Awards For Selfless Community Members

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair

Writer/Photographer

14 Division
Homicide and Missing Persons Unit

Three quick-thinking City of Toronto Community Safety Unit members, who pulled two people from a burning tent, were honoured along with other selfless community members at police headquarters.

The annual Community Service Awards recognizes members from partnering agencies as well as everyday citizens who help police save lives and solve crimes.

On December 8, 2020, Tyler Small, Matthew Sklavos and Ravi Hundal were working outside the tent encampment at Lamport Stadium when they saw smoke about 10 p.m.

“Fire was coming out from the top of the tent and when we called out, no one answered,” recalled Small. “When we went in, there were two people that we pulled out.”

Sklavos noted that the trio cleared out the surrounding area of people.
 
“It was pretty big and we had to clear everyone out who was close by,” Sklavos noted. “It was very cold that night and the occupants used propane tank heaters.”
Hundal said there was more than one propane tank in the camp.

“There were explosions and the situation could have been worse,” he added. “It was smoke at first and we thought they were cooking. Soon after we pulled the two people out, the explosions started.”

Five people stand together
Tyler Small, Ravi Hundal and Matthew Sklavos accepted their award for rushing to aid people caught in a fire Photo: Brent Smyth

Had it not being for the assistance of two genetic genealogists, Acting Detective-Sergeant Stephen Smith of the Homicide & Missing Person Unit Cold Case Section is convinced that the Christine Jessop murder would still be unsolved. The little girl was stabbed to death and sexually assaulted after disappearing after school.

Nearly two years ago, they helped police solve the 1984 murder building out a familial lineage from the DNA evidence.

“They saved us years of investigation,” said Smith, of the women, who wish to remain anonymous for their privacy. “Their knowledge and experience with genealogy provided our investigation with something we didn’t have. We have just one officer that is immersed in genealogy and we needed about three people to work on this case. They started with about 40,000 people and were able to narrow it to one suspect.”  

Veteran Const. James Atkinson, who has an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences, was recruited to assist investigators.

“He knows the women from the DNA Doe Project that they are part of and suggested we bring them on board to help us,” Smith added. “They readily volunteered their time to assist us in this investigation.”

Toronto Police identified Calvin Hooper as the person responsible for Jessop’s murder. He was 28 at the time of the murder. Known to the Jessop family at the time of the disappearance, he died in 2015.

Guy Paul Morin, who was arrested for the murder, was acquitted at his first trial and found guilty of first-degree murder at his second trial before a successful Crown appeal ultimately led to his acquittal in 1995 on fresh evidence that was submitted jointly by the Crown and the defence.

***

While on his way to meet some friends at St. Lawrence Market in September 2021, Simon Sigler observed a man running on Front St. with police officers in hot pursuit.

“They were yelling at him to stop, so I ran across the street and tackled him,” said Sigler. “I don’t know what came over me, but I just did it instinctively.”

The man, suspected of stealing from an LCBO, was arrested.

Through their extraordinary acts, Staff Superintendent Randy Carter said the recipients’ rose to the occasion to help their community

“They are examples of individuals who truly care about their communities and who were pivotal in assisting their Police Service in achieving safe outcomes,” he said. “Without the actions of these individuals, many of the people they assisted would not be here with us today. They truly make a difference. These benevolent acts of humanitarism further go to exemplify why Toronto, in my humble opinion, is the greatest city in North America.”

Carter reiterated that the Service is committed to collaborating with communities to deliver police services to keep the city safe.

“We endeavour to do this by operating from a trauma-informed perspective and to learn to engage with our City’s diverse communities from their position of strength, recognizing that there are a plethora of barriers that are presented by inter-generational trauma as a result of anti-Black racism, anti-indigenous racism, homophobia, trans-phobia and other forms of discrimination,” he pointed out.

“We acknowledge that we need your continued help, support and guidance to not only do better, but to continue to ensure that Toronto remains the safest city in North America. And we could not do this without today’s heroes.” 

Ryan Teschner, the Toronto Police Services Board Executive Director and Chief of Staff, also acknowledged the award winners’ selfless acts.

“As the Toronto Police Service continues to modernize and transform, reimaging what community safety means to all of us, we are looking more than ever to our community to partner with in creating a safe Toronto,” he said.

Teschner noted that the awards ceremony, the first in two years because of COVID-19 restrictions, is important.

“As we honour and thank members of the community for their acts of selfless bravery, caring and compassion, we are reminded that there are many good people in our city, people who care and who are prepared to go the extra distance to demonstrate this,” he said.  “Each of the individuals being honoured today rose to the challenge and did what was necessary to prevent a death or a crime or to support a good cause. Through their quick thinking, their keen observations, their compassion and their persistence, they helped to capture suspects, solve crimes, assist people in need and even save lives.”

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