For the past 14 years, Constable Pietro Grande has not missed the memorial to honour fallen Ontario police officers.
The 43 Division officer has made good on a promise to attend the annual remembrance after Constable Laura Ellis – a close colleague – was killed on the job.
They were classmates at the Ontario Police College and on the same platoon at 42 Division.
“This hits home because I knew Laura very well,” Grande said at the 17th annual Ontario Police Memorial Foundation (OPMF) ceremony on May 1 at Queen’s Park. “But today is not only about remembering her. For me, it’s about paying respect to all officers who made the ultimate sacrifice with theirlives.”
Of the 41 city officers who died in the line of duty, Ellis is the only female.
The married mother and her partner were responding to an emergency call on February 18, 2002,when they collided with another vehicle at Brimley Rd. & Huntingwood Dr., on her last shift before joining Durham Regional Police Service. She died at the scene.
The ache of losing two Canadian Armed Forces colleagues is still fresh for Constable Bryce Levert.
The Traffic Services motor squad member was a military officer for seven years before joining Toronto Police almost 13 years ago.
“I served with these guys who were killed in the line of combat and I am here to pay tribute to them and every provincial officer that died on the job,” he said.
This year, County Constables John Morrison, William Pickard and Samuel Vanstone were added to the Wall of Honour.
On June 25, 1880, Morrison was tending to his horse at a farm near his home in Russell County when two men showed up and one demanded that the officer arrest him. Three months earlier, the man who wanted to be arrested had evaded Morrison who had a warrant for his arrest for allegations of domestic violence.
The two men grabbed the officer and the suspect shot him in the side and fled. Morrison succumbed to his injuries 20 hours later. One suspect surrendered to police, but the prime suspect isbelieved to have fled to Brazil.
Pickard was fatally shot in Chatham County on April 17, 1922,while attempting to arrest some burglars who had broken into a store while Vanstone was electrocuted while responding to a motor vehicle accident near his Whitby home on October 12, 1928.
“They gave their lives to preserve our freedom and our promise to them is that they shall not be forgotten,” said Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell. “The three officers we honour today will now have a rightful place in the annals of Ontario’s policing history and respecting their memory is part of the foundation on which we have built this modern province.”
No provincial police officer was killed in the line of duty last year.
“It’s heartening we can say that,” added Dowdeswell. “However, let us always be mindful of the men and women in uniform who sustain injuries, both visible and invisible, on the job. Society requires much from the officers who serve and protect us and I commend those who assist in their rehabilitation. Today is an opportunity for Ontarians to reflect on the work and sacrifices of all those who serve and protect.”
Though the historical officers’ names were added to the Wall of Honour nearly several decades after their deaths, Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne said time doesn’t diminish their acts of service.
“It doesn’t make their deaths any less poignant,” she noted. “In remembering these three officers, we also recognize the contributions made by men and women on the force every day in communities across our province, country and continent…It truly takes a special kind of compassion, bravery and belief in service to be a police officer. For you, you are just doing your job, but to us, you are doing something extraordinary. You work with the community taking on some of society’s most complex challenges, including violence, crime and the broader societal issues that contribute to the dangers that you confront – inequality, poverty and mental health issues.
“In doing this work, you embody the ideals of democracy – a democracy built on the foundations of the rule of law and on the principle that we are all equal before the law. And, based on the rights and freedoms that we share with our fellow citizens, the rights and freedoms that our police protect and uphold, we have worked together to build a society where we take care of each other.”
OPMF president Mike Abbott said the memorial is a celebration of life and an opportunity to show appreciation to the families for their sacrifices.
“Police officers from across the province are the first to respond to a crisis and the last to leave the scene,” he pointed out. “They serve with unmistakable integrity, unshakeable character and infinite kindness. They put their lives in harm’s way. It’s not something they do. It’s something they are. They have given their lives so that the citizens of this great province are safer, their neighbourhoods more secure and their communities stronger.
“…Every single day, officers put on the badge and carry out their sworn duty to serve and protect. They do this without considering bravery or heroics. They stand for all that everyone of us should aspire to be. With quiet courage, they fulfil the demanding yet vital role of shielding the public from harm. This is a calling, a commitment to serve and a lifelong pursuit of safer communities. These guardians of democracy are prepared to lay down their lives for the service of the people of Ontario. We should be forever grateful.”
The names of the 260 police officers who have died on the job are inscribed on a granite wall at the Queen’s Park memorial site.
“It’s very important we never forget the officers who laid down their lives for their communities and police service,” said Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack. “It means a lot for us to show up annually and pay our respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Policing is like being a large family, so this is a coming together to recognize a family member’s loss.”
Constable William Boyd was the first Toronto officer to die in the line of duty in 1901. While transporting prisoners, he was fatally shot by an escapee.