While images of his cool-headed intervention have drawn praise internationally, the Toronto police officer who arrested the suspect of Monday’s van rampage has mostly stayed home, having trouble sleeping and being uncomfortable with his new hero status.
Constable Ken Lam was widely lauded after he confronted the suspect in the fatal van attack that killed 10 people in north-end Toronto.
Footage recorded by bystanders showed the officer unflinchingly walking toward the van driver, who was pointing a black object at him, then arresting the man without having fired a shot.
In the first public remarks from Toronto police about their officer’s sudden fame, Deputy Chief Peter Yuen said that Constable Lam feels public attention should not be on him, but on other first responders and Good Samaritans in the public who provided assistance after the carnage.
“The public has bestowed on him the hero status. He doesn’t want it. But he is very appreciative.”
Constable Lam is not speaking publicly about the incident because he is a key witness who is expected to testify in future court proceedings.
Also, he is off work, for a mandatory debriefing period with a psychologist.
“That was a split-second decision, life-altering experience for Officer Lam,” Deputy Chief Yuen said.
He confirmed that, the day after the arrest, Constable Lam showed up at his police precinct, 32 Division, for the 6 a.m. roll call.
“He just couldn’t sleep. He was thinking about his peers. He did not like that hero status bestowed on him. He thought everyone deserved the same credit,” the deputy chief said.
He said Constable Lam is still asking himself whether he made the right decision and mulling what would have happened had he acted in a different manner.
The constable has also been pondering whether he should go back to the scene of the incident.
Deputy Chief Yuen, who once was nearly killed while working undercover in a drug case 30 years ago, said he understood the impact of traumatic experiences on officers.
“He’s doing very well … he’s in good spirits … There will be days of highs and lows. There will be days when he will ask questions of himself.”
He said he has been in constant contact with Constable Lam, calling him each of the past two mornings.
“He could not sleep. He would sleep for an hour and then he wakes up,” Deputy Chief Yuen said, adding that Constable Lam told him he would wake up in cold sweats and feeling anxious.
The afternoon of the incident, Constable Lam was doing traffic patrols when he joined other officers rushing to the scene of the attack.
“In policing, luck finds us, we don’t find it. He happened to bump into the suspect and he had to take immediate action. That’s how simple it was,” Deputy Chief Yuen said.
Constable Lam, 42, is a seven-year veteran of the force.
He was born in Toronto, the son of a Hong Kong immigrant. His father, David, used to be a police officer in Hong Kong but now runs a restaurant in Markham.
Constable Lam worked as an engineer for 14 years, but then turned to police work by the time he was in his 30s, feeling that he could be more useful to his community that way.
“He believed he made the right decision … he realized his dream,” Deputy Chief Yuen said.
He added that the constable is known among officers as someone who often fundraises for charitable causes by selling engravings and replica police vehicles that he has fashioned.
In commenting on the arrest, senior police officials such as Deputy Chief Yuen and Chief Mark Saunders have balanced praise for Constable Lam with reminders that he was just doing what he was trained to do. They underlined that the force had made changes after past incidents when troubled people had been shot dead during confrontations with police.
Deputy Chief Yuen noted that officers take yearly training in de-escalation, learning to deal with people with mental illness or suicidal. At the same time, he lauded Constable Lam.
“Very remarkable, above and beyond, and I would hope all of the Toronto police officers will be following a similar type of behaviour when confronted with a situation that would impact someone’s life.”