It’s Not the Critic Who Counts

A thank-you letter to Constable Lam

By Robin Kipling  |   May 3, 2018

On April 23, 2018, at approximately 1:30 p.m., a male who shall remain nameless, but presumably fed up with being rejected by women, rented a full sized van and plowed through a crowd of people walking on a sidewalk along one of downtown Toronto’s busiest streets, killing ten and seriously injuring over a dozen more.

When the vehicle was stopped, the suspect was confronted by Ken Lam, a constable with the Metropolitan Toronto Police Service, in a single-officer unit and taken into custody where he now faces ten counts of first-degree murder and thirteen counts of attempted murder.

Since that time, criticism of that officer’s actions and his failure to kill the suspect have erupted from people like those whom Theodore Roosevelt referred to as those “cold and timid souls who point out how the strong man stumbles and how the doer of deeds could have done them better.”

Although killing the madman who had just committed the most heinous mass murder in the city’s history may have satisfied the public’s bloodlust and undoubtedly drawn the judgement and condemnation of others, it would have made Constable Lam guilty of murder.

For legal clarity, the Criminal Code of Canada states, and I paraphrase, that a police officer is justified in using force that is likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm, like shooting a person, for example, if that force is necessary to protect that officer, or another person from imminent or future death or grievous bodily harm.

When the suspect and his death mobile came to rest there was a standoff between himself and then constable Lam drew his firearm and challenged the suspect, at which time the suspect failed to comply with the officer’s commands. Although the suspect’s actions leading up to this standoff were deadly, what was occurring at that moment was not. This is the key. An officer has to take the circumstances that he is presented with in that situation.

I’ll caveat that last paragraph by clarifying that I’m not suggesting the actions of the suspect leading up to the stand-off shouldn’t be given serious consideration. They should. They demonstrate the suspect’s willingness to use deadly force and can no doubt culminate a part of what is referred to as the “totality of circumstances.” However, it cannot justify the standalone use of deadly force after the fact.

If the situation changed—for example, if the suspect began to put that vehicle into motion—an officer could reasonably fear for future loss of life given the suspect’s previous behavior and then would likely be justified in using lethal force to stop that threat. But that was not the case here.

What occurred was a police stand-off because the suspect didn’t want to be taken into custody and figured the easiest way out of being held accountable for his actions would be to have the police kill him. It’s called suicide by cop and, yes, it’s a thing. The suspect made several threatening gestures to entice the officer to end his life, including reaching into his pocket and brandishing a cell phone like a pistol. He even verbally taunted the officer to kill him.

Constable Lam did not shoot the suspect because the reality was that he did not fear imminent death or grievous bodily harm. It did not exist because Lam recognized that the suspect was unarmed. Acting alone, Constable Lam maintained vigilance and acted in the manner in which he was trained in order to bring this person into custody so that he might stand accused for what he had done.

So thank you Constable Lam, for facing evil in its purest form and not faltering. Thank you for acting in the professional manner in which you were trained, as you were sworn to do and for temporarily silencing the throngs of accusers of police officers as violence mongering murderers.

Thank you for denying this coward his easy exit and replacing it with an attempt at justice.

But most of all, thank you, Constable Lam, and all others in that arena for reminding us that it is not the critic who counts. Those marred by dust and sweat and blood, actually striving to do the deeds, the great devotions, for spending themselves in a worthy cause so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat—it is these who count.