Each year, on the first Sunday of May, police members, political leaders and families gather on the grounds of the Ontario legislature, at a memorial made of granite and bronze, to commemorate officers who died in the line of duty.
The CN Tower is lit in blue to honour them, and their names, which are etched in stone for permanent remembrance, are read out one by one: all 257 fallen, including 41 who served in the country's largest municipal police force.
Missing from the Toronto Police Service's honour roll is Eddie Adamson, a former staff sergeant who took his life a decade ago after a long struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The province's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board determined Mr. Adamson's suicide was the result of his PTSD and the board deemed his death occurred "on duty." But his family's pleas to have him remembered in the Toronto police honour roll and memorial wall have gone unheeded. Now, the Ontario Human Rights Commission is taking up the fight, asking the province's Human Rights Tribunal to order the Toronto police to commemorate officers such as Mr. Adamson in a case that could reverberate across the country.
Mr. Adamson's mental illness was triggered by the shooting of a fellow officer in a harrowing robbery and hostage-taking at a downtown bistro in 1980. Mr. Adamson led an emergency police task force to the scene, but he was ordered to wait and not storm the bistro. He could hear a wounded Constable Michael Sweet beg for help. By the time the emergency team burst in, the constable couldn't be saved.
Police members who die by suicide because of a mental disability incurred on the job are not the only ones among Canada's unremembered: Afghanistan war veterans who took their lives after serving in the mission are not memorialized in the same way as those who perished in theatre.
"We all still have this stigma around suicide. It's still taboo," said former paramedic Vince Savoia, founder and executive director of The Tema Conter Memorial Trust, which assists public-safety workers and military members coping with mental illness. "Nobody really wants to die by suicide," added Mr. Savoia, who was affected by PTSD and suicidal in the past. "It's the last step, God forbid, for some individuals who just feel they have nothing left to give."
The Ontario Human Rights Commission's application seeking recognition for Mr. Adamson was filed on Remembrance Day. That day, Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr pledged to find a way to commemorate military members and veterans who killed themselves after returning from the Afghanistan mission.
The minister's spokesman, Christian Duval, said recently that discussions on the matter will be held next year.
A Globe and Mail investigation showed that at least 59 Canadian soldiers and vets took their lives after their Afghanistan tour. Some of their families have told The Globe that the lack of recognition has left them feeling as if the sacrifices of their husbands and sons have been forgotten.
The case before the provincial Human Rights Tribunal could have far-reaching consequences. The commission is arguing that, under the human rights code, the exclusion of officers who died because of a mental illness sustained while on duty from the Toronto Police Service's memorial wall and honour roll constitutes employment-based discrimination. The commission has stepped in because a previous human-rights bid brought forward by Mr. Adamson's family was rejected because the tribunal concluded his estate could not, under the rules, initiate such a claim.
If the commission's application is successful, Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said the ruling would put other police services and boards in the province on notice and pressure them to re-examine their criteria for memorializing fallen officers. It could also send a signal to other public-safety organizations.
"You could say this is just about a memory wall. But I think it actually is emblematic of something a little bit larger," Ms. Mandhane said, noting that the disparate treatment of deaths related to mental disorders creates a stigma and may dissuade some from seeking help.
For the family of Mr. Adamson and others, Ms. Mandhane said the desire for recognition is about "dignity" and "the idea that their family members died protecting the public good."
The Toronto Police Service is not saying much about the commission's human-rights application, after initially suggesting Deputy Chief Michael Federico would speak to The Globe about the issue.
"This matter is before the Human Rights Tribunal so we are unable to comment but we are determined to work towards a resolution," a police spokesperson said in an e-mail late Friday afternoon – more than a week after a request for comment was made.
Former police chief Bill Blair had set up an advisory committee to examine the matter, but the group hasn't met for some time, said Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack.
The police union supports commemoration of officers who die as a result of job-triggered mental disorders, but is unsure of what the best way is to remember these members, Mr. McCormack said. Aside from the provincial memorial at Queen's Park, Toronto police maintains its own memorial wall in the police college's lobby, as well as an honour roll in the lobby of its headquarters.
"There should be recognition," Mr. McCormack said. "We think it's fundamental."