Wednesday’s memorial remembering Const. Robert “Barrie” Kirby — Saanich’s only police officer killed in the line of duty — reminds the public of the dangers and sacrifices policies officers make, says Saanich’s outgoing police chief.
“It’s more than a job, it is a calling, and it is things like this that reminds us of why,” said Chief Constable Bob Downie after laying a wreath at the grave of Kirby, who died on April 24, 1960, when 44-year-old Raymond Harold ambushed and shot him. Kirby was 31 years old at the time of his death.
He left behind his wife and four children, the youngest of which was three weeks old.
Few other professions, save serving in the military or perhaps fighting fires, are as dangerous as policing, said Downie.
“You will lose sight of that if you don’t pay attention to and honour those who have fallen,” he said. So Wednesday’s memorial honoured not just Kirby, but every officer who has given their life in the line of duty in this province, and certainly across this country, said Downie.
Wednesday’s memorial took place at Royal Oak Burial Park and featured an honour guard of Saanich police officers.
“Const. Kirby made the ultimate sacrifice in the interest of protecting the public and his fellow officers from harm,” said Downie during the brief ceremony. “He will always be remembered by the Saanich Police family and the greater community for his team work, commitment, bravery and dedication. We will always remember him.”
Downie said Wednesday’s ceremony re-affirmed the department’s commitment to Kirby’s memory. “The memories of these incidents should live on forever,” he said. “These are serious jobs that we all engage in, and they have serious consequences.”
It was the second year in a row that the department officially recognized Kirby’s death. None of his surviving family members attended.
Kirby died after Harold had escaped from the Colquitz Provincial Mental Home, a location in the Wilkinson Road area that now includes Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre.
The escapee quickly broke into a nearby shed, where he stole two .22-calibre rifles, which he then fired upon some of the unarmed hospital staff. When police responded, Kirby left his front desk post to immediately join other Saanich Police officers responding to the area.
Harold shot Kirby soon after he and Cpl. Coleman had formed a search team following their arrival. Jumping out of the bushes some five metres away, Harold shot Kirby in the chest. The rifle round split the top button of Kirby’s tunic in two, then pierced his heart, killing him instantly. Cpl. Coleman immediately returned fire, but the shooter fled into a wooded area just off Viaduct Avenue.
Less than an hour later, Const. Mycock shot and immobilized Harold, whom police quickly arrested. But he never stood trial because of his mental state. Authorities later recommitted him to a different institution.
Kirby had served with Saanich Police for about two years before his death. He had also served for seven years with the St. Boniface and Winnipeg police departments, and with the Royal Canadian Navy.