While they were prepared to do it, members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) and the Saanich Police Department likely didn’t know they were about to put their lives on the line to protect the community.
Shortly after 11 a.m. on June 28, 2022, two 22-year-old brothers from Duncan donned body armour and entered the Bank of Montreal location on Shelbourne Street with semi-automatic rifles. They waited inside the bank for 16 minutes, leading investigators to believe the robbery was never their intention. Instead, the totality of evidence from the almost seven months of investigation into the shootout found the heavily armed brothers were prepared to die as they sought to inflict as many police casualties as possible.
That day has marked many families across Greater Victoria.
Six members of GVERT were seriously injured during the ensuing gunfight, with three suffering injuries that were considered life-threatening at the time. Meanwhile, members of the Saanich Police Department were running towards the scene. Some engaged with the suspects while others moved to help injured officers.
“That’s an example of a hero who put their life on the line,” said Saanich Police Department Chief Dean Duthie in a past interview when asked about the GVERT medic who, with only a pistol, stood in front of injured officers to face gunfire.
Police also had to safely disarm 30 homemade explosive devices the suspects brought to the scene while recovering more than 100 ammunition magazines and more than 3,500 rounds, along with a shotgun and three other semi-automatic rifles from the suspects’ vehicle.
READ MORE: 2023 Local Hero Awards
The brothers didn’t know Greater Victoria well and the bank seemed to be chosen at random, police said. Evidence of their plans showed they were planning a larger event for mid-2023, but an upcoming move expedited their plans into what became the Saanich shootout.
It has been a long road to recovery for the injured officers and those impacted by the events of the day. The last physically injured officer was released from hospital 71 days after the shootout.
In a December update, Duthie said two officers were still recovering and had not returned to work. “Their attitudes and their inner strength and their passion for recovery couldn’t be stronger and it inspires every one of us … But their journey is going to be a long one.”
Marking the one-year anniversary, Duthie said “the past year has tested us as people, police officers and as an organization in extraordinary ways that have encouraged healthy change and growth in our culture and internal systems. The health, well-being and connection with all our staff – sworn officers, civilian personnel, and volunteers have been, and continue to be a primary focus as we move forward, progress, and strengthen.”
For bravery in the face of bullets and the supports established in the aftermath, GVERT and the Saanich Police Department are this year’s recipients of the Local Hero Award for Courage and Bravery.
More on the events of that day can be heard in first-person accounts on the Victoria City Police Union’s True Blue podcast. It’s available online at truebluevic.ca/podcast.