Sea of red mourns B.C. Mountie Shaelyn Yang, who believed 'she could change world'

RICHMOND, B.C. — British Columbia RCMP Const. Shaelyn Yang's cousin Ash Tan looked out on a sea of red serge at her funeral Wednesday and told of her lifelong dedication to helping others.

"Everything she did was defined by her empathy, or compassion, and her belief that she could change the world," he said.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18,while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

Thousands of RCMP and other uniformed officers gathered at the Richmond Olympic Oval to show respect and say their final goodbyes to the fallen officer.

Yang, who lived in Richmond, was honoured by a regimental, or military-style, funeral in accordance with RCMP protocols for an officer who dies in the line of duty.

Tan delivered a eulogy on behalf of Yang's family.

"It is my hope that what made Shaelyn Yang so extraordinary will become ordinary and that heroism will become synonymous with humanity because she has shown us all that there should not be a distinction between one and the other," he said.

Commissioner Brenda Lucki said Yang was admired and respected for her work, resilience and dedication. She said it was "profoundly tragic" that Yang did not have the opportunity to fulfil her potential within the police service.

"Her victims services colleagues said that if they had a dozen more Shaelyns, they would have the best team ever," she said.

Before joining the RCMP in 2019, Yang volunteered with the Richmond RCMP's victim services unit. She also volunteered with B.C. Cancer and Canadian Blood Services.

Family friend Jamie Simpson said outreach work was the "perfect fit for her."

"She was loving, yet firm, and treated everyone the same. When someone was at their lowest, most vulnerable, she was the officer that they needed," he told mourners.

Const. Inder Gill of the Burnaby RCMP echoed this sentiment, calling Oct. 18 the "single worst day" of his life and all members of the Burnaby detachment remain heartbroken.

"I wish each day that this was different," he said.

Yang shot the suspect before she died, and B.C.'s police watchdog later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham, 37, is accused of first-degree murder in Yang's death and on Wednesday he was remanded until Nov. 16.

Before the service, thousands of officers marched in unison in a procession led by an RCMP pipe band, a hearse and riderless horse.

The procession began underneath a large Canadian flag hung between two extended ladders from firefighting trucks, as civilians and firefighters in uniform, poppies pinned to their lapels, lined the streets to watch the march.

The RCMP said as many as 2,000 officers from B.C. and across Canada were joined in the procession by members of the Canada Border Services Agency, the Armed Forces, sheriffs, firefighters and B.C. Ambulance Service, while another 1,500 members would attend the funeral.

RCMP Sgt. Chris Manseau said the turnout was no surprise because an on-duty death affected every police officer.

"We all look out for each other, we all have each other's back, and when something tragic like this happens, it's very detrimental to all of us," he said in an interview ahead of the procession Wednesday. "I think having a lot of us come together is good for everybody. It's part of the healing process.”

Yang's family said in an earlier statement that they are "going through immense grief" but are grateful for the condolences and support they have received, issuing thanks to the RCMP for making the arrangements to formally honour her.

Deputy Commissioner Dwayne McDonald, commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, addressed her family directly in his funeral remarks, saying all RCMP members shared their grief of her passing.

"We are so fortunate to have had her among our ranks and as part of our team. She made us better and stronger. We are committed to honouring her legacy and we will never forget," he said.

Angel Liu, the director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Taiwan's de facto diplomatic office in Vancouver, said she attended a private funeral over the weekend with about 400 people, including Yang's friends and family, colleagues, Richmond city councillors and the mayor.

"Yang’s family members shared with us how excited Yang felt when she first became an RCMP officer and she chose this career from her heart," Liu said in an interview conducted in Mandarin Wednesday.

"She is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, so I am here to represent the Taiwanese government to pay respect and tribute to Const. Yang."

Fiona Lienhann was joined by her two sons at the procession, while her husband, a military police officer, took part in the march.

"It's like being part of a community (for) everybody in the same line of work," she said, adding that Yang's death was tragic.

"It’s still unimaginable, but these things happen."

Yang's killing was the fifth on-duty death across Canada in about a month. Her death came just days before police were preparing to gather for the funerals of South Simcoe Police Service Const. Morgan Russell and Const. Devon Northrup, who were killed in the line of duty on Oct. 11, and only one month since the murders of Toronto Police Service Const. Andrew Hong, and York Regional Police Service Const. Travis Gillespie.

Vancouver Police Department Sgt. Steve Addison said in a statement following Yang's death that it highlighted how officers are increasingly ending up in potentially dangerous situations. He said they have become de facto social workers for people who lack support services while struggling with homelessness, mental illness and substance use.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Yang's death devastating during a visit to B.C. last month and said in the House of Commons that mental health supports should be stepped up so police are not the only outreach providers in many situations.

Mark Baxter, the president of the Police Association of Ontario, said he and 100 active officers from across the province flew to B.C. on a chartered flight to attend Yang's funeral and support her family and colleagues.

“We are still reeling from these deaths,” he said, referring to the killings in Ontario and B.C. “We thought it was really important that we come out here and show our support to RCMP colleagues.”

He called on the federal government to come to the table with the Canadian Police Association and engage in talks about “what we are going to do in this country to try and curb some violence.”

“These deaths have had a profound impact on our community,” he added.

During the funeral Wednesday, Lucki said Yang’s death was a stark reminder of the inherent dangers that all police officers face in the line of duty.

"Today, we are again reminded that we never know what the next call of service will bring. We will always remember Shaelyn for her unflinching bravery and selflessness when faced with lethal danger on that day, Oct. 18 — a date that will be forever etched in our memories."

The funeral concluded with uniformed members issuing a final salute to Yang.

-- with files by Sharif Hassan in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brieanna Charlebois and Nono Shen, The Canadian Press