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Think about those left behind

May 2016
Every year, memorial services are held across Canada and the United States honouring police and peace officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty over the past year. Serving officers line up in parade formation and march in honour of their fallen comrades in a solemn ceremony.
 
It’s easy to blame the police for any injustice you feel, whether it’s that speeding ticket you got or a police involved shooting that you feel shouldn’t have happened. Police aren’t social workers or mental healthcare workers, but when someone in a mental health crisis raises a weapon to a police officer and is shot, there is frequently outrage. Police become an easy target for that outrage.
 
What’s not so easy, is seeing those who are left behind when an officer dies in the line of duty.  All those officers had spouses, children or parents whose lives have been forever changed.  There will always be that empty chair at the table; an empty feeling in their hearts.

When Peace Officers are purposely and brutally murdered, such as Cobourg Police Constable Chris Garrett, OPP Senior Constable Thomas Coffin or Metro Toronto Police Constables Michael Sweet and David Goldsworthy, there is no explanation or justification.
 
Correctional Officers saw three of their colleagues lose their lives in the 1982 riot at Archambault Penitentiary, 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.
 
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 ones that claimed the lives of RCMP Constable Jose Agostinho, Toronto Constable Laura Ellis, Military Police Corporal Stephen Gibson and 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.
 
Sometimes the death is at the hand of the officer themselves, like Toronto Police Constable Darius Garda, who was involved in the shooting of a suspect who struck another constable with his car. Even though the Special Investigations Unit called the shooting justified, it still haunted him and he ultimately took his own life in 2016.
 
Metro Toronto Police Staff-Sergeant Eddie Adamson took his own life in 2005 after 25 years of living with the guilt that he had been unable to rescue Constable Michael Sweet, who had been wounded in a botched robbery in 1980 and allowed to bleed to death by the criminals who took him hostage.
 
At the Greater Cleveland Area Peace Officer Memorial ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2005, I listened to an address by Grace Leon, 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.
 
On another occasion, I listened to Penny Rossiter, widow of Ingersol Police Constable Scott Rossiter, describe explaining to their children that Daddy wouldn’t ever be coming home again.
 
So whatever you may think about police officers, when one dies in the line of duty, try to remember those who are left behind, especially those too young to remember the death of their parent.
 
The annual Canadian Police and Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony is held on Parliament Hill the last full weekend each September to remember the nearly 600 officers who have died in the line of duty since 1804, when High Constable John Fisk of King Township Police died.
 
The Ontario Police Memorial Ceremony is held at Queen’s Park the first full weekend in May each year.
 
“They are our heroes. We shall not forget them.”
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A slightly edited version that appeared in the Toronto Sun, 5 May 2018:

Every year, memorial services are held across Canada and the United States honouring police and peace officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty over the past year. Serving officers line up in parade formation and march in honour of their fallen comrades in a solemn ceremony.

It’s easy to blame the police for any injustice you feel, from that speeding ticket you got to a police-involved shooting that you feel shouldn’t have happened, even if the officer was legally justified.

Fortunately, we had a recent example of a successful arrest of someone who may have been suffering from a mental illness thanks to the cool hand of Toronto Constable Ken Lam, but that situation could easily have turned fatal for for Lam and/or Alek Minassian if Minassian had been holding a gun instead of a cell phone.

Police become an easy target for public outrage, whether it’s justified or not.  What’s not so easy, is seeing those who are left behind when an officer dies in the line of duty.

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

Correctional Officers saw three of their colleagues lose their lives in the 1982 riot at Archambault Penitentiary, 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.

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 claimed the life of 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, but we all understand that accidents happen. 

At the Greater Cleveland Area Peace Officer Memorial ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2005, I listened to an address by Grace Leon, widow of Cleveland Police Officer Wayne Leon, shot to death during a “routine traffic stop” on June 26, 2000. He was only 32 years old and left behind a wife and 3 children, ages 5, 4 and 2. Grace not only described how she had to explain to her children that Daddy would never come home again, answering 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.

On another occasion, I listened to Penny Rossiter, widow of Ingersol Police Constable Scott Rossiter, describe explaining to their children that Daddy wouldn’t ever be coming home again.

The Ontario Police Memorial Ceremony is held at Queen’s Park the first full weekend in May each year.

The annual Canadian Police and Peace Officer Memorial Ceremony is held on Parliament Hill the last full weekend each September.

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/think-about-those-left-behind/

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