Saskatoon cop-turned-lawyer called to the bar early in face of terminal cancer diagnosis

Saskatoon's legal, policing and sports communities will meet at the Court of Queen's Bench Thursday for a special ceremony to call Bruce Gordon to the bar.

Special ceremony Thursday to call Bruce Gordon to the bar as he faces months to live

Bruce and Chris Gordon say they're overwhelmed by the support of family, friends and the community. (CBC)

Bruce Gordon's world blew up just days after the 54-year-old former Saskatoon cop officially became a lawyer.

It was a busy week, even by Gordon's high-octane standards. His wife, Chris, was graduating from the Edwards School of Business; he was starting a demanding new job with a top city law firm; and he was deep into training for the CanWest Games, a CrossFit competition in British Columbia.

In the space of a day, his life went from eventful to unbelievable.

It was really the worst news you could get.- Bruce Gordon

He'd gone for a CT scan ordered on the advice of his doctor after a routine physical had detected what may have been a sports hernia — not an unusual development for a man who routinely cycles 180 kilometres.

An hour after the test, he was called and told to come back with Chris at the end of the day to meet with his doctor.

Nothing prepared him for what came next.

The diagnosis was Stage 4 pancreatic cancer — sudden and savage and unstoppable. The body he'd so methodically and joyfully carved and conditioned to run and lift and move was at war with itself on a massive scale.

"It was really the worst news you could get," he said.

"I asked him to tell me everything, be honest, not to hold it back. I wanted to know what I was facing. I think after that, I don't remember much."

It was June 8, and Gordon began measuring his life in months.

A 'go-getter,' a 'digger'

Mitch Yuzdepski said the cops in the Saskatoon Police Service's C Platoon were more than a little curious about the sandy-haired farm boy from Marsden, Sask., who joined their ranks in December 1985.

Yuzdepski is a superintendent now. He became aware of Gordon when the kid from west-central Saskatchewan was traded to the Saskatoon Blades for the 1981 season.

"He wasn't necessarily known as a player with a lot of puck skills. He was the tough guy," Yuzdepski said.

So, they wondered whether No. 21 would bring his tough guy skills from the rink to the street. If so, he'd landed in the right place. C Platoon were the hard chargers of the Saskatoon Police, jamming the cells at provincial court on Mondays when they pulled the weekend shift.

Mitch Yuzdepski worked with Bruce Gordon in the C Platoon of the Saskatoon Police Service. (CBC)

Gordon said he wanted to fit into the dynamic of the platoon. In some ways no different than a hockey team, it had its grinders and go-getters and floaters, smart guys, tough guys and guys passing through.

C Platoon, he decided, didn't need a brawler.

Yuzdepski described Gordon as a go-getter from the start.

"A go-getter is a patrol member who is not afraid to take call after call. Take one call and get to the next call, and when it comes down to doing the work, being thorough. Not necessarily taking shortcuts to get to your next call, but to finish off that file in the best way possible," he said.

Yuzdepski watched Gordon refine his skills, first on patrol and then as a senior investigator. He became the cop not afraid to consult with a prosecutor when stymied on a case, who learned to craft requests for search warrants and wiretaps; the guy taking secondments and courses.

"He was a digger. He wasn't afraid to do the work that was involved, and he was a good interviewer," said Yuzdepski.

Gordon would spend 28 years with the Saskatoon Police Service, from the C Platoon in the 1980s through to detective sergeant in the sex crime unit, then to major crimes. He helped break cases that changed people's lives profoundly.
Bruce Gordon worked on the case of assaulted StarPhoenix columnist Bob Florence. (StarPhoenix)

Gordon was never one for the limelight, though. He wouldn't turn up in the photo ops or at press conferences, yet his dogged work as an investigator made Saskatoon a safer place as he took pedophiles, rapists and murderers off the streets.

He helped crack cases that, on the face of it, seemed unsolvable: the sexual assault where the only clue was a traumatized victim's description of her attacker. The midnight attack on StarPhoenix columnist Bob Florence, where all investigators had was a victim in a coma. The disappearance and murder of daycare operator Dorothy Woods.

And then he left policing, taking the hard turn back to school at age 50 — law at the University of Saskatchewan, no less. He studied to be a defence lawyer. He hit the books, did the mock trials and discovered his skill set for investigating homicides fit the defence as perfect as a fox in a henhouse.

'He's honest and he's smart'

Jay Watson first crossed paths with Gordon in court in the late 1980s when he cross-examined Gordon as a witness in a drinking and driving trial.

"I learned two things about Bruce: he's honest and he's smart," Watson said.
Jay Watson acted as Bruce Gordon's law mentor. (Facebook)

"Some people just say it like it is. Bruce is one of those guys. He's not going to do you any favours because he's got a job to do, too, but if there's something there and it should be admitted, he'd admit it."

Gordon said law was always in the back of his mind as a Plan B of sorts. He had plenty of experience in courtrooms as a Crown witness. He knew all too well what it was like to sit in the box and get grilled by a defence lawyer. Why not, he thought, be the guy asking the questions?

The pair stayed in touch over the years, crossing paths personally and professionally. When Gordon decided to try law, he ended up articling with Watson as his mentor.

Watson laughed when describing having a former top police investigator working for the defence.

"The work ethic is obvious, the determination is obvious but — the experience. As an articling student, he walked in the door completely ready to run trials. All my criminal files he'd be the first one to look at the disclosure because he'd be able to see what was missing," he said.

The Ironman

Gordon is not just any cop-turned-lawyer.

He is an Ironman who would routinely swim 3.86 kilometres, cycle 180 kilometres, then run another 42 kilometres. He is the distance runner who lifted big weights — a swimmer, cyclist and coach.

Bruce Gordon routinely cycled 180 kilometres at a time. (Chris Gordon)

When not competing, the one-time Saskatoon Blades captain was coaching, behind the bench with midget hockey, or volunteering at local road races.

Today, the Ironman is struggling to process what's happening with the body that had risen to every challenge.

"My struggle with this is I've always taken pride in looking at what the big picture is, to put things in context, to not have tunnel vision," he said. "With this, I can't. It doesn't make sense. I can't put a context to why me."

A special ceremony

The overlapping circles in Gordon's life will gather Thursday at the Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatoon for a special ceremony to call him to the bar.

This is a ceremony traditionally held in the autumn to honour that year's spring graduates and formally introduce them to the judiciary.

Queen's Bench Chief Justice Martel Popescul was approached with the idea of doing it now for Gordon, a notion he said "took about a second" to agree to.

'The attention is humbling and I really wish I wasn't getting it,' says Bruce Gordon. (Chris Gordon)
Thursday afternoon they'll fill the biggest courtroom in the city: the greybeards from C Platoon; detectives and constables; defence lawyers and prosecutors and judges; and the cream of the running, riding and weightlifting community.

Watson will introduce Gordon.

"He's an example of someone who exemplifies the kinds of qualities that you want to see in lawyers: Integrity, honesty, hard work, some compassion," he said.

I wish I could put my suit on and go to my office and all this was a bad dream.- Bruce Gordon

It's a ceremony that Gordon is at once anticipating and dreading.

He said it's an opportunity to try to thank everyone in the community who has stepped up in this darkest of hours, from people dropping off meals at his home to the notes and calls of support.

At the same time, it makes his diagnosis all too real.

"The attention is humbling and I really wish I wasn't getting it," he said.

"I wish I could put my suit on and go to my office and all this was a bad dream. It's special to me, yet on the other hand I don't want to go because then there's the ugly truth behind it."