‘WE’RE STRONG ... RE­SILIENT’

Toronto mourns at­tack vic­tims

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD

Afew years ago, when the of­fi­cer kept show­ing up for var­i­ous char­ity events, Peter Yuen asked him­self, “Who the hell is Kenny Lam?”

The world knows now what Toronto Deputy Po­lice Chief Yuen found out: Lam is the 42-year-old Toronto Po­lice con­sta­ble whose re­mark­able com­po­sure in peace­fully ar­rest­ing the al­leged mass killer Alek Mi­nas­sian Mon­day has po­lice, se­cu­rity of­fi­cials and cit­i­zens shak­ing their heads in ad­mi­ra­tion.

Ten peo­ple rang­ing in age from their mid-20s to 80s died in the car­nage as a rented white van, al­legedly driven by Mi­nas­sian, zigzagged onto the busy side­walks along the west side of Yonge Street.

“It’s be­yond ‘Serve and Pro­tect’,” Yuen, cit­ing the force motto, said Tues­day in a phone in­ter­view. “It’s be­yond that. It’s more than that.”

As ev­i­dence, he said, Tues­day morn­ing — af­ter a pre­dictably sleep­less night, thoughts rac­ing through his mind — Lam made sure to call in for his 6 a.m. roll call at 32 Di­vi­sion in the city’s north end.

“He wanted to thank the other of­fi­cers, his uni­form pla­toon.”

Lam, Yuen said, was the first of­fi­cer on the scene at Poyntz Av­enue, south of Shep­pard Av­enue West and Yonge Street. It was his good luck and his bad luck.

“Kenny was on day shift, pa­trolling Yonge Street. This (the alert about a van that had been mow­ing down pedes­tri­ans) was broad­cast … We (po­lice, fire and paramedics) run to­wards trou­ble and he re­sponded to the area.

“There’s no magic for­mula; he ran to the ve­hi­cle.”

As he ar­rived, about seven min­utes af­ter the first call for help, the sus­pect was out of the white cargo van, and as Lam, firearm out, be­gan shout­ing com­mands, the man as­sumed a shooter’s stance.

In fact, he as­sumed it sev­eral times, each time as if pulling some­thing from his pocket. He, too, had some­thing in his hands.

“Get down!” Lam shouted, but stopped quickly to turn off the siren on his cruiser, a clas­sic “deesca­la­tion” tech­nique meant to calm an ag­i­tated sus­pect.

The man told him “I have a gun in my pocket” and asked him to “Kill me” or “Shoot me in the head,” but Lam quickly fig­ured out that he likely didn’t have a gun, and that what­ever he was hold­ing in his hand, it wasn’t a gun.

He put away his own firearm, got out his ba­ton, and kept ap­proach­ing, and the man sur­ren­dered.

Mo­ments later, as Global TV cap­tured, one of sev­eral as­ton­ished by­standers ap­proached Lam to say he’d done a great job and shake his hand.

Lam shook it, then said, cool as a cucumber, “Guys, let’s just clear the road, OK?”

He was less phleg­matic Tues­day. “He’s a mess,” Yuen said, af­ter meet­ing him. “Roller coaster, up and down, doubt­ing him­self, doesn’t want the spot­light.

“It was life and death for him yes­ter­day.

“This will re­main with him.”

Yuen knows. In 1990, as an un­der­cover of­fi­cer, he was do­ing a play at an un­der­ground gam­ing house.

“The place got robbed,” he said, “and to make a long story shot, they found out I was a cop.”

The deputy chief is cut from the same mod­est cloth as Lam.

What he didn’t want to say, and ridicu­lously abridged when pressed, was that the rob­bers found out by or­der­ing the gam­blers to toss their wal­lets in a pile on the floor. Spot­ting a po­lice badge, they promptly threat­ened to shoot a per­son every minute un­less the cop iden­ti­fied him­self.

Yuen had the stones to im­me­di­ately stand up and do that. For his trou­ble, one of the rob­bers put a hand­gun to his head, and then in his mouth; he pulled the trig­ger, but the gun jammed. What saved his life, Yuen said, was that other of­fi­cers ar­rived and the rob­bers knew they were sur­rounded.

It was al­most 30 years ago, but Yuen said every time he drives by Finch Av­enue East and Mid­land Av­enue, where the gam­bling den was, he thinks, “This is the place I al­most lost my life.

“Any time I hear an of­fi­cer in dis­tress, I feel it,” he said. “I don’t wish it upon any­one.”

Back then, there was vir­tu­ally none of what is now called “af­ter care” for of­fi­cers in­volved in pro­foundly trau­matic events. Yuen drove him­self home that night.

“The cul­ture was dif­fer­ent,” he said. He had only him­self, and con­sid­ers him­self lucky to “get through it and progress in my ca­reer.”

Toronto, he said, now has the best such care in the coun­try for its of­fi­cers.

The two men have more in com­mon: Lam was born in Toronto, Yuen in Hong Kong, but both have im­mi­grant Chi­nese par­ents who left ev­ery­thing they knew to come to Canada to give their chil­dren a brighter fu­ture.

“His fa­ther still runs a restau­rant,” Yuen said, “Just like my fa­ther.”

Lam went to univer­sity and grad­u­ated as an en­gi­neer. He was work­ing for Bell Canada when, eight years ago, he de­cided he wanted more. That his fa­ther had been an aux­il­iary po­lice of­fi­cer in Hong Kong helped. Yuen calls it his defin­ing mo­ment, think­ing, “What I’m do­ing is not enough. He asks him­self, ‘How can I help peo­ple more?’ ”

Yuen dropped out of univer­sity af­ter two years, but he said, “My call­ing was the same.” He was watch­ing the Chi­nese com­mu­nity — and other di­verse com­mu­ni­ties in Toronto — grow, and he thought to him­self, “it wouldn’t be bad to be a part of it. I just wanted to be a good po­lice of­fi­cer.”

Lam is hap­pily mar­ried, Yuen said, to his high school sweet­heart. They have no chil­dren, but Yuen said Lam is the first of­fi­cer out of the gate to help a col­league whose child is ill. He does spe­cial en­grav­ings on coins; he’s a fix­ture at Cops for Can­cer events. “That’s how I got to know him,” Yuen said.

Way back, when Peter Yuen stood up in front of armed rob­bers and iden­ti­fied him­self as a cop to save the lives of oth­ers, he was named Toronto’s po­lice of­fi­cer of the year.

“Yeah,” he said with a laugh, “I should have been victim of the year.”

That hon­our isn’t enough for Kenny Lam. As a com­mand of­fi­cer, Yuen said he’s in­cred­i­bly proud of him. His con­duct in that life and death mo­ment “speaks to his life ex­pe­ri­ence. He’s ma­ture, he’s able to as­sess, he was able to process his train­ing.”

Yuen was one of about five Chi­nese Cana­dian of­fi­cers in those days. Now, there are more than 100 and “I see them all flour­ish­ing.” He loves the di­ver­sity of the mod­ern force.

“Send us your best and your bright­est,” he said. “This is a worth­while ca­reer.”

PETER J THOMP­SON / NA­TIONAL POST

Two women em­brace on Yonge Street in Toronto Tues­day next to a makeshift memo­rial to those killed and in­jured in Mon­day’s bloody van at­tack. Alek Mi­nas­sian was charged with 10 counts of first-de­gree mur­der and 13 counts of at­tempted mur­der in Toronto court on Tues­day.

SUP­PLIED

Toronto po­lice Const. Ken Lam ar­rests Alek Mi­nas­sian Mon­day af­ter a bloody van ram­page in Toronto.

Const. Ken Lam

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