'Attack on the Policing Community': Officers, Widows Attend Funeral for 9th Slain Officer in 8 Months

'Attack on the Policing Community': Officers, Widows Attend Funeral for 9th Slain Officer in 8 Months
The Ontario Police Memorial Foundation honour the lives of fallen officers at its annual memorial on May 7, 2023. (Brent Smyth)
Tara MacIsaac

A group of police widows have been attending funerals for Canadian officers killed in the line of duty, there to support the new widows entering their ranks. But with one funeral after another lately, it's taking an emotional toll.

“When there was only one a year, maybe you had time to sort of absorb the pain. Some of these widows were only widowed for a month, and then they’re going to another police funeral,” Brenda Orr told The Epoch Times as she prepared to attend the funeral of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Sgt. Eric Mueller, who was killed on May 11.

Since September 2022, 10 Canadian officers have been killed, nine of them murdered.

Orr is a founding member of SOLE (Survivors of Law Enforcement), a non-profit organization that supports families of fallen officers nationwide. She lost her husband, OPP officer Dave Mounsey, in 2006, and she herself is a retired OPP officer.

“This is not the Canada that I started policing 35 years ago,” she said.

Orr and other widows, officers, and police association leaders talked to The Epoch Times about the decline in respect for the profession, and even the villainization of police.

They spoke of a changing Canada that has become more dangerous for police officers and citizenry alike. More people are high on drugs, some said. More people are carrying illegal firearms. And more criminals have an opportunity to reoffend because of a “revolving-door justice system,” as retired RCMP superintendent Larry Comeau put it.


They also spoke of a growing barrier between police and the general public. For example, the Toronto Police Service is too short-staffed to have officers out patrolling neighbourhoods as they used to—on bikes, face-to-face, and interacting with the community—says Toronto Police Association President John Reid.

“I think it's to everyone's detriment … when the only time we ever see police is when they need to arrest somebody, or in dealing with a violent crime,” Reid said.

However, the city's manpower can barely keep up even with those emergency calls, he said, noting that 10 years ago the city had about 5,600 officers, while now it has around 5,000. Yet the city's population has swelled.

Engaging with the community is an important part of policing, Reid said. Two Ontario school boards recently made headlines for policies that prevent police parents from participating in career day wearing their uniforms. They say the uniform can inspire fear in the students.

“I think the more we pull police officers, uniformed police officers, out of communities, the less comfortable people are with them,” Reid said.

He encourages Canadians to talk to officers when they see them. “They want to be part of the community, and I think it's important to break down those barriers, either real or perceived," he said.

Steve Flanagan, retired from the Ottawa Police Service, said he used to love getting out on his bike. It was especially important to him to go into neighbourhoods where there are more troubled youth. "The kids loved talking to us,” he said.

He used the word “radical” to describe the trustees in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board who prevented uniformed police from entering the school for career day.

Disdain, Lack of Respect

Flanagan said many in city halls across the country also have a disdain for the police.
He referred to the recent call from Ottawa city councillor Ariel Troster to outlaw the “thin blue line” symbol. Many see the symbol as honouring fallen officers and representing them as a protective line that stands between citizens and danger. Critics say it’s a symbol antithetical to the Black Lives Matter movement as it was widely displayed during counter-protests.
Ottawa Police Association President Matthew Cox has remained firm, however, in his support of the symbol.

“We've just gone away from people actually showing respect to the police and respecting what police officers do," he said.

Cox said this lack of respect, along with the wide availability of firearms, has likely contributed to the spike in officer deaths.

“It’s as if there’s an actual attack on the policing community. We have never seen this before in Canada,” he said.

 Police attend the Ontario Police Memorial Foundation's annual memorial on May 7, 2023. (Brent Smyth)
Police attend the Ontario Police Memorial Foundation's annual memorial on May 7, 2023. (Brent Smyth)

Reflecting on his earlier days in the RCMP, Comeau says “criminals weren’t as armed as they are now."

“That includes bikers and other gangs—I mean, now everybody is armed to the teeth." He said it's about concealable weapons, mostly smuggled from the United States, and not the assault-style weapons the government has banned.

He said the lack of respect for officers is exacerbated by social media, where it's easy to spread videos of police using force and make them look bad. “It’s hard to arrest people and make it look nice," he said.

So many more of the suspects being arrested are high on drugs now too, he said. The reality is, the police often struggle.

“Every time they use force, they’re being scrutinized,” Comeau said.

'Absolutely Shocking'

On May 7, the Ontario Police Memorial Foundation held its annual ceremony to remember police who have fallen. They had far more deaths to mourn this year than usual, and it was just the next morning that Mueller was killed.

“It's absolutely shocking to speak about how many officers have been killed in the line of duty [recently],” said foundation president Jason Tomlinson.

In contrast to the nine officers murdered since September 2022, the 48-year period from 1961 to 2009 saw 133 police officers murdered in the line of duty, or fewer than three officers per year on average, according to the most recent figures from Statistics Canada.

But the police widows—they call themselves SOLE sisters—say people shouldn't view these officers only as a statistic or another name in a news article.

"People are starting to become desensitized," Orr said.

 Windsor Const. John Atkinson was shot and killed on May 5, 2006. (Courtesy of Shelley Atkinson)
Windsor Const. John Atkinson was shot and killed on May 5, 2006. (Courtesy of Shelley Atkinson)
 OPP officer Dave Mounsey was killed in a car accident while on duty in 2006. (Courtesy of Brenda Orr)
OPP officer Dave Mounsey was killed in a car accident while on duty in 2006. (Courtesy of Brenda Orr)

Shelley Atkinson, another SOLE member, lost her husband, John Atkinson, in 2006. They were high school sweethearts. John wanted to be an officer from the time he could talk. He never wavered, and finally achieved his dream when he joined the Windsor Police Service at the age of 23. He was also a carpenter on the side.

"He was wonderful with wood," she said.

Atkinson left several projects unfinished when he was shot to death at a gas station. He had approached two young men who possessed crack cocaine. One of them—an 18-year-old who had gotten an illegal gun from the United States two weeks earlier—shot him in the face.

Their two children were aged 7 and 9 at the time. Atkinson recalled how there was a birthday party planned for her 7-year-old daughter that day. When she came home to find the house full of people, she thought it was part of her party. Atkinson cried recalling how she had to tell her little girl what had happened.