Editorial – May 15, 2004
A day for those who remember will never forget. A day for those who never knew, will never remember.
Cobourg Police Constable Chris Garrett was ambushed and murdered in the early morning hours while taking a witness statement from someone who said they were robbed at knifepoint.
I remember that day vividly and each time I see the numbers 221 in any combination, you can’t help but remember. It was Chris’ badge number.
The years go by and time slowly marches on, but you never forget the heroism of Chris and the lives he saved.
Living on Chapel Street and arriving shortly after it happened, I can still picture the shock in the eyes of the officers who were there on that night. John, Andy Christine were the other Cobourg officers on that night. Others who came to help from many other jurisdictions. The composure of all of them was second to none.
On that night it was raining, and seemed darker than usual. There were street lights, but it just seemed darker than normal.
As the hours and eventually days slowly passed, it became known what Chris had done. In his last breathes running after his assailant, firing his service weapon and ultimately wounding him in the leg. Chris shot the man who murdered him.
What his assailant had planned to do was murder numerous officers as they came out of the police station, murder people working at a gas station. Homemade napalm using styrofoam and gasoline, aerosol cans with nails taped around. A sawed off rifle. It was a written plan which all started with phoning in a phoney robbery call and killing an officer. The plan would have all come together if not for what Chris did that night.
The assailant planned to make his last stand at Northumberland Mall. Listening to the testimony at the trial, the image the murderer had on his computer was of Tom Cruise and an image from the movie The Last Samurai. Cruise charging into battle in a death scene. That is what this murderer wanted to do.
But on his last shot Chris shot the person in the leg. It almost seemed like it brought the person back to reality. The person stumbled to the Centre for Individual Studies on D’Arcy Street where he called his mother who drove him to the hospital. During that time he called 9-1-1 to say he was going to turn himself in.
I can’t begin to explain to the people who weren’t aware of this the lives Chris saved. This, murderer had planed to take out numerous people. Though Chris was mortally wounded, the pathologist said that Chris held his hand to his throat and chased after the person firing his service weapon.
On May 20, 2004 there was a funeral for a hero. The town shut down. Officers from across North America came to Cobourg to pay their respects.
For those who don’t know but live here now, there were police officers lined six deep on each side of Elgin Street from the Lions Centre to nearly the Best Western.
The procession made its way down William Street to King Street.
That day I thought the best way to get around was by bicycle. It was. I locked it near a pole by the Y on Elgin Street and when the funeral was done I pedalled as fast as I could down King Street.
Making it as the procession went by the police station, you could see the respect people had for the ultimate sacrifice Chris gave.
Stores were closed. When I wrote about it I remember saying it was so quiet I could hear the tires on my bicycle as it pedalled through the downtown. The town virtually stood still.
On February 22, 2007 the verdict was in. The person who ambushed Chris and had planned to do so much more killing was sentenced to life in prison.
Chris’ friend and Port Hope Police Sgt. Darren Strongman (now Deputy Chief) put Chris in for a Cross of Valour. In short, the Governor General at the time turned it down. Why, because there is a two year time limit for the application. Rubbish.
To this day I remember a representative from the Governor General’s office phoning me as I was having supper with my family at a restaurant. They said they were looking into creating a new medal. I stood up in the restaurant, so extremely frustrated and although I didn’t yell, I made it perfectly clear, it wasn’t about creating a new medal, it was about honouring a hero that saved many, many lives that early morning in May.
Chris wasn’t a hero because he was mortally wounded. Chris was a hero for what he did after he was mortally wounded. He didn’t try to save himself. He sought after the person who attacked him. And got him. Thereby saving the lives of many, possibly even myself.
Through the efforts of literally thousands it was overturned. I’m not political in any sense of the word, but I’m forever grateful to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper stepped in and amended the regulations.
But it wasn’t the Cross of Valour, it was the Star of Courage the Bravery Committee decided Chris would posthumously receive.
Thought I can’t remember the exact words, the Cross of Valour is for extreme heroism and the Star of Courage is for great heroism. Personally, I believe no matter what Chris did that night, after the fuss that was raised by Canadian’s there was no way the Bravery Committee would give him what he deserved.
But I take solace in the fact what Rick Norlock who was Member of Parliament said at the time.
Think of how many people across Canada and beyond now know what Chris did. A petition was created with online signatures from across Canada to Kandahar.
It’s been 14-years since that night. When I think of it, it all comes back. It’s something you don’t want to think about, but something you never want to forget.
Since that time, there are a few things that have stuck me. The Run To Remember is held each year in September as police officers from Canada run from Queen’s Park in Toronto to Ottawa for the Canadian Peace and Police Officers’s Memorial in Ottawa. The first leg of the run stops at Chris Garrett Memorial Park in Cobourg. Each year, very few people show up. Personally and honestly, I find it embarrassing. This park was dedicated to a hero of this town. Each year there is a ceremony on May 15 at Chris’ Park. But I wonder about St. Mary School which abuts the park. I have and always believed this town, this community, and those students should be the caretakers of the park. Know what Chris did, remember what he did. Don’t ever forget what he did for this town.
But if we who were there, we who know what happened aren’t allowed to share the heroism of this fine officer, how will future generations know?
In a few hours it will be 3:15 a.m., that is the time my father phoned me because he believed Chris had been shot. From that day on so many lives have changed.
Please remember Chris and his family and the officers who were there that night. Because I can promise everyone who reads this, if it wasn’t for the actions of 221, there would have been many more funerals in the following days.
Rest In Peace Chris
Never Forgetting A Hero of Cobourg
Editorial – May 15, 2004