Toronto police, public honour Const. John Zivcic

Police from across Ontario gathered in Toronto today to honour Const. John Zivcic, who died last week after a tragic crash while responding to a call for service.

Toronto police chief calls Zivcic: 'A man we can all be proud to call a friend and a colleague'

A Toronto constable who died after being injured in the line of duty was honoured Monday by thousands of his fellow officers, as well as political leaders and members of the public in the city where he served.

As the body of Const. John Zivcic was transported to the Toronto Congress Centre for a public memorial service, thousands of police officers lined the road in a sign of respect for the officer.

Zivcic, 34, was critically injured when his unmarked cruiser was involved in a collision at the intersection of Bloor Street West and Neilson Drive on Nov. 30.

He had been heading to a call about an impaired driver at the time of the crash. Zivcic was thrown from his vehicle.

The young officer died in hospital two days later, leaving his family, friends and fellow officers in mourning.

Zivcic, a Toronto officer for more than six years, worked in the city’s west-end 22 Division. 

His brother, Tom Zivcic, delivered a moving, tearful tribute to his younger brother, who had given a speech at Tom's wedding. 

"Most sincere heartfelt speech anyone has heard," Tom Zivcic said. "I've never been any prouder in my life. Unfortunately I won't get the chance to reciprocate at his wedding. So I guess this has to be my best man speech to him."

From there, Tom Zivcic told of a brother who ran to the window at the sound of any siren and who, as a young man, once stared in awe when a tactical police officer walked into a restaurant.

"He was in such awe of that guy that he had food falling out of his mouth," he said, fighting back tears. "He wanted to be that guy."

Tom Zivcic said his brother was a man with simple values learned from Croatian parents.

"He was authentic; what you see is what you got. He had tenderness, respect and courage."

A final sacrifice

Tom Zivcic also spoke of how the family, burning with grief, badly wanted John's organs to be donated.

It wasn't an easy task. John was a large man with a rare blood type. Eventually, the officer's heart went to a patient in the U.S. His kidneys went to two separate recipients in the Toronto area.

"We needed some good to come out of this tragedy," said Tom Zivcic. "And John made Christmas for three families."

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair said at the memorial that John Zivcic's death illustrates the dangers inherent in police work.

"It is a noble calling and one that attracts the very best to its ranks. It is a calling that requires courage and compassion. And it is one for which John Zivcic was well-suited."

Blair described Zivcic as "a man we can all be proud to call a friend and a colleague."

Blair said he learned about the person Zivcic was in a visit to the family home in the days after his death. He learned of how Zivcic came to the aid of an accident victim while on holiday in Cuba.

Toronto police Const. John Zivic died on Dec. 2, two days after he was critically injured in a collision that occurred while he was responding to a report of an impaired driver. The image above was taken at the time of his cadet-in-training graduation. (Alexander Robertson/Toronto Police Service)

"When he witnessed an accident, he came to the aid of those injured and went into his own pocket to pay for medical bills."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who also spoke at Monday's memorial, paid tribute to Zivcic's commitment to public service.

"There is truly no greater calling than to serve your greater man and woman," she said. "He was the kind of person that went out of his way to help people. He was there for his family, his community and his province."

Mayor Rob Ford and Lt.-Gov. David Onley also attended Zivcic’s memorial service on Monday.

Hours after the memorial service, the CN Tower was lit with a blue light on Monday evening, in tribute to both Zivcic and to Toronto police.

Family thankful for support

Ahead of the memorial service on Monday, Tom Zivcic told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that he was thankful for the messages of support sent to his family, many from complete strangers. He recalled how many came great distances to attend Sunday's visitation, one a retired police officer from New Brunswick, another a woman who took a two-hour bus ride to attend.

"She paid her respects quickly then jumped on the bus and went back home again," he said.

Separate visitations for Zivcic are taking place later this week at the Bocchinfuso Funeral Home in Thorold, Ont., on Tuesday and Wednesday. A private funeral mass for family and friends will be held at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Croatian Church in Welland, Ont.

Zivcic is the third Toronto officer to be killed on the job in the past 12 years, the 26th to die since 1957.

Nearly three years ago, Sgt. Ryan Russell was run down by a stolen snowplow that he had been trying to stop. The 11-year officer was 35 years old when he died.

On Feb. 18, 2002, Const. Laura Ellis was driving to a call with her partner when they were involved in a traffic collision. She was rushed to hospital, where the 31-year-old officer was pronounced dead.  

With reports from the CBC's John Lancaster and The Canadian Press