By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HALDIMAND—Officer Grzegorz “Greg” Pierzchala, the Provincial Constable shot and killed on December 27, 2022 just outside of Hagersville, was remembered as a hero, a loving brother, and “so much more than just a police officer” at a funeral service held in his hometown of Barrie on January 4, 2023.
Thousands of uniformed officers attended the funeral that saw Pierzchala’s sister Justyna and brother Michael share the podium with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Polish Ambassador Witold Dzielski, and others in honouring the slain officer.
“Greg had this really unique effect of inspiring you to become more,” said Michael during his speech.
Justyna also characterized her older brother as a role model in life: “He’s probably had a greater influence on us than anyone else has ever had. Despite being young, he achieved so much in such a short period of time, and he was always striving to accomplish something more.”
She said of her three older brothers, Greg took the job of protector most seriously, explaining, “He was always making sure I was in a good place, both mentally and physically.”
Michael said that despite Greg’s ambitions from a young age to be a police officer, “it took him plenty of effort and deliberation to become the virtuous person we all knew…. It wasn’t an easy thing for him to do, but it was worth doing as he had a positive impact on so many lives because of it.”
Michael said that while his brother was “humble, generous, funny, and competent,” it was his high standards that really separated him from the pack: “He was obsessed with excellence, with doing things right. He always wanted things to be as good as they could be. He liked exercising, so a few months ago, he ran the Hamilton marathon. He loved to read, so he would buy so many books that they would pile up in his room faster than he could read them.”
Justyna praised Greg’s ability to prioritize things that mattered most, stating, “If I had to narrow it down, it would ultimately come down to his health, his faith, his education, his work, and above all, family. He loved to spend time with us, and he made this very clear. Greg was so much more than just a police officer. He was always curious and wanted to learn as much as he possibly could. Once he got hooked on something, he would dedicate so much time and effort towards it.”
This passion led Pierzchala down many interesting paths in life, including a passion for art, dancing, and the outdoors.
“He spent lots of his time off going to Algonquin Park, where he would completely disconnect from the world. It was there he found lots of peace. He even developed an interest in gardening. He would send me a bunch of random pictures of all the bushes and flowers he would plant, and he was so proud of it,” said Justyna.
“He was always doing challenging things that he was afraid of, but courage is not about never being afraid, it’s about doing the right thing despite being afraid,” said Michael of his brother’s courage. “It’s a defining quality of all the police officers who are willing to risk their lives for us every day.”
He recalled how Greg would take time to say a proper goodbye to everyone in the family, knowing the risks of his work: “Sometimes it was a little over the top and exaggerated, but it was really important to us and I’m glad that he did that.”
OPP Commissioner Carrique shared a story of encountering Pierzchala on the job one morning.
“This past Easter I was out for an early morning (bike) ