Photography by Peel District School Board for Enrich Magazine
Brampton heroes celebrated
“[… the shooter] came prepared to use his firearm, whether against some intended target or other innocent parties. The subject and witness officers would not have it. It was their duty that day to ensure that any risk to the safety of the Court House and the people within it was checked at the door. Despite being shot in the torso and suffering a grievous wound, the subject officer was able to maintain his composure, right himself and return gunfire before collapsing from his injuries. The witness officer, despite the shock of what he had just observed, did well to immediately find cover before [the assailant could] shoot him as well. He then quickly drew his firearm and was able to strike with his one and only shot as [the shooter] pointed the gun in his direction and fired.”
Director Loparco further observed, “In the midst of the turmoil that followed the shots fired by [the assailant], there was plenty of bravery and quick-thinking on display from the regular citizenry.”
“Though it was a difficult day for court services, it was also a day for heroism,” began Marion Marrone, Manager of Court Operations for Court Services at Davis Courthouse in her opening remarks at the start of the 13th annual Mock Trial Tournament. “The heroes were your classmates, who maintained such decorum and maturity in a situation they would never have prepared for. They were mature beyond their years, and could be applauded for their behaviour.”
Not exactly the opening remarks creators envisioned for the 13th annual Mock Trial Tournament for High School law students. During last year’s competition the Brampton Courthouse shooting took place, and their peers were in lock down in that exact room. It was only appropriate that this year’s Tournament opened with law celebrating the order part of the justice system, and giving a heartfelt ‘Thank you’ to their heroes of March 28th, 2014.
“As you know, it is the duties of these officers to ensure that the courthouse and all persons inside, are protected against any risk,” began event founder and organizer, The Hon. Nancy S. Kastner, Ontario Court of Justice, as she recapped the events that took place a year ago. “This is a safe place, please be assured. I can’t say enough how much we appreciate what they did.”
I had just seen Mike Klarenbeek and Dave Lakha by the coffee service, not realizing who they were. Obviously good friends, one in uniform and the other in khakis and a polo shirt, they were engaged in an in-depth analysis of the caloric and sugar contents of the breakfast pastries displayed, a silly conversation, full of laughter. I never suspected that these two “guys” would be honoured as heroes twenty minutes later.
“Any one of these folks would have done it,” Mike begins as he points to his colleagues when asked how it feels being referred to as a hero. “It’s all timing, it’s fate; who’s to be there at that point in time. If any one of these guys had been there, they would have done the same.”
Though celebrating their heroism, not a lot of people willingly approach an officer in uniform, let alone when in their police car. “It starts off with when they are children; parents always tell their kids ‘If you do something bad, the police are going to take you away, they are going to lock you up, they are going to arrest you.’” Dave adds a suggestion that society needs to change their impressions of police. “You want to show your children that sometimes you want the police; that’s what we’re here for. Unfortunately, there has been negative publicity. Right or wrong, it’s out there and, like any profession, there are some bad seeds. We get them weeded out.”
Recently, Enrich Magazine took Brampton Batman to a local public school to speak to the younger grades about their anti-bullying efforts. Batman’s uniform is the sign of a hero. Yet the uniform of a police officer, even when worn by a hero, doesn’t seem to get the same reaction. “It’s the cape!” Dave offers in jest, but the real question begs to be asked – how can we help the younger generation and society at large realize that you are the justice league?
“People have to remember that police officers are not rock stars; they’re people, they’re human beings, just like anybody else. Police officers feel, they can get hurt,” as Mike points to himself. “I don’t know if it’s a calling or something like that. People who become police officers get it in their head that they want to do something a bit more to help people. I grew up mostly in Bramalea and Brampton. It just seemed to be befitting that I would try to protect my town the best I can. People should remember when they see a cop walking along or driving by, to just say hi. We’re people; we have a sense of humour. I think people would be really surprised how normal we actually can be.”
“The most unfortunate thing is that people dealing with the police are in a bad situation.” Dave offers a few examples, “A car accident, something that has happened, a tragedy, they get a ticket – all things with negative connotation. I assure you, we’re not out there to harass the public.”
“Nobody likes being told when they’re wrong and, unfortunately, like Dave said, we’re placed in the position where we’re the bearer of bad news. That’s the nature of the beast.” explained Mike.
Incidents grab headlines, but it is obvious these guys didn’t do it for the headlines. “Correct me if I’m wrong, Dave, the fact of the matter is, personally, I’m just happy it turned out the way it did.” Mike explains how both he and Dave have been on the job for a lot of years and, when push came to shove and something reared its ugly head, they were fortunate enough to get the job done and protect their house. “I was at this courthouse for 8 years. I know a lot of people in here and consider it almost my second home. I’m just glad we were able to protect our second home; protect the simple folk that are coming in here.”
