Brian Sauvé is president of the National Police Federation.
Four police officers have been killed on duty in Canada in less than a month. That’s four too many.
Political leaders, the public they serve and those of us in policing should be asking ourselves what we can do to better protect our protectors.
All four of these line-of-duty deaths – one Toronto Police Service officer; two South Simcoe, Ont., officers and most recently, an RCMP officer in Burnaby, B.C. – share a common thread in that each occurred while the victims were serving and protecting our communities. For each of their police services and associations, the loss has been deep, unforgettable and gut-wrenching. Each incident was violent and sudden, a stark and grim reminder of the life-and-death risks that police officers face every time they show up for work.
While the men and women who answer the call to serve their communities do so with the knowledge that police work can be inherently dangerous, they did not sign up for this. No one, and that includes police officers, should be killed at work and particularly not while protecting their community.
In order to fully appreciate what it’s like to be a police officer today, it’s important to step back and acknowledge that, for years, RCMP members across Canada have faced chronic human- and financial-resource challenges at the hands of government cuts and freezes, and they continue to be asked to deliver more with less.
We need to protect those who protect us, and here is what the National Police Federation believes must take place.
First, stronger social supports are necessary. Provincial and federal governments must expand stable and long-term funding to evidence-based social programs, with particular emphasis on underserved rural and remote areas. Our members must be enabled in focusing on what they’re actually trained to do: enforce the laws and prevent crime.
Second, police should not be the first and only response to mental-health and well-being calls. We know that mental-health disorders and addictions can contribute to a vicious cycle of repeat offences among marginalized and vulnerable citizens. Mental health professionals are desperately needed, and far better suited, to aiding in this critical work as long as they have the appropriate safety supports.
And third, in light of the resources required by police forces across Canada to handle crimes committed by repeat offenders, the federal government must focus on addressing the root causes of crime.
Earlier this month, at a meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice and public safety, participants released a host of recommendations for modernizing the criminal justice system, prioritizing public safety and police work, and addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. Of note, the ministers called on the federal government to put funding and resources toward strengthening gun controls; targeting illegal firearms smuggling and trafficking; limiting the supply of firearms to criminals; enhancing investigative tools; and implementing reforms to the bail system.
The government must also recognize that serious crimes involving firearms and drug trafficking should bear appropriate penalties given the threat to public safety. Violent offenders should be kept off our streets to protect the public, while a simultaneous and comprehensive public-health response should be adopted to help people suffering from substance abuse.
Recruitment has reached a crisis level in policing. How can we ask young people to sign up to protect and serve their fellow Canadians if we don’t create a legislative environment to support and protect them in that critical endeavour?
Our collective public safety depends on it.
Frankly, I would much prefer to discuss these options than to write one more condolence letter to a colleague, friend or family member of a fallen police officer.