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BY Bill Rankin, Communications Officer, Communications and Citizen Engagement
Photo: Bill Rankin
After the World Trade Centre attacks in 2001, a Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) honour guard — made up of members from Fenbrook and Beaver Creek institutions — showed its respect for the American people and American law enforcement in particular by laying a wreath at the steps of the United States Embassy in Ottawa. In a similar gesture, on September 24, 2005, another CSC ceremonial guard paid homage to the British people in the wake of the July 2005 London subway bombings. A commemorative wreath was laid beneath the Union Jack at Earnscliffe Manor, residence of British High Commissioner David Reddaway.
Photo: Michelle Dorion
Mr. Reddaway invited the entourage — including Simon Coakley, Assistant Commissioner, CSC Human Resource Management, Charles Lemieux, Security Division, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, and two members from the New York Department of Corrections — for tea and a tour of the manor. The High Commissioner expressed his gratitude, saying he was “most pleased with this form of recognition” and “delighted with the presentation.”
These activities are two of many that have occurred in recent years thanks to the initiative of CSC honour guards across the country. Since the late 1990s when the Service began issuing 12 ceremonial guard uniforms to each institution, staff members such as correctional officers Reg Best, Pat Boudreau and Bob Creswell in the Ontario Region have promoted the Service through their attendance at the Police and Peace Officer Memorial in Ottawa, mostly on their own time. They established the honour guard presence and maintained that connection until the Service caught up to them.
Younger staff members such as Correctional Supervisor Scott Ritchie from Joyceville Institution, Correctional Officer Peter Ruttan, Fenbrook Institution, and many others have carried on this growing tradition and are pushing to expand and formalize the role of honour guards in the Service.
Ritchie recalls his first exposure to honour guard activities: “In the early ’90s, we had an officer pass away in the line of duty at Bowden Institution. As a newer officer, I watched the sombre approach the honour guard took in the performance of their duties. I thought to myself, ‘Look at this family that pulls together during these times.’ Although I wasn’t on the honour guard at the time, I felt proud and at the same time I felt part of a larger family. From that moment on, I wanted to be involved in it.
“One of the most important messages we want to get across to the public,” Ritchie continues, “is that we are disciplined, well-trained teams that promote the safety and security of our communities. Honour guards are, in effect, ambassadors for CSC.”
Ritchie becomes animated when he describes the performance of other units across the country. Along with the work done in the Ontario Region, he notes the dedication of Ric Cameron, Bowden Institution, Robert Pageau, Leclerc Institution, Glen Wilson, Mission Institution, and Angus Hunter, Springhill Institution. The effort that these members have expended to support and demonstrate professionalism within the Service is what keeps him motivated.
“We know that everyone loves a parade,” Ritchie says. “Those and many other kinds of events are a perfect opportunity for members of the public to see us and to find out more about what we do, just as [other] organizations promote themselves and communicate a message to the public, such as the RCMP through their Musical Ride and other venues. These events help to bridge the gap between the public and law enforcement. We want to remind the public and other law enforcement agencies that we are an essential part of the ‘thin blue line.’”
Ritchie recalls an event in 2004 that stirred the hearts of honour guard members and made them even more determined to see their plans come to fruition: they were invited by The New York Department of Corrections, Emerald Society Pipes and Drums Band, to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City.
“Spectators along the parade route were truly impressed that we took the trouble to journey all that way from Canada to show solidarity with our American law enforcement partners,” Ritchie recalls. “And for our officers, well… you take any Canadian correctional officer who works the range, cell blocks, or on a perimeter post, day in and day out and you put him down there on Fifth Avenue, in the heart of New York City, where a crowd in the tens of thousands is chanting ‘Canada! Canada!’ so loud that you can’t hear the pipes-and-drum band in the background. That is a moment that he/she will never forget. It’s a morale-booster that instills a profound sense of pride in the Service.”
Nobody in the Service is sure just where the honour guard movement is going and to what extent it should be employed. Attendance at many of the events has, for now, been at the discretion of individual wardens. When they do get the green light to attend ceremonies, honour guard members often travel on their own time, hold fundraisers to pay for bus rentals, gas, meals and hotel rooms, and share best practices informally with other honour guard contingents. A reporting structure, dedicated coordinators and clear directives have not yet been developed, but one thing is for certain: with this grassroots movement gaining momentum, more operating funds will one day be needed if it is to grow.
“We’re not looking for a handout,” says Ritchie “We’re looking for a hand up. But first we have to document what we have been doing over the last few years — the plaques presented to us, the letters of recognition and thanks, the positive exposure we have given the Service. And with the assistance of the good folks in the Security Division (NHQ), Communications, and many others, we will finish writing a national protocol.”
Besides presenting an image of excellence for the Service, Ritchie believes there is a more sombre duty the honour guard must fulfill even more than they do at present. “In the interest of modernizing and expanding the Service and becoming world leaders in corrections, I think we have, over the years, forgotten some of our own rich history. I think, first and foremost, we have an obligation to the employees who have died in the line of duty. I think we need to do a better job of remembering those who have fallen.”
To illustrate his intent, Ritchie tells a little story, relayed to him by Correctional Officer Matt Smith of Kingston Penitentiary (KP):
“Every year the daughter of a slain officer shows up on the same day in November at the grounds of the CSC Museum, which in the old days was the official residence for Kingston Penitentiary wardens. She quietly stands alone and says a few prayers in honour of her father who was killed more than 30 years ago while on duty at KP. When she’s finished her private ceremony she leaves.
“Well, I’ve got a dream about that,” Ritchie continues. “One day soon she will be standing there all by herself and suddenly she will hear an unfamiliar sound that grabs her attention. She’ll look up King Street and she will see a Correctional Service of Canada pipes-and-drum band and honour guard marching towards her. They will march straight up to where she is standing and they will join her. Then she’ll know just how much her father’s sacrifice is valued.”
Ritchie smiles. There is a light in his eye, and he doesn’t need to say any more. ♦