Nunavik village of Kangirsuk pauses to remember fallen police officer Steve Dery
People who knew Dery, killed March 3, held March 6 memorial
(Updated, March 7, 9:20 a.m.)
At 7 p.m. on March 6 many of the 550 residents of Kangirsuk put on their parkas and drove, travelled by snowmobile or simply walked across the town spread out along the Payne River to the community’s red-clad Holy Trinity Anglican Church.
That’s where members of the Anglican congregation and the Full Gospel Church congregation came together in a memorial service for Kativik Regional Police Force constable Steve Dery, 27, who was killed March 2 when responding to a domestic abuse call in Kuujjuaq.
That unity during the Wednesday night memorial, on an evening usually reserved for mid-week church services, shows that “even churches of different religions come together in one faith, one heart, to honour a young man who once served and protected them from harm,” said a woman from Kangirsuk.
Dery, who had served in Kangirsuk in 2009 for about six months, has not been forgotten, people in the community say.
The violent death Dery suffered left Tommy Kudluk, the lay minister at the Full Gospel Church, feeling “very bad, very touched by what happened.”
Prayers and hymns during the March 6 church service were expected to ease that pain.
“Every Qallunaaq who comes to work here is part of us,” said another Kangirsuk resident, whose 25-year-old son often played hockey with Dery on the local team. “We go to feasts with them, we go to activities with them, so we become part of a family — a big family.”
And when a member of that big family dies, everyone, of every age, feels it.
Students at Sautjuit School in Kangirsuk, who also knew Dery, discussed the police constable’s death this past week.
Even after Dery left Kangirsuk for Kuujjuaq, he would often come back to the community, to work with local police cadets or when Quebec’s travelling court held sessions in town.
In fact, the last time Cst. Emmanuel Vignola, one of two KRPF officers now posted in Kangirsuk, spoke to Dery, it was at about 8:30 p.m. on March 2 when they discussed a court case. That conversation took place only an hour before Dery would be killed.
Dery was, Vignola said, an “ideal police officer,” connected to the mainly Inuit community through his daily contacts with people and work with the police force’s cadet program.
While Vignola never served with him in Kangirsuk, he said Dery took him under his wing when he first arrived in Kuujjuaq to start work with the force.
The past few days have been “very difficult” for him and others in Kangirsuk who knew Dery, Vignola said.
They are about hour-and-a-half Dash-8 air flight and 233 kilometres away from Kuujjuaq — and an even longer journey from Ottawa, where a full police funeral for Dery takes place March 9.
At the March 6 memorial, Vignola and Cst. Francis Manila, the other police officer in town, sat with the cadets, as well as the social workers and health care workers who, as one woman put it, also deal with the kinds of volatile situations that ended so disastrously for Dery.
During the memorial a prayer was said for all those front-line workers who work in Nunavik.
A book collected messages from people in the community for Dery’s family, in Inuttitut, English and French. “Steve saved me and my mom’s life. He was my hero,” reads one message.
“My best friend said when she gets a baby boy, she wants to name him Steve,” said another message.
The KRPF chief Aileen MacKinnon issued a statement March 5, echoing what people in Kangirsuk say they’re feeling, that “we, the Kativik Regional Police Force, lost not only a member of our team but a member of our family,” she said.