & peace officers and emergency services workers from across North America gathered, once again, gathered at the Sadlon Arena in south Barrie, Ontario, for the funeral of a fallen police officer. This time, it was for Ontario Provincial Police Constable Grzegorz “Greg” Pierzchala, of the Haldimand County Detachment, killed in the line of duty a week prior, on 27 December. He was the fourth officer in Ontario to be fatally shot on duty since September.

It was just over two months ago that the joint funeral for two South Simcoe Police officers, Constable Devon Northrup and Constable Morgan Russell, was held at the Sadlon Arena.

Provincial Constable Pierzchala had responded to a call for a vehicle in a ditch near the Town of Hagersville. Once on scene, he was shot to death in nothing short of an ambush attack, not even having a chance to draw his sidearm to defend himself. The 28-year-old rookie constable ​had just successfully completed his 10-month probationary period as an OPP officer, having been told earlier that day about the good news before he went out for patrol.

Randall McKenzie and Brandi Crystal Lyn Stewart-Sperry were arrested and both are now charged with first-degree murder.

What makes this police death even more tragic, is that Randall McKenzie should never have been at the scene of the shooting. McKenzie was charged in December 2021 with assaulting three people and carrying a concealed, illegal handgun, even though a court had already banned him for life from owning weapons in 2018. When he was granted bail in June 2022, McKenzie was ordered to wear an electronic monitoring device and, once again, forbidden to possess any weapons. When he failed to show up for a scheduled court appearance, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

At the time of her arrest, Stewart-Sperry was also wanted in Niagara for failure to comply with a release order.

Already there are loud calls for changes in Canada’s justice system, including in a joint statement issued by the Canadian Police Association, the Police Association of Ontario, the Ontario Provincial Police Association, and the Toronto Police Association, the four largest police unions in Canada. It’s hard to accept that McKenzie wasn’t behind bars on that fateful day. For someone with a history of violent offences that included armed robbery; for someone with outstanding charges for an alleged violent attack on a police officer a year ago; for someone who was wanted on a Bench Warrant for failure to attend court last September; for someone who had been banned for life from possessing a gun since 2018, it’s hard accept that Provincial Constable Pierzchala was killed just because he was attempting to render assistance to someone who’s vehicle was stuck in a snow-covered ditch.

OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique put it very well when he said, “I’m outraged by the fact that McKenzie was out on bail.” All Canadians should be outraged too. While being exposed to danger is just part of the job for police and peace officers, being callously murdered by someone who shouldn’t have been there, who shouldn’t have had a gun to carry out the murder, is completely unacceptable.

Our politicians should take notice and those who elect them should demand that they do. For too long, far too big an emphasis has been placed on reforming criminals and giving them multiple chances to become productive citizens. Sure, some criminals do eventually turn their lives around and become law abiding and productive citizens, but what about those who don’t?

How many have to be victimized and how many have to die, before we accept that some violent and repeat offenders need to remain behind bars indefinitely; maybe for the rest of their lives? McKenzie is hardly the first, and unless we have substantial changes to our legal system, he won’t be the last.

Flag-draped casket carried by 10-man honour guard

Dignitaries in attendance at Provincial Constable Pierzchala’s funeral included Ontario Lieutenant-governor Elizabeth Dodswell, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Ontario Solicitor General Michael Kerzner, Barrie Mayor Alex Nutall and Polish Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski, given the Pierzchala family’s proud Polish heritage.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Justyna Pierzchala and her brother Michal spoke of their older brother Greg as a role model and inspiration; someone who held high standards for himself and was determined to succeed.

Born in Toronto and raised in Barrie, Pierzchala previously served as a special constable at Queen’s Park and served three years with the Grey & Simcoe Foresters, a militia infantry regiment, with companies in Barrie and Owen Sound, all with the end goal of becoming a police constable one day.

On a personal note, I have attended many police funerals in my career police officer and into my retirement, and it never gets easier. Anyone who professes a hatred of police and advocates for “Defund the Police,” should pay attention to the officers gathered at a police funeral. This is where you see the humanity behind the uniform, along with more than a few tears. All officers know that the fallen officer very easily could have been them. That’s why, even in retirement, I still attend police funerals, when I can, and the annual National Police and Peace Officers Memorial service in Ottawa in September.

Even if the public can’t attend the service in person, as was the case with this one, I would encourage them to watch it on TV or a livestream feed, something that has become common-place at police funerals. Police officers are human beings, just like everyone else, something that is very apparent at a funeral.

Not all injuries are visible

I hope police commanders and supervisors will also be looking out for their officers over the next several weeks and months. There will no doubt be some who will be hurting, not just those who personally knew Provincial Constable Pierzchala, and/or responded to the scene where he was shot, but in the wider policing community. As someone whose career ended due to PTSD, you never know how hard a negative event, like the death of a fellow police officer, even if you didn’t personally know them, may hit you. More often than not, the officer will be afraid to come forward, fearing career implications.

In many cases, it only becomes apparent that something is wrong with those suffering after it’s too late.

Sources: https://www.collingwoodtoday.ca/police-beat/police-announce-details-for-slain-officers-funeral-in-barrie-6317764, https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/6-police-officers-killed-in-canada-since-september-1.6210757, https://www.cp24.com/news/who-was-const-grzegorz-greg-pierzchala-opp-officer-killed-on-day-he-completed-his-probationary-period-1.6210493, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/funeral-opp-const-grzegorz-pierzchala-1.6702283, https://toronto.ctvnews.ca/funeral-held-for-opp-officer-killed-in-shooting-ambush-1.6216906, https://www.saltwire.com/atlantic-canada/news/accused-killer-of-ontario-police-officer-was-out-on-bail-for-assaulting-cop-100809684, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-opp-officer-death-suspect, https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/lilley-opp-commish-premier-ford-call-on-trudeau-to-act-on-justice-reform.

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/loss-of-a-young-officer-who-had-great-potential-thousands-gather-to-honour-fallen-opp-constable/

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