OPP Commissioner says Pierzchala killing was 'preventable,' as procession brings officer home today

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique spoke about the death of OPP Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala earlier this week.  (CBC - image credit)
Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique spoke about the death of OPP Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala earlier this week. (CBC - image credit)

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique said the shooting death of OPP Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala "should never have happened," as the alleged shooter was out on bail and had a lifetime ban from owning a firearm.

Pierzchala was responding to a black truck in a ditch near Hagersville around 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 27 when he was shot and killed.

Pierzchala is the fourth officer to be killed while on duty in Ontario and the fifth killed in Canada while on the job since mid-September.

A procession is taking Pierzchala home from the Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto to Barrie, Ont., on Highway 400, starting at 9 a.m. Friday.

Six Nations of the Grand River
Six Nations of the Grand River

Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Stewart-Speary, 30, are both charged with first-degree murder and remain in custody. They are scheduled for their next hearing on Jan. 17.

McKenzie was given a lifetime ban from possessing firearms in 2018, and had a warrant out for his arrest for previous firearm-related charges at the time of the shooting.

McKenzie 'prohibited for life' from possessing firearms

Carrique told a press conference on Wednesday, "It is my understanding that since 2018, McKenzie has been prohibited for life from possessing any firearm."

McKenzie finished a federal sentence for a May 2017 armed robbery on March 25, 2021. During his sentence, McKenzie was granted statutory release twice, which was revoked both times.

According to Carrique, in Dec. 2021 McKenzie was charged with possessing firearms and assaulting a peace officer.

He was released on bail on a number of conditions, which included that he was to remain in his residence and not possess any firearms.

McKenzie failed to appear in court for these charges on Sept. 6, and a warrant was put out for his arrest. The warrant was still active at the time of the shooting.

"The murder of Constable Greg was preventable," said Carrique.

Scott Blandford, a former police officer and professor at Wilfred Laurier University, agrees.

"I agree with the OPP Commissioner, this shouldn't have happened," he said. "In my opinion, this person should not have been released from custody."

But, Blandford added, for violent offenders, a lifetime firearm prohibition "is not worth the paper it's written on," he said.

"People that are going to use firearms in crimes are not going to worry themselves about the legalities of, you know, completing their [possession and acquisition] licence and following their strict requirements for having a firearm," he said.

Officers working alone a 'complex issue'

When Pierzchala responded to the black truck in the ditch, he was working alone.

Carrique said Pierzchala had been patrolling alone since April of this year, and Blandford said it's common for officers in rural areas to respond to calls alone.

He said that in the city, a second officer can be dispatched quickly, but in a rural area, like where Pierzchala was shot and killed, it could take much longer for a second officer to arrive.

"It's a complex issue and it comes down to resourcing," he said, adding that taxpayers would have to be willing to pay for those extra officers.

And even if Pierzchala were able to call for backup or had a second officer with him, it might not have helped, Blandford said.

Shootings "happen very, very quickly, quite often without warning," he said, adding that a second officer may have been able to return fire, but likely would not have been able to save Pierzchala's life.

Carrique said Wednesday the incident on Tuesday happened quickly and that Pierzchala was "only on scene for a very short period of time."

"The officer was essentially ambushed and stood absolutely no chance of being able to defend himself. The motives behind that, the circumstances, the timing of which are part of an active ongoing investigation," Carrique said.

Calls for criminal justice reform

Pierzchala's death has renewed calls for changes to the criminal justice system, including bail.

"OPP Commissioner Carrique's comments on the tragic killing of Constable Grzegorz Pierzchala is the latest plea for the federal government to address the revolving door of violent criminals caused by our country's failed bail system," Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement Thursday.

"Too many innocent people have lost their lives at the hands of dangerous criminals who should have been behind bars – not on our streets. Enough is enough."

The call isn't new — Toronto Mayor John Tory has made similar asks of the federal government.

Justice Minister David Lametti told CBC News in a statement this week that the federal and provincial governments will continue to work together to examine ways to improve the criminal justice system and that includes the bail system.

Bill C-75 was introduced in 2018 and led to changes to the criminal code, including measures to "modernize" bail provisions.

The amendments "legislate a 'principle of restraint' for police and courts to ensure that release at the earliest opportunity is favoured over detention, that bail conditions are reasonable, relevant to the offence and necessary to ensure public safety, and that sureties are imposed only when less onerous forms of release are inadequate."

They also "require that circumstances of Indigenous accused and of accused from vulnerable populations are considered at bail, in order to address the disproportionate impacts that the bail system has on these populations."

We have this idea that there is a lot of rehabilitation that happens, but I think more work needs to be done. - Crystal Winchester, criminal justice expert and Mohawk College instructor

Crystal Winchester is Haudenosaunee with family from Six Nations of the Grand River. She has worked with the criminal justice system for over a decade and teaches at Mohawk College in Hamilton.

She says that those provisions shouldn't lead people to think Indigenous offenders "get off the hook more easily."

"I feel like the general public is quick to come up with their understanding of how Indigenous people are portrayed in the criminal justice system," she said.

"In fact, Indigenous men and women, they do get bail less frequently than the rest of the population as well as they get conditional sentences less frequently," she said.

Winchester said parolees often do not have the rehabilitation resources to reintegrate into their communities.

"We need to do some work within the criminal justice system to make sure that people... are being assessed properly before they return to the community," she said. "We have this idea that there is a lot of rehabilitation that happens, but I think more work needs to be done."

Const. Pierzchala returning home today

The procession will take Pierzchala home to Barrie, Ont., on Highway 400, starting at 9 a.m. Friday.

The public is invited to join first responders and show their respects to officer Pierzchala from the overpasses along the highway. The OPP will also be streaming the procession online.

A police funeral is planned to take place in Barrie on Jan. 4, with more details to come.

Police are asking attendees not to stop on the highway to exit a vehicle during the procession.