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Pallbearers carry the casket of Sgt. Ryan Russell during his funeral in Toronto on Tuesday, January 18, 2011. Thousands honoured Sgt. Russell who was killed by a stolen snowplow on January 12 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press/Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
Pallbearers carry the casket of Sgt. Ryan Russell during his funeral in Toronto on Tuesday, January 18, 2011. Thousands honoured Sgt. Russell who was killed by a stolen snowplow on January 12 in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press/Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The rituals behind police funerals explained Add to ...

Who organized the event?

A 30-person Toronto Police Service logistical team, comprised of everyone from platoon commanders to security personnel. Members of this group say they've been working 14-hour days for the past week, and through Tuesday's ceremony, to get the logistics sorted out.

Who attended?

More related to this story

Nearly 13,000 people participated in an hours-long march through the streets of downtown Toronto. That includes upwards of 3,000 Toronto police officers, as well as members of emergency services, other police and law-enforcement agencies from across Canada and the United States, personnel from the Canada Border Services Agency, court services and parking enforcement.

In addition, hundreds more people crowded into the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to watch the ceremony.

Did officers get paid to be there?

All the Toronto police officers participating were off-duty; officers from Sergeant Ryan Russell's 52 Division were relieved by colleagues from elsewhere in the city. OPP officers attending had the day off. Calgary officers were paid and considered on duty.

Who's paying for this?

The Toronto Police Service is covering the cost of the ceremony and organization, but not paying for other officers to come to Toronto. They wouldn't estimate costs for the event, saying it's too soon to tell.

Who covered travel costs?

The hundreds of OPP officers were allowed to use police vehicles if they got their supervisors' approval and it didn't interfere with operations. Airfare and hotels for officers from Vancouver and Calgary were covered by the police departments and unions.

What role does the family have in planning?

A pretty significant one. The planning process for something like this is a delicate dance between the public, proper and protocol-driven face of the police service and the much more private and personal desires of Sgt. Russell's family.

"There's a lot of tradition and ritual that goes with the service itself - our ceremonial unit has a lot of protocol which they follow," said Toronto Police Constable Wendy Drummond. "However, this is a funeral. And Ryan's family has a lot of decisions."

In this case, the speakers included a reverend and chaplain; the readings were a combination of Christian scripture, an officer's prayer Staff Supt. Jeff Mcguire said Sgt. Russell would carry with him and a poem written for him by his fellow officers.

But services like this are tailored to a family's preferences and background: Sikh, Muslim or Jewish families wouldn't necessarily have reverends reading their last public rites.

If Sgt. Russell's wife, Christine, hadn't wanted an official funeral service, Constable Drummond said, there wouldn't have been one.

Why make it public?

Simply put, because Sgt. Russell's family was on board - and because the location at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre allowed for a more open, public setup.

"That is something very unique, and that wouldn't be done in the past," Constable Drummond said. "It's something that you discuss with the family and it's something that they had agreed with."

How unusual is this?

In terms of numbers, this is pretty huge. Toronto police estimate this is the city's largest funeral for a slain officer.

But while the hours-long event that brought downtown Toronto to a standstill felt unusual and historic, events like these are "sadly all too common," said Vancouver Police Department spokeswoman Constable Lindsey Houghton.

"Emergency services personnel attend funerals for fallen comrades every week across North America."

Last March, more than 5,000 officers attended the funeral in Mississauga of Peel police officer Artem Ochakovsky, who died in a collision.

Why are the flags at half-mast?

According to city protocol, flags in civic centres and City Hall - as well as fire halls, police and EMS stations - are flown at half-mast when an officer dies in the line of duty. When a soldier from Toronto is killed, flags are lowered to half-mast as well.

Why the flag on the coffin?

Officers killed in the line of duty have the flag draped over their coffin, along with a ceremonial cushion bearing the officer's cap.

Why the swords, bayonets and fancy uniforms?

At solemn events like these, officers wear their "colours" - the flags and uniforms symbolic of a particular unit. Calgary's six-officer contingent, for example, has colours honouring 11 fallen members.

"You have to guard your colours," said Calgary Police Regimental Sergeant Major Mike Inglis. "There'll be guys carrying weapons with bayonets, and that would be the significance."

How about the bagpipes?

The pipes, often accompanied by drums, have been part of police and military funerals in North America since the entry of Scottish and Irish officers into police forces decades ago.

"In Calgary," says Regimental Sergeant Major Mike Inglis, "it comes from an RCMP officer that was of Scottish heritage. It just seems to be that the police have been raised in Scottish and Irish ranks and they kind of go towards pipe bands."

What's it like going to dozens of funerals like these, across North America?

Brutal, Regimental Sgt. Maj. Inglis said. But worth it. He figures he's been to 30 in Western Canada and the United States, although this is his first time heading east. In some, he plays drums in a piper band; on Tuesday, however, he was among those "getting everybody lined up and ready to go."

"When you hear about it, it's always a kick in the gut," he said. "But after that, you want to pay your respects and represent the service. It's a huge brother- and sisterhood. And today - I've never seen something that phenomenal."

What does the outpouring of public support mean for police-civilian relations?

The last time so many police officers were in Toronto's downtown was during the G20 summit in Toronto last summer. But now, the support for Sgt. Russell and the Toronto Police Service has been "amazing and overwhelming," said Police Services Board chairman Alok Mukherjee.

"We were all very struck by the spontaneous show of grief and wanting to be there to give support to the family. It was quite an amazing sight and experience. We sort of talk in abstraction of what the statistics tell us about public support for police, but this was concrete and very physicial. ...

"It's a very high price to pay to sort of remind people what policing is all about. But I suppose it has caused people to pause and take a second look and think, or rethink. I've heard some of the journalists who have been highly critical, and today they were acknowledging that. The occasional blips aside, generally what our men and women do is highly important and valuable. And they do it well.

"The loss of a young man who was at the prime of his career, and a very promising career, is a very sad event. But at the same time, it is an event that has brought out the best feelings among people towards the police service."





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