Widow of fallen Toronto police officer to speak in tribute at memorial

The widow of Sgt. Ryan Russell is expected to speak in tribute of her husband this afternoon.

Christine Russell

Christine Russell

TORONTO — The widow of Sgt. Ryan Russell is expected to speak in tribute of her husband this afternoon.

A memorial service for the 35-year old begins shortly in Toronto, with thousands of fellow officers and members of the public gathered to remember Russell.

Russell, father of a two-year-old son, was killed last Wednesday as he tried to stop a stolen snowplow that led police on a wild chase through Toronto streets.

Earlier today, hundreds of people lined the streets of Toronto to watch the funeral procession — clapping as his hearse moved past.

A pipe and drum band led the motorcade, which was preceded by a procession of 12,500 officers in full dress uniform from across Canada and the United States.

The massive turnout has delayed the service, which was to begin at 1 p.m.

Christine Russell is expected to address those gathered, as is Toronto Chief Bill Blair, who will also present the family with Russell’s forage cap and the Toronto Police Service flag.

Members of the public who watched the procession to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre said the police support citizens, so it’s important to support them in a time of tragedy.

“They serve the country and it’s an honour to be here,” said Hamilton resident Linda Court.

“I was bothered to see how he died. It was tragic.”

One woman’s eyes filled with tears as she watched the procession go by, too emotional to put into words why she was so moved.

At the front of the huge convention hall above a display of plush bears and between several bouquets, there are photographs of Russell with his wife Christine and infant son.

In front of one picture of baby Nolan, now two years old, is a small floral arrangement, with a white ribbon across it. On the band is just one word in gold letters: Daddy.

Officers gave each other hugs this morning at 52 Division, where members of the guns and gangs task force — Russell’s old unit — also gathered.

Const. Brenda MacIntosh, of Cornwall police, said she came to support the police “brotherhood” in a time of grief.

“It’s a culture in its own,” she said. “We all feel that we’re part of one big family…It’s overwhelming to see the sea of officers that are here. It’s very important for the family that they get to see how we feel, that we are grieving as well.”

Det.-Const. Sheldon Steinke of the Regina police said he was “in awe” of the sight of thousands of uniformed police officers marching through the streets. He said he came a long way, but it’s important to show solidarity within the policing family.

“It just adds light to how dangerous it can be,” he said.

“There’s a lot of good aspects about the job but there’s also dangers and a lot of them are inherent and that’s what’s going to happen from time to time.”

Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley, Vaughan MP Julian Fantino, police Chief Bill Blair and Russell’s widow are among those who are scheduled speak at the service.

Canadian tenor John McDermott will perform “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

About 2,000 seats have been set aside in the cavernous hall for members of the public who want to attend the service.

The service will be broadcast on the big screen at the mid-town Yonge and Dundas Square and outside the Air Canada Centre.

Several dozen people, many of them families of police officers, are lined up outside the convention centre awaiting the funeral service.

Justine Olmstead, a 24-year-old Humber College police student, who is among them says the tragedy has not deterred her from wanting to join the police force. If fact she is even more encouraged to do so.

“It’s brought a lot of joy to me to see how Toronto shows so much respect for the police force,” says Olmstead.

“This could be me one day. Hopefully I would have the same respect shown back to me.”

Karen Harrison, of Toronto, said her grandfather was a police officer.

Russell was an “inspiration” through his “courageous service,” Harrison said.

Others, like Ashley Emond, whose brother is a Toronto police officer, echoed the sentiment.

“It’s nice just to show my respects and be supportive of him and the rest of the police officers,” Emond said.

A 44-year-old drifter, Richard Kachkar, who was shot and seriously injured by police when arrested, faces first-degree murder charges and was expected in court Friday for a bail hearing.

Toronto police said Tuesday that Kachkar is out of hospital and being held at a Milton, Ont., detention centre.