Sombre ceremony a show of support for families

Thousands of police officers from across the country turn out when one of their own dies in the line of duty. For them, it is the only way they can show support to the family of the officer.
Thousands of police officers gather at the Wingham community centre for the funeral of Ontario Provincial Police officer Vu Pham in Wingham, Ont. ((Dave Chidley/Canadian Press))
It's a long-standing tradition — to show support for the family of a fallen colleague. Police officers, firefighters, ambulance workers all turn out in huge numbers when one of their own is killed in the line of duty.

Your paths may never have crossed, but when you put your life on the line every time you show up for work, you have a connection. You are family.

"Coming out and paying our respects is the only way we can show support for the family of a colleague who's been killed on the job," a Toronto firefighter told

An estimated 8,000 police officers, firefighters and other emergency services workers turned out for the funeral of Todd Bayliss in 1994. The 25-year-old Bayliss was shot and killed on June 17, 1994 while he and his partner were chasing down a man who was wanted for drug trafficking. Bayliss had been on the job for four years. At the time, it was the largest police funeral in Canadian history.

Four years later, another Toronto police officer, Bill Hancox, was stabbed to death by two women as he stopped to get a bite to eat. As many as 10,000 people turned out for his funeral.

On March 12, 2010, more than 2,000 police officers paid tribute to Ontario Provincial Police Constable Vu Pham in the southwest Ontario community of Wingham. The 37-year-old father of three was fatally shot after responding to a domestic dispute at a farm home.

Emergency workers who attend these funerals do it on their own time. They don't get a paid day off to go. They go to show support. They don't get their expenses paid. If they're traveling out of town, they usually pay all their own expenses — although some police and firefighter associations may pick up some of the tab.

If there is time to arrange it, various detachments try to pool their resources and share the cost of a bus and double up on accommodations.

RCMP Cpl. Joan Kuyp, RCMP Const. Joe Sangster, RCMP Const. Bethany Hoskin, and RCMP Const. Jason Lapointe (left to right), cry during a national memorial service in Edmonton Thursday March 10, 2005 for four RCMP officers killed in Mayerthorpe, Alta., in the line of duty. ((Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press))
Some detachments have a volunteer Honour Guard that goes to public funerals to represent that community. The Durham Region Police Service (DRPS), for instance, was set up in 1994 to attend all funerals of people who served with the DRPS and to represent the organization at all police funerals within the province of Ontario, including the annual Ontario Police Memorial in Toronto and the national Police and Peace Officers' Memorial Service, which is held every September in Ottawa.

It's up to the family whether to have a formal, public funeral. When four members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were killed in an ambush in Mayerthorpe, Alta., on March 4, 2005, two of the families opted for private, family-only ceremonies.

More than 1,400 people showed up for the funeral of Const. Peter Schiemann, the first of the four Mayerthorpe victims to be buried. A national memorial service was held for all four officers on March 10, 2005.

Costs related to a public police funeral are normally split between the police force and the police union. Those costs can include traffic control and the rental of a facility large enough to accommodate the expected crowds.

The funeral for Sgt. Ryan Russell was one of the largest police funerals ever held in Canada. An estimated 12,000 people showed up for the service.

At the funeral, Russell was remembered as a family man and a brave leader.

"I don't think that there's a heart in Toronto so strong that it has not been touched by the images of Ryan Russell, husband and father, embracing his wife and his child," police Chief Bill Blair said.

"It is an image that has defined the man for us. And it has helped us to understand the full extent of his sacrifice, this was most assuredly a man who loved his family."