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Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock members leave with heavy hearts for fallen officer

Vancouver Island police officers leaving on the Cops for Cancer charity bike ride Saturday are grieving for a fellow officer
Cops for Cancer Tour De Rock riders arrive at Centennial Square in Victoria on Oct. 4, 2019. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Vancouver Island police officers leaving on the Cops for Cancer charity bike ride today are prepared for the 1,200-km distance and the hills from Port Alice to Victoria, but not the grief of having lost a fellow officer.

“That enthusiasm is going to be tempered by the fact that this has happened and everybody understands that on any given day it could be one of them, so it’s always tough,” said retired Victoria police officer Andy Dunstan, on the tour steering committee.

RCMP Const. Rick O’Brien, 51, of the Ridge Meadows detachment was killed Friday during the execution of a search warrant at a private home in Coquitlam. Two other Mounties were injured, as was a suspect.

The 2023 Cops for Cancer team will leave as scheduled today from Thrifty Foods at Admirals Walk at 7:45 a.m. for the two-week ride, while closing ceremonies for the Cops for Cancer Tour de Valley and Tour de Coast were cancelled Friday due to the unfolding tragedy.

In addition to reflecting on their mission to help raise money for kids with cancer, the Island’s Tour de Rock team — made up of police officers, first responders and media members — will also take a moment today to pay respect to the slain and injured officers and their families, said Dunstan.

The 23 riders will wear red-and-black or blue-and-black memorial ribbons, hastily gathered Friday. The Tour de Rock riders will wear the ribbons until details of a regimental funeral are known.

The tour will make accommodations for any team members wishing to attend the funeral during the tour.

Dunstan, a longtime trainer for the tour, will emcee the kick-off event. “It’s going to be a sombre occasion probably more than a celebration of the work they’ve done over the past six months,” said Dunstan.

The police officer’s death will rouse many emotions and thoughts for the tour riders, he said. “It always makes you very sad. It makes you angry. You know, they are people just trying to do their job and losing their lives while serving their community is never something you want to hear,” said Dunstan.

Officers will first and foremost think of the slain officer and his immediate family dealing with an “absolute tragedy” and then the wider policing community, and finally society as a whole which has lost “a very brave and community oriented person,” said Dunstan.

The team will start to gather in the Thrifty Foods parking lot at 1495 Admirals Rd., at 7:15 a.m..

Despite the gutting news, they will have to prepare mentally for the challenge ahead and keep focused on the children for whom they are riding.

“It’s all about the good we’re doing for the kids and we will overcome this as we overcome everything else,” said Dunstan.

Dunstan said with rain forecast, the riders will also need to focus on the road.

“We need to make sure these guys are safe so we need to focus on the riding, focus on the fitness, and use the time together to reflect and understand that the reason they’re doing it is because they’re good people doing all the good things and that’s all about part of being a police officer also,” said Dunstan.

Before, during and after long days of riding, the officers take part in community fundraising events and when they can, they take time to huddle as a team.

“There’ll be lots of sharing, there’ll be lots of stories, there’ll be lots of talks of worries and fears, but in the end when you’re on the bike, you get time to reflect also,” said Dunstan.

B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said he was shocked and saddened by the news Friday, calling it a stark reminder of the dangers police face to keep us safe.

“They put their lives on the line every day to fulfil their oath to protect our communities,” said Farnworth.

In a sad irony, the police and peace officer’s 2023 B.C. Law Enforcement Memorial service will be held at the B.C. Legislature on Sunday, said Dunstan.

Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock, now in its 26th year, began in 1997 with an idea from now-retired Saanich police officer Martin Pepper to do something even bigger than fellow police officers doing head shaves to raise money for cancer programs. Pepper had the idea to host a charity bike ride down Vancouver Island.

Since that first ride by 16 officers in 1998, the Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock alone has raised just over $26 million for pediatric-cancer research and Camp Goodtimes, the Fraser Valley summer camp that has proven an invaluable respite for sick kids and their families.

In partnership with first responders and the Canadian Cancer Society, similar tours across Canada have become one of the largest fundraising events for childhood cancer programs, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. They have raised nearly $52 million in total to increase survival rates and support children living with cancer and their families.

For more information or to support the Tour de Rock riders, go to the Cops for Cancer website

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