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Paying tribute to a fallen brother

The Hamilton Spectator
Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It has been a week since the funeral of Sgt. Ryan Russell, the Toronto Police officer who was killed on duty January 12. Have you thought about it? Has it slipped your mind in the rush of the week?

What surprised me the most, after watching hours of the live televised ceremony, was that it certainly didn’t take long for the criticism to surface.

“How much did it cost?” “Who paid for all the officers to show up?” “It was way too big for a police officer’s funeral.” Many of these comments were heard before the fallen officer’s body even made it to the Toronto Convention Centre, where the funeral was held.

Don’t get me wrong. These are all questions some have asked and should be answered, but before the man is even laid to rest?

How elaborate was the funeral?

It was a stark stage in a convention centre, with thousands of folding seats to accommodate those who had come to offer condolences. Yes there were hundreds, I’m sure, involved in crowd control, helping negotiate the procession through downtown Toronto.

It was much like on any given week in the summer in Toronto when large events such as runs, walks, festivals or even demonstrations are held, often much smaller than this event, but certainly no more orderly.

This isn’t about staging a large funeral as if it were a royal wedding: this about accommodating the thousands of police and civilians who wanted to be a part of the day and show their respect.

There were no extras here other than what you usually see at this type of funeral for a fallen officer who serves their community. I think people are confusing the mass support they witnessed with extravagance.

That wasn’t extravagance, its respect for the brotherhood, of which every member was affected.
It wasn’t flash; it was the sheer number of fellow officers showing support.

Sgt. Terri-Lynn Collings from the Hamilton Police Service said on CHML of the incident that took Russell’s life, “It could be any one of us, on any given day or time.”

“He had a wife and family, that’s the personal side of things that people have to remember. It’s not just an officer doing his job, he’s a human first.”

The seasoned sergeant said, “We signed up to serve and protect the community and always will, but at times like this we all come together as a huge family.”

I find it fascinating some people can’t understand or imagine that?

Have we become so cold as to think these brave men and women from all over Canada and the U.S., who have so much in common and are trained to cover their partner, wouldn’t do the same in any time of sorrow?

Perhaps the idea of “covering someone’s back” is an old-fashioned phrase in our self centred world and when we see it, as we did last week, it scares us. Or maybe some are just envious.

Sgt. Collings was much too modest to try to explain any more, she said he was, “doing what was expected of him, investigating a crime.”

The problem is, she explains, “You don’t always know who you’re dealing with” and even with training “the unpredictability of the people we sometimes encounter leads to tragic results.”

When I asked Collings, who is the police services communications officer, if she has received any feedback from Hamilton citizens she quickly answered, “Oh yeah - absolutely!” “People want to come forward and show their condolence. They recognize the job is not always easy and appreciate what we do.”

I’ll never forget the pain I felt in my heart when I saw Sgt. Ryan Russell’s two-year-old son, Nolan, enter the room holding hands with his mother and grandfather ( Ryan’s dad, a retired officer), almost oblivious in his innocence to the tragic event.

Russell’s wife found the strength in those who came and supported her and said of her late husband at the service, “Ryan always put others first, and on January 12, it cost him his life.”

For this shouldn’t the rank and file get the day off work to go to the funeral? Wouldn’t you expect the same from your boss?

Thank God for the silent (but visible) majority.

The Scott Thompson Show airs weekdays noon-3pm on News/Talk 900 CHML.
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