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Reflections of a Peace Officer

Published in the Hanover Post

17 June 2005

The recent death of RCMP Constable Jose Agostinho of the Wetaskiwin, Alberta Detachment, has brought to the forefront yet again, the dangers faced every day by Peace Officers across Canada. It certainly makes me think back to March of this year.

Although more than four months have passed since the events at Mayerthorpe, Alberta occurred, it will be a long time before the Law Enforcement community gets over the murders of Constables Brock Myrol, Lionide Johnston, Peter Schiemann, and Anthony Gordon. Peace Officers in this country and around the world face danger each and every day, but this is killing goes beyond tragic. It’s disturbing. It’s not so much that these officers died, but how they died. If a person is not afraid to kill an armed and trained Peace Officer, do you think they will hesitate to kill an innocent civilian?

As well, you have to go back to 1958, when five RCMP officers drowned when their boat sank on Lake Simcoe, to find a time when this many police officers were killed in the same occurrence. It just doesn’t happen this way in Canada very often.

When Peace Officers are purposely and brutally murdered, such as Cobourg Constable Chris Garrett, OPP Senior Constable Thomas Coffin or Toronto Constables Michael Sweet and David Goldsworthy, there is no explanation or justification.

Although still tragic, it is a different scenario if a Peace Officer is killed accidentally, for example in a motor vehicle collision, such as the one that just recently claimed the life of Constable Jose Agostinho. Toronto Constable Laura Ellis and Military Police Corporal Stephen Gibson also met a similar fate, as did OPP Senior Constable James McFadden, who was poignantly killed on December 31, 1999 around 5:00 pm, just as the sun was setting on the 20th century. It doesn’t make their deaths any easier to take, nor make their efforts any less noble than others killed, but we all understand that accidents happen. It’s a fact of life, but it can still be a very hard thing to endure.

I recently attended the Greater Cleveland Area Peace Officer Memorial ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio. During the ceremony, a woman named Grace Leon spoke to the assembled crowd. Grace is the widow of Cleveland Police Officer Wayne Leon, who was shot to death during a “routine traffic stop” on June 26, 2000. He was only 32 years old and besides his wife, left behind 3 children, ages 5, 4 and 2. During her address, Grace not only described how she had to explain to her children that daddy would never come home again, she also had to answer questions like, “Why can’t daddy come to my birthday party for just a few minutes” or (from her youngest child) “Did I ever meet daddy” I noticed a few officers dabbing their eyes during that address. It is something to which we can all relate, and is something that no family needs to endure.

As you will notice, I have so far referred to “Peace Officers”, since it is not just Police Officers that face danger and death. Just ask any Correctional Officer who worked at Archambault Penitentiary during the riot of 1982, when Senior Keeper Leandre Leblanc, Correctional Officer Denis Rivard and Senior Correctional Officer David Van Den Abeele were brutally murdered by inmates who had taken them hostage. We should not forget that the Correctional Service of Canada has also suffered multiple deaths of their officers, regardless of the fact that they were all in one day.

More recently, Provincial Corrections Officers Pierre Rondeau of the Montreal Court Escort Unit and Diane Lavigne of the Montreal Detention Centre, were murdered during the Quebec Biker wars of the mid 1990’s.

It’s not just the junior members who are killed, either. In 1995, Chief Denis Nadeau of the Sainte-Marie de Beauce Police Service in Quebec was killed when he attended a residence in response to a domestic dispute. The gunman was someone whom he had known.

Even civilian members of law enforcement agencies have made the supreme sacrifice. Most recently, RCMP Auxiliary Constable Glen Evely was killed in a motor vehicle collision (auxiliary officers, although uniformed, are considered civilian members). Here was a man who wasn’t doing this job for money or other financial considerations; he was doing it to serve his community. Auxiliary officers are unpaid volunteers. Glen didn’t need to be on duty that night. He was on his time off from his regular job and could have been at home with his family, but he chose to serve his community and paid a heavy price for it.

What makes the death of any Peace Officer most upsetting to those of us in law enforcement is that any of us could be killed in the same way. How many times on a “routine traffic stop”, or while guarding a crime scene, could a Police Officer be seriously injured or killed. How many times a day could a Correctional Officer be attacked while walking “the ranges.” Think of our unarmed Customs Inspectors, Commercial Transportation Enforcement Officers or others with powers to do motor vehicle stops. Alberta currently employs unarmed Special Constables in many rural counties to enforce municipal and provincial laws, including Highway Traffic Act offences, freeing up the RCMP to pursue criminal offences.

In some ways, I think Conservation Officers have it worse than I do when enforcing hunting regulations, as a large number of the people they deal with are armed. It’s just fortunate I guess, that more Conservation Officers haven’t been killed, especially given the heavy fines, prohibitions and broad seizure powers that a Conservation Officers can impose on those in violation of provincial or federal conservation acts. At least Conservation Officers carry handguns, unlike the vast majority of Peace Officers in this country. I could go on and on talking about Probation Officers, Parole Officers, Fisheries Officers, Park Wardens, CSIS Agents, Sheriff’s Officers, Environmental Protection Officers, Federal Wildlife Enforcement Officers and Animal Cruelty Inspectors, but I think you get the point.

One positive thing that may come of the deaths of officers such as Constables Myrol, Johnston, Schiemann, Gordon or Officer Leon (or many others), is that it will serve to remind all of us in law enforcement that we have to be vigilant at all times. Their deaths can serve to educate all of us.

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. Hundreds of Peace Officers from Canada, the United States and Europe attend this service each year, many at their own expense (myself included). Since the early 1980’s, between six and eight officers have lost their lives EACH YEAR.

I wish to invite to my fellow Canadians to be on Parliament Hill each September to remember the nearly 600 officers who have died in the line of duty since 1804, when High Constable John Fisk of the King Township Police died. “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 or the “Officer Mike” web site at http://www.officermike.com/memorial/index.htm, both of which have full listings of Police & Peace Officers who have died in the line of duty.

Also visit the following web sites: http://www.star-riders.org/starcruiser/volume3-3/memorium.html , http://www.danielfaulkner.com .

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/reflections-of-a-peace-officer/

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