For the 20th year, police officers from across the province gathered in Toronto on May 5 for the annual Ontario Police Memorial Foundation (OPMF) ceremony to honour members who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
A large turnout of Toronto Police members didn’t go unnoticed by Chief Mark Saunders.
He acknowledged uniformed and civilian members who took the time to attend the memorial and pay tribute to fallen officers.
“The families are so proud of us and what we do,” Saunders said. “More importantly, it tells them that we remember. They remember losing their loved ones and we are celebrating their lives. The fact that we all come here tells them we still care. Always remember those that stood before us and did exactly what we do, but didn’t go home because of what we asked them to do. This is a great turnout today and it means so much to us as an organization.”
Paige Ellis was just 13 months old when her mom, Const. Laura Ellis, died in the line of duty 17 years ago.
The mother she never got to know is in her heart every day.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her,” said the teenager who attended the ceremony.
After the somber observance, Ellis laid a red flower besides her mother’s name inscribed with 265 others on a granite wall at the Queen’s Park Memorial site.
“I have been to this event many times in the last 16 years,” she said. “I was told that mom was a strong, creative and very caring person and I am trying to live up to those ideals.”
Ellis died in February 2002 when the police cruiser she and her partner, Const. Ron Tait, were driving to a break-and-enter call struck a motorist making a U-turn at a Scarborough intersection. The car spun out of control and slammed into a utility pole.
She succumbed at the collision scene.
Ellis was just completing the midnight shift on her last assignment with Toronto Police Service (TPS) before a planned transfer to Durham Regional Police Service.
She’s the only female TPS officer to die in the line of duty.
For many officers, the annual memorial on the first Sunday of May offers an opportunity to remember colleagues, some of whom they were close to.
Const. Rui Simoes established a close friendship with Const. John Zivcic while they were at the Ontario Police College.
They graduated in 2008.
In December 2013, Zivcic – who was assigned to 22 Division -- died in hospital two days after he was involved in a collision on Bloor St. W. near the West Mall.
“We kept in touch after graduation and we would catch up every now and then and have dinner,” said Simoes, holding back tears. “He was just an awesome guy.”
Sgt. Travers Wynne, who joined the Service 32 years ago, was on scene when a fellow officer died on the job.
“When you are working the night shift and you are on the scene where an officer loses his life, you never forget that,” the 13 Division officer said. “It seems the longer you serve, the more you gain a very real appreciation for your colleagues and you look at them as family members. That’s why this day is so important for us to come out and show our gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice they made.”
Insp. Paul Rinkoff has also lost close colleagues.
“This is an opportunity to remember them and all the other fallen officers who didn’t return to their homes after completing their shifts,” said the second in command at 53 Division.
At the end of the official ceremony, Sgt. Faizal Karmali and Const. Niran Jeyanesan walked over to the memorial wall to reflect on the great sacrifices the fallen officers made.
“I consider everyone that wears this uniform to be a brother and sister,” said Jeyanesan who joined the Service five years ago. “This is a moment for us to thank them for their service and the price they paid doing what they loved.”
Several new recruits turned out to show their respect and that caught the attention of Toronto Police Military Veterans Association President Dana Gidlow.
“Taking the time to pause and reflect on those who have gone before and paid a high price is something that should never be taken for granted,” he said. “It’s good to see those young officers coming into the organization recognizing that.”
While no Ontario officers lost their lives in the line of duty in the past year, a few have died by suicide and others sustained visible and invisible injuries.
The province’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell said the memorial provides an opportunity for Ontarians to reflect on the work and sacrifices of all those who serve and protect.”
“Society demands much of those sworn to serve and protect,” she pointed out. “Perhaps the best way to honour those who have laid down their lives and indeed those who continue to serve is to consider our common humanity and to reflect on how all of us foster the empathy upon which our future resilience as society will rest.
“The names on the memorial just across the street represent officers who have stories to tell of their lives, families, dreams and deeds. The more we are prepared to listen and to learn from each other stories, the better able we will be to care for each other and build a more just and sustainable future, one in which we will no longer be called upon to add names to that memorial.”
Premier Doug Ford said he has the greatest respect for the province’s law enforcement officers that safeguard their communities.
“We owe a debt to these officers that we can never even repay,” he added. “Our government will always stand with the brave and selfless men and women who put their lives at risk every day. To those that we have tragically lost, please know we will never forget you.”
The memorial was inaugurated in 2000.
“It stands as a tribute to the bravery and loyalty of those who served in Ontario’s policing community and silently honour those officers who sacrificed their lives with a desire to make a difference in the pursuit of justice,” said OPMF President Mike Adair.
A total of 25 active members have been added to the wall since its creation.
Adair said the memorial is a celebration of life and an opportunity to show appreciation for the fallen officers sacrifices.
“It takes a special kind of person to serve in law enforcement,” he noted. “When most people run from danger, police officers run towards it and continually put their lives on the line for their communities. The 266 police officers who have lost their lives in the call of duty did so with courage and dignity. In order to protect and save the lives of others, the world is a better place because of these selfless heroes.”
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.