It’s as simple as that. At the end of the day, it is a tragedy. “This person had family. He was a son to somebody; a husband to somebody; a father to somebody, and there was a loss. It’s not something we ever, in this line of work, ever want to do,” reflects Dave. “I think when we all are hired on, even prior to being hired on, we ask ourselves that difficult question – if ever you have to, could you be able to take that ultimate sacrifice and do something like this?” In this particular case, as tragic as it was, had it not happened something worse could have happened. That morning of Friday, March 28th, the Mock Trial Tournament was here, on the mezzanine level. It could have easily been any of these kids that was shot. It could have been the judiciary. It could have been any civilian in the courthouse that day. You never know.
“I want to discuss the cape; what would we put on the back of it?” Dave naturally tries to lighten the moment. Being humorous is part of these police officers’ MO. As Justice Kastner joins the conversation, they joke on the fact that her uniform’s mark of superpower is the red sash. But a gentleman approaches and returns the conversation to a serious note. “I was here last year and lived the experience,” begins Larry Pastuch, a Heart Lake Rotarian who was at the Mock Trial to present one of the Tournament awards. “I was at the courtroom door by the assembly room on the mezzanine level. I heard the gunshot and I was thinking, ‘No way’ and then found Justice Kastner saying, ‘Conduct yourself accordingly,’ as we went into lock down. We were a room full of kids, a perfect hostage situation,” as he explains how members of Heart Lake Rotary assisted in keeping the situation under control. Larry was in engineering and spent a lot of time analyzing processes. Reflecting back, he was extremely impressed how fast things were controlled and contained. “It was extremely quick, which means everybody knew what to do; everybody followed up, and followed through.”
Discussion turned to the importance of lock down, and what everyone was doing at the time. As for Mike, he was whisked away in an ambulance to Sunnybrook. “I finally was watching all the news footage and videos on YouTube and it was actually kind of cool seeing how everything worked here. I think, for the most part, 98% of the people were pretty much calm. Everybody did what they were required to do, whether staff or civilian, and it was amazing how everything worked. In some areas on this planet, it could have been complete chaos.” As everyone agrees and the tone is becoming serious, Mike’s funny bone interjects, “And all I could think was that I couldn’t be a part of it! How come they had all the fun? Geez!”
Technically, Mike had started the chain reaction that day, but it was the teamwork that followed the shooting that was being admired. Mike proceeded to explain exactly what happened and how handy it was having the police department across the street. “Twenty-two officers cleared the station and crossed the street. Forgetting their cars, they contained the scene, snagging up anyone running into the parking lot and making sure they were okay; they were making sure they were not a part of something, whatever it was. It was amazing watching all the news footage.”
Asked if he remembers it all, “For the first few nights, days, the whole scenario, my involvement in it, just kept replaying and I couldn’t stop! It kept going, and going, and going in my head. I don’t mind talking about it because it’s a natural thing. On Day 4 … gone! It was like I had to consciously think about it. When someone asked me, ‘Hey, do you remember what happened?’ – now that you bring it up, yeah!” For Mike, it was his job. He was mentally prepared for this.
“It goes back to our training; it kicks in and it’s natural for us,” Dave chimes in. “We hope it never ever has to happen, but it did. I’m thankful it worked out as it did.” When it was stated, “At the end of the day, you took a life,” his response was, “Yeah, and you have to live with that. No matter what his position was, somebody passed and we’re responsible for that.” But if they hadn’t done that, what would have been the outcome?
“You do what is needed to be done in the situation, a miniscule piece in a very big puzzle,” adds Larry, who was there to observe the mock trials and present the Rotary awards. “You pitch in, that’s what people are supposed to do. You do what you can.” However, in today’s society, people often turn the other cheek and don’t get involved, or use their cell phone to take a video of the incident to post on YouTube instead of calling 911 and helping. “It’s a very sad statement,” adds Dave.
But all is not doom and gloom. As we stood there reflecting on the events that took place a year ago, we couldn’t ignore the room full of law students about to engage in a battle of wits in this year’s Mock Trial Tournament. Their generation was born into the cell phone era, yet here they were, engaged in and connecting with their justice system as they had put hundreds of hours into preparing to try their first case before real judges in a real courtroom. “You look at this room, and you can be very hopeful,” concludes Justice Kastner.