NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — A British Columbia police officer who worked tirelessly to create a positive, caring and fair-minded version of policing was shot from behind in the very uniform he attempted to redefine, says his wife.
Abbotsford Police Const. John Davidson was remembered on Monday by his distraught family at a sentencing hearing where Oscar Arfmann learned he will serve life in prison for first-degree murder.
Denise Davidson said her husband didn't hesitate to put his life in danger, completely alone, as he did in November 2017, when he was the first to respond to a shots-fired call outside a business complex.
"With no intention of ever shooting first, he still stepped out to try and bring peaceful resolution to what he knew was a very dangerous situation," she told a B.C. Supreme Court judge through tears.
"I will love him for that for the rest of my life and hate Oscar Arfmann."
The trial heard that Arfmann, 68, took a loaded rifle from his stolen Mustang and shot twice at a truck in the busy complex just before noon on Nov. 6, 2017. No one was injured and police were called.
Arfmann left the complex briefly before returning and backing into a parking spot so he could face the entrance. Within seconds of Davidson's arrival, Arfmann shot him once in the back and once at close range into the head, the court heard.
The conviction of first-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence of 25 years before parole can be considered, and Justice Carol Ross said Arfmann's two years of time served will be accounted for.
Davidson's wife and their three adult children delivered emotional victim impact statements, describing how their lives have been shattered by the loss of an "incredible human being" and loving husband, father and friend.
Denise Davidson said when she met her future husband when they were in their early 20s, they instantly felt they had known each other forever. They had a family while Davidson worked for the Northumbria police in northern England.
In 2006, the family moved halfway across the world to pursue a healthier, more enriched life. Davidson said she was sure she was the "happiest person she knew."
On the day of her husband's death, she was at work dreaming about an upcoming trip to New Zealand when she was brought into a meeting room where sombre police officers delivered the news.
"Then my world fell apart," she recalled. "I spent the first two weeks unable to breathe normally — ironically not unlike when I first met John and he took my breath away."
To this day, she said the first thing she sees when she wakes up is her husband falling face-first to the ground.
She desperately hopes that he didn't remain conscious long enough to know he had been shot, and to know that he was wrong to believe that wearing a uniform would not make him a "bad guy to a random stranger," she said.
A couple months before his death, she asked her husband whether he was worried about the level of firearm ownership in Abbotsford. He replied with great confidence that no one would ever shoot a cop in the city, she told the court.
"I'm glad he lived his life feeling that way, but he was wrong about that too," she said.
Davidson said she has thought about ending her life. She has tried counselling but has concluded that feeling horrible every day is something she must get used to, she said.
"I have no vision for the future because life without John is unfathomable," she said.
She and her children all described the pain of grieving in public. The media coverage of the case has brought her family support but has also made them the subject of some people's morbid fascination, Davidson said.
Her son, Drew Davidson, also said he has contemplated killing himself. Arfmann's decision to plead not guilty put his family through a terrible trial that should never have taken place, he said.
"On the first day of court, I watched myself watch my father's killer waltz into the courtroom with a look of complete indifference and remorselessness on his face," he said.
A psychiatrist told the trial Arfmann had psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia at the time of the murder but was capable of understanding his actions, although he denied killing the officer even after the conviction.
His lawyer, Martin Peters, has said it was open to the court to find Arfmann not criminally responsible because of mental disorder. Instead, Peters said Arfmann directed him to tell the judge that he wanted to be sentenced for first-degree murder.
Peters told the court on Monday there was nothing he could say to mitigate the seriousness of the offence and "frankly very little that I could say positively about Mr. Arfmann at this stage."
Arfmann delivered a rambling, difficult-to-follow statement from the prisoner's box in which he said he feels like a victim himself.
Peters explained outside court that Arfmann believes he was "just driving along" when his car was rammed by multiple police vehicles. Arfmann thinks he had a scratch on his face and was injected with something during his hospitalization, Peters said.
In reality, he was shot twice in the face during a takedown after Davidson's killing and one of the bullets is still lodged close to his aorta at the back of his spine, Peters said.
Abbotsford Police Chief Mike Serr said outside court that Davidson's death will remain with the department forever.
"It's a part of our history and we will honour John as we move forward."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2020.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press