Police pay tribute to fallen officers, relatives vow lobbying campaign
Monday, September 26, 2005
OTTAWA (CP) — Personal grief mingled with calls for political action Sunday, as more than 4,000 police and family members gathered on Parliament Hill for the annual memorial service for peace officers who have died in the line of duty.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officier Lee Johnston is overcome with emotion as he attends the 28th Canadian Police and Peace Officers Memorial Service on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Sunday. (CP/Jonathan Hayward)
The ceremony this year was especially poignant, as participants recalled the four RCMP members slain on a single day in Mayerthorpe, Alta., in March — and their relatives vowed to lobby the federal government for crime-fighting reforms to ensure others don't meet the same fate.
Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan told the gathering that the death of even a single officer is a profound tragedy. But the last 12 months have seen the deaths of eight police officers across the country, as well as a federal parole officer.
"It is important that we reach out to the friends and families of those officers whom we have lost," said McLellan. "We acknowledge your deep personal loss, and we too honour your loved ones."
Don Schiemann, a Lutheran pastor and the father of one of the four who died in Mayerthorpe, made it clear he and others expect more than comforting words.
The families who lost loved ones plan to lobby MPs of all parties this week — and beyond that they've got their eyes on the voting booth and the ballot paper.
"There's going to be an election coming, and we want this to be an election issue," said Schiemann.
Speaking to reporters after the memorial service, he said that if police can't be safe as they patrol the country's streets, nobody can be.
"The four families have gotten together over this past summer, and we've looked at some key issues that we think contributed to the deaths. We're afraid that those conditions still remain. Police officers' lives are at stake, and they shouldn't be."
The message was the same in Edmonton, where more than 1,000 people gathered for a similar ceremony at the provincial legislature.
"We challenge every judge and parole board in Canada to do what they've been appointed to do," said Keith Myrol, whose son died in Mayerthorpe.
"Simply remove dangerous, violent people from society. We've all heard it over and over again, how police catch the criminals and the courts let them go."
The four Mounties who died in March were gunned down by James Roszko, a loner who was well-known locally for his violent tendencies, hatred of police and lengthy list of offences.
The four officers had been dispatched to Roszko's farm to stake out a marijuana grow operation. Roszko ambushed them there, then killed himself.
There were complaints at the time that senior RCMP supervisors should have sent a more heavily armed tactical squad to deal with Roszko. The slayings also fed a growing debate over marijuana grow ops, and the Liberal government's proposal to decriminalize simple possession of pot.
The legislation has languished on the Commons order paper for months, and most observers expect it to die there when the next federal election is called.
That would be fine with Kim Gordon, a nurse whose husband died on Roszko's farm.
"My husband and I both worked with individuals who couldn't control their marijuana use, and it is because of these individuals that marijuana must not be legalized," she said at the Edmonton memorial service.
RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, who attended the Ottawa service, steered clear of political debate and concentrated on the personal aspect of the affair.
Public ceremonies like the Parliament Hill gathering are difficult because they bring back a flood of emotion, said Zaccardelli.
"You relive the memories of what took place and the wound never really heals. But it also helps, because we recognize the support we get from the Canadian public.... This event is very, very important for us."
The four RCMP members who met their deaths on Roszko's farm were: Const. Tony Gordon, Const. Leo Johnston, Const. Brock Myrol and Const. Peter Schiemann.
Others to die on duty in the last year were: Const. Andrew Potts and Const. Michael Siydock of the Ontario Provincial Police; Const. Jean Minguy and Const. Jose Agostino of the RCMP and federal parole officer Louise Pargeter.
More than 1,000 Mounties and law enforcement officers from Oregon and Washington joined in a parade to the Swangard Stadium in Burnaby, B.C., and then around the running track.
There were about 100 people in the stands.
"To the fallen heroes and their families we stand beside you sharing your pain," said Superintendent Carl Schmietenknop of the Burnaby RCMP detachment.
© The Canadian Press 2005
The Canadian Press