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For a police sniper, the bullet is only the beginning.

One moment, he is a god-like figure. Locked in the zone, his universe is limited by the circumference of his rifle sight, his power is absolute within that circle. All who enter -- gunman, hostage or passersby -- are at the mercy of his judgment and skill, meticulously honed through years of training for this precise moment.

But once the trigger is pulled, a much more complex world emerges.

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That's the world Constable Gord Lusby has now entered.

He's the Emergency Task Force sniper who pulled the trigger on his Remington Model 700 sharpshooters' rifle to send a .308-calibre bullet into the head of 45-year-old Sugston Anthony Brookes, ending the rush-hour hostage-taking Wednesday at Union Station.

Despite being lauded as a hero, the 15-year police veteran is being shielded while under investigation.

As it is obliged to do by provincial law, the civilian Special Investigations Unit is looking to unearth any possible evidence of police wrongdoing.

In cases such as this, the sharpshooter becomes a "subject" officer. He is immediately told to hand over his rifle and uniform and ordered not to talk to any of his squad mates. Placed in a bubble, he is isolated as the long, institutionalized, process of second-guessing begins.

Days, months or even years later, the sniper may emerge in the clear -- and usually does -- but he can be left doubting his own abilities and scarred by the experience of taking a life.

"For you to have your sniper rifle up there, and you have an individual in your sights, you have a lot of power at that stage," says Barney McNeilly, an ETF staff sergeant who left the force last year to run Canadian Critical Incident Inc., which teaches crisis negotiations to local and international cops.

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"It isn't pulling the trigger that's the problem, it's the aftermath."

During 16 years with the Emergency Task Force, Mr. McNeilly was a member of teams that shot dead two hostage takers within the past five years. "It's devastating," he said. "And I know this firsthand from people who have worked under me, and have had to take the lethal shots."

"Once you go through that experience it's awfully difficult, because you're basically the public executioner," he says. "It's unfortunate, but somebody has to do it."

Such fatal shootings of hostage takers are rare in Canada. Toronto has not seen anything comparable to the shooting of Mr. Brookes for nearly five years -- not since New Year's Eve 1999, when at the stroke of midnight a pair of ETF officers killed 26-year-old Henry Masuka, who was holding a doctor hostage in the emergency room of St. Michael's Hospital demanding treatment for his child.

The process of second-guessing began the moment the bullets were fired.

"The two officers were separated. I personally had to drive one back to the ETF [headquarters] I personally had to remove all of his clothing and bag them individually, specifically for the SIU," Mr. McNeilly recalls.

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"Can you imagine how someone is thinking they're doing the correct and right thing, and then your weapon's taken from you, your clothes are removed and bagged?"

Rules preclude "subject" officers from talking to "witness" officers during SIU investigations. There are 19 witness officers and two subject officers in the investigation launched this week -- Constable Lusby and his commander, Sergeant Tom Sharkey. While such designations preserve the integrity of an SIU probe, it wreaks havoc on the fraternal bond that exists within police teams.

"You throw them their jeans and their T-shirt and whatever it is and, you know, you're basically advising them, 'I'm sorry, I'm your supervisor and I've known you for 12 years but you can't talk to me,' " Mr. McNeilly says. "It's actually humiliating for them."

In the Masuka shooting, the SIU (which rarely finds evidence of police wrongdoing) cleared the officers in six weeks. But the scrutiny didn't end there.

More than a year after the incident the subject officers were made to publicly explain themselves at a month-long coroner's inquest, which ultimately found nothing the police could have done differently.

A widely held fear among police is that living under a microscope can make one useless behind a rifle. "Due to oversight, an officer may hesitate one day when second-guessing himself, resulting in a catastrophe," one police source says.

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This fall, about a dozen officers who have passed the psychological and physical testing will trek to Canadian Forces base in Meaford, Ont., for a four-day advanced sniper-training course. And for those days, at least, the focus will be on the snipers' skills and not the long aftermath of a shooting.

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