Yesterday, hundreds of police & peace officers, police chaplains, and dignitaries gathered together at various locations across Canada to honor our fallen heroes. Brandon PS acting Deputy Police Chief Greg Hebert (2nd from the RT) accompanied me on our drive into Winnipeg from Brandon. It rained throughout the trip and continued to drizzle for the hour that we spent at the parade muster point on York Ave. The mood was somber as many conversations reflected upon the tragic loss of RCMP Constable Rick O'Brien only two days prior to our gathering. It was a time of reflection and connection as we greeted each other through hand shakes and some hugs. While our purpose in attending memorials is to honor the fallen and their families, these gatherings additionally serve to unify relationships amongst women and men whose role in society is at times misrepresented, critiqued, and criticized more often than most societal roles.
Moments before our march down several streets commenced, prayers were answered and the drizzle ceased. Our march terminated at a newly erected first responders Memorial Monument located across from the Manitoba Legislature grounds. One side of the marble monument is etched with the names of police, fire, and labor workers who sacrificed their lives in service to their province. The other side has the etchings of three murals - a fire fighter, a burning candle, and a police officer, with the words "remember, reflect, honour." At the base of the monument is a reflecting pool of water which to me symbolizes life and renewal.
While we stood at attention on parade, the names, titles and associated agencies appearing on the Honor Role were spoken. Many of us have memories personally linking us to certain fallen heroes. I recall exactly where I was in my parents old house in Wpg when my father received a phone call informing him that his nephew, RCMP Constable Dennis Onofrey was shot and killed during a standoff in Virden, MB. Dennis was only 27 years young when he was slain. The murder happened on Jan 23, 1978, and while I was only 12, I recall the loss of my cousin which 12 years later continued to be a source of conversation initiated by my mom who feared the same fate would befall me as I prepared for a career in law enforcement.
When the name of RCMP Constable Dennis Strongquill was read, I recalled my experience processing 1st Degree Murder suspect Robert Sand at the Brandon Correctional Centre, December of 2001, days after he was apprehended by the RCMP. I recall seeing the darkness in Sand's eyes and hearing the arrogance and hatred in his voice towards authority. There was no remorse; that continues to be a personal memory surrounding the tragic loss of a 20 year member of the RCMP.
The tragedy of the murder of RCMP Constable Rick O'Brien is fresh as are the wounds in the hearts of his family and those who served alongside him in BC for seven years. We must take time to grieve so that the process of healing can begin. Memories will remain forever and rightfully so, in order that a life sacrificed will continue to have significance from generation to generation. I also believe in the midst of tragedy and death, our Creator desires to encourage us with new life.
I do not believe in coincidence, and I believe our Creator speaks to us in unique and personal ways including through the use of symbolism. While I stood at attention during the reading of the Honor Role, a single yellow colored leaf driven by the wind, struck the left chest area of my tunic, bounced off, and fell at my feet. Upon reflection, I see two symbolic points of significance. The leaf represents a season of life and death. The leaf flourished in a high place while attached to a tree branch; once its season was completed, it fell to the ground returning to the earth. Even in death, it serves to provide sustenance for continued and new life that arises from the earth. This is the cycle of life for all things upon this earth. Constable O'Brien's life was tragically cut short at 51 ending his role as husband, father, brother, friend and officer. At the same time, there are new recruits joining police agencies throughout Canada. A young man I know has just been hired on by Medicine Hat PS. His journey in policing is just starting and he is only one of hundreds of recruits beginning a new season of life. My prayer is that he and the hundreds of other new recruits will complete successful, meaningful careers in law enforcement, and live to experience life after law enforcement.
The second point of symbolic significance was the location and manner in which the leaf struck me. It is the heart that feels the pain of loss and tragedy. Heart wounds go deep and take time to process and heal. The manner in which the leaf "bounced" off my chest reminds me of the resiliency we develop as human beings to go through tragedy, yet "bounce back" as we process the wounds. Resiliency is established through the process of being able to lay things down after the grieving is done. The leaf bounced off my chest and landed at my feet. In the same way, when tragedies and disappointments are processed and eventually laid down, the heart develops resiliency which assists in the recovery process. This is not to be misunderstood with a hardening of the heart. A heart hardened is not a resilient heart; there's no bouncing back if a heart is closed to any contact or connection. Twice while connecting with police chaplains after the Memorial, my Deputy Chief remarked that for years I'd never been a hugger, but now for whatever reason, I'm a hugger. It is not a mystery to me or to those who are privy to the details of my faith walk.
I appreciated many aspects of the Memorial experience including the honor of marching in the parade assembly, hanging out with my D/C, and reacquainting with officers and chaplains. I continue to unpack the significance of God illustrating to me the cycle of death and life, the bounce of the leaf off my chest, and the resting place of the leaf at my feet, causing me to reflect upon Revelation 22:2, "And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." I appreciated the excellence of the Memorial service coordinated by WPS Inspector/Chaplain Helen Peters (far RT top photo). It was a pleasure meeting Helen, and also WPS Sgt/Chaplain Greg Wiebe (above photo) who did a wonderful service to police & peace officers and chaplains through his delivery of the opening and closing prayer. I'm looking forward to further connection with the amazing police chaplains (including WPS Inspector/Chaplain George Labossiere - top photo second from the LT) and police officers of WPS who are hosting our ATS from Oct 16 - 20. It's still not too late to register; click on this link for details https://www.canadianpolicechaplainassociation.com/annual-training-seminar
If you have some photos and a story to share regarding your experience at a 2023 Police & Peace Officers Memorial Service, please send them to me so that I may share with our family of CPCA chaplains. Please continue praying for the family, peers, and friends of RCMP Constable Rick O'Brien, the two wounded officers, and all the police chaplains who are providing member care in support of the grieving process for all who have been affected by this tragedy.
BPS Constable/Chaplain Bruce Ewanyshyn
ICPC Director of Region 1