As Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon marched in this year’s 19th annual Ontario Police Memorial at Queen’s Park on May 6, she was thinking of Constable Laura Ellis, who lost her life in the line of duty.
Coxon, then a Detective at 42 Division, spoke briefly with Ellis on the night of February 17, 2002.
A few hours later, Ellis and her partner, Constable Ronald Tait, were driving to a break-and-enter call when their scout car struck a motorist making a U-turn at a Scarborough intersection. The police vehicle spun out of control and slammed into a utility pole.
Ellis, on the midnight shift on her last assignment with Toronto Police before transferring to Durham Regional Police Service, succumbed to her injuries, leaving family, friends and colleagues to mourn her death.
Coxon and Ellis were in the same Ontario Police College graduation class.
“I think about Laura all the time, but more so today,” said Coxon, a friend of Ellis. “I have been so fortunate to make it to Deputy Chief and she made the ultimate sacrifice. As time goes by, it’s easy to forget. It is important, however, that we remember.”
Sergeant David Shaw, who joined the Service 28 years ago and is now at 41 Division, also worked at 42 Division with Ellis.
“Even though it has been 16 years since she passed, Laura is always on my mind,” he said. “We need to pay tribute to her and every officer who has given their life for us.”
No Ontario police officer has lost their life in the line of duty since 2014.
While this is truly a blessing, Premier Kathleen Wynne said, the 266 officers who have lost their lives will always be remembered.
“Time doesn’t diminish the enormity of the sacrifice or the tragedy of a life cut short,” she said. “Every name inscribed in granite behind me is a powerful reminder that police work comes at a cost. We are reminded that the safety and security and opportunities that we are granted in our law-abiding and democratic society do not come free. They are earned by the sacrifices of every man and woman who put on a uniform and knowingly put themselves in harm’s way.”
Wynne praised Toronto Police and Constable Ken Lam for the strength, skill and dignity displayed in dealing with the tragedy that occurred in the city on April 23.
A total of 10 people lost their lives and several were injured when a 25-year-old man allegedly used a vehicle to target pedestrians.
Lam apprehended the suspect without using his firearm.
“His courage in the face of imminent danger is the very thing that we honour with this memorial and the same selfless heroism that took these 266 lives,” said Wynne. “When I called him to tell him how proud we are of him, he talked about his team. That such bravery is shrouded in such humility, I think, speaks volumes of those who take the oath to serve and protect. On a day that shook us to our core, and had people questioning their own sense of safety, the calm professionalism of Toronto’s finest reassured us. You made us feel safe, you reminded us that we are strong and you reminded us that we will heal.”
Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the province’s Lieutenant Governor, said Lam has been rightly praised for his courage and calmness under pressure and his measured effective actions in bringing the threat and violence to an end.
“When he said he was just doing his job, facing danger and helping to pull others out of it is part of the job,” she pointed out. “…By serving and protecting us not just on this day but every day, police officers everywhere play such a crucial role in ensuring we live in a society where we can be safe, secure and resilient and that, despite our challenges, we remain cohesive.”
This year, Ontario Provincial Police officer John Smythe and Department of Highways Leamington traffic officer Almer Wilson were added to the Wall of Honour.
On December 9, 1922, Smythe – an immigrant from Belfast who served in the Irish Guards during World War I – and Canada Customs officer Charles Muir were on their way to Port Colborne from Fort Erie to conduct a liquor seizure when their vehicle lost control and overturned.
Muir wasn’t injured, but Smythe, 28 at the time, was found deceased under the vehicle.
On August 26, 1929, Wilson was on patrol on Highway 3, near Maidstone, when the rear tire of his motorcycle blew out, causing the bike to cross into the oncoming path of a car. He succumbed to his injuries in a Windsor hospital.
Ontario Police Memorial Foundation President Rondi Craig said no fallen officer will ever be forgotten.
“We stand here together, right now, united and strong in order to honour John and Almer and all of our fallen heroes and their families and the friends they left behind,” he said. “Use this strength as we move forward. Let the names on this wall be imprinted forever in your mind and in your heart so that we always honour our brothers and sisters who have paid the ultimate sacrifice as they served and protected their respective communities… We will never forget our heroes in life, not death.”
Craig also paid tribute to the 133 American officers who have died in the line of duty in the last year.
Staff Superintendent Randy Carter has attended the memorial for the last two decades.
“When I was a young police officer, we lost Todd Baylis and, more recently, Billy Hancox and Ryan Russell,” he said. “I have also worked with family members of Michael Irwin, who died in 1972. This is about taking a few moments to remember them and all the other officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty.”
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.