A woman whose work is to help Service members in their time of need was recognized by her peers at the 53rd annual Toronto Police Communion Breakfast.
Avis Ottey, the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) Liaison and the Critical Incidents Response Team (CIRT) Coordinator, was recognized with the St. Michael’s Award for her dedication to helping members of the Service through trauma.
In Ottey’s acceptance speech, she acknowledged the peer-support team and the important work they do. CIRT members respond to units, after a traumatic incident, to debrief officers and civilians to help them cope and build psychological strength.
She recalled the deaths of Service members Ryan Russell in 2011 and John Zivcic two years later, who died in the line of duty, as two critical incidents that have stood out for her.
Russell, an 11-year police officer succumbed to his injuries after being struck by a snowplow allegedly stolen at a downtown intersection, while Zivcic died in hospital after being involved in a traffic collision.
“The ones that are really heart-wrenching are the suicides of members and their children,” Ottey added. “Those are difficult to deal with…As my years in the Service have gone on, I realize that my heroes and your heroes are human beings and some of them do hurt. Some come to work hurt and some of them work through their pain.”
The St. Michael’s Award was launched to mark the 50th anniversary of the Communion Breakfast, started in the winter of 1964 by a small group of Toronto cops who took their sons to mass at the cathedral and then to breakfast at a local restaurant. Saint Michael is the patron saint of police officers.
Ottey has endured her own pain before joining the Service in 2000.
Her only children – teenagers Marsha and Tamara Ottey – were murdered in the family’s Scarborough home in 1995. Autopsies showed they died of multiple stab wounds to the neck and chest. Two men, Rohan Ranger – Marsha’s ex-boyfriend and Adrian Kinkead – Ranger’s cousin, were found guilty.
She was inspired to become a civilian member after observing now-retired Homicide Detectives Mark Mendelson and Ron Whitfield work diligently for justice in her daughters’ case.
“I have a profound love for the Service and it started with them,” said Ottey. “I had the pleasure of meeting two fantastic detectives who were professional, compassionate and who supported me.”
Detective Sergeant Elizabett Cordeiro nominated Ottey for the prestigious honour.
“The timely and effective provision of emotional and situational support for TPS members and their families is critical to employees’ wellness and integral to the communities they serve and protect. Avis does so much with such proficiency and grace despite any strain on her own well-being,” said Cordeiro.
“This often means she works long beyond her scheduled hours and during her time-off as well, yet she does so without any complaint or expectation of praise or reward. It is truly due to Avis’ devotion to our members that our EFAP program has sustained the progress we have come to realize and benefit from.”
While dealing with her tragic losses, Ottey has somehow found the strength to enrich the lives of others with her relentless dedication.
“While it would be difficult to fathom what life would be like after such a tragedy, Avis – on a daily basis – encourages and exemplifies the virtue of good citizenship, mercy and compassion,” noted Cordeiro.
Ottey has worked five years in the Intelligence Unit, as well as being assigned to Organized Crime and the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy units before becoming the EFAP liaison and CIRT coordinator.
In those roles, she contributes to the development of formal criteria and protocols relevant to the peer-support volunteer program and critical-incident response team comprising nearly 80 sworn and civilian members.
The award recognizes a Service member for their contributions to the community through humanitarian acts of kindness on- and off-duty.
Previous winners were Zivcic (honoured posthumously), retired civilian member May Mak and 53 Division Staff Sergeant Matt Moyer.
Chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Police Services Board member Chin Lee attended the annual mass and breakfast.