Speakers acknowledge criticism during police and peace officer memorial services

Annual ceremonies across Canada held Sunday to honour police and peace officers who died in the line of duty acknowledged challenges members have endured from the global pandemic, with some speakers also defending officers from the criticism and protests police have faced in recent months.

"Amidst the calls for defunding police, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, the calls for service continue to rise and law enforcement officers continue to give of themselves to protect our rights and freedoms, and respond to us in our time of need," Markus Chambers, Winnipeg councillor and chair of the city's police board, told an outdoor service for Sunday's memorial in a message recorded last week.

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At a service at British Columbia's legislature Sunday, Abbotsford Chief Mike Serr took aim at a recent controversial mural in Victoria that contained an acronym officers have criticized as disrespectful.

"While some debate whether the acronym ACAB is appropriate on a city-sponsored mural, let me be clear. It is not," Serr said. The acronym is commonly held to mean "All Cops Are Bastards" or "All Cops Are Bad."

"Our brave fallen heroes place themselves in harm's way and made the ultimate sacrifice to protect others, regardless of their race, religion beliefs or values," Serr added. "It is what we do."

National Police and Peace Officers Memorial Day typically sees large numbers of officers in their ceremonial uniforms march at their provincial legislatures and at Parliament Hill, where the names of officers who've died in the past year are added to memorial honour rolls.

But this year due to restrictions on the size of gatherings, services in most cases were limited to only a few officers and politicians, and the public was encouraged to view the ceremonies online rather than in-person.

Two new officers were recognized during the memorial services this year — Const. Heidi Stevenson, an RCMP officer who died during a gunman's rampage that killed 22 people in a in Nova Scotia in April, and Const. Allan Poapst, a Manitoba Mountie who died in December after his vehicle was hit by a pickup truck that had crossed a median in snowy conditions.

However, officials explained during the ceremonies in Winnipeg and Ottawa that due to COVID-19 restrictions that prevented families of the fallen officers from attending, the tributes for Stevenson and Poapst would be completed in 2021 instead.

Demonstrations have been held across Canada to defund police following the police killing of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis, while an officer held a knee against his neck for more than eight minutes.

Protesters also pointed to fatal police shootings in the Toronto area, the falling death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet while officers were in her Toronto home and video recorded of arrests across Canada that critics allege demonstrate anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.

At the national ceremony in Ottawa, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair paid tribute to Stevenson and Poapst, but did not acknowledge the months of police criticism or the calls to de-fund their forces.

"I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of the government of Canada and all Canadians to thank the men and women of our police services and peace officers who across the country answered the call to duty and keep us safe," said Blair, who was formerly Toronto's chief of police.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney did not specifically address police criticism during a memorial service in Calgary, but noted the history of policing in the province was to protect Indigenous people in the 1870s from American "whisky traders and wolfers who were attacking and exploiting First Nation communities."

"You continue that tradition of protecting the innocent from violence and exploitation," Kenney said.

In Regina, Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers president Casey ward called it an "interesting year."

"Despite the restrictions and precautions we must take to protect the health and safety of our members, and of the public, the memory and sacrifices of the fallen must be remembered and honoured," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2020.

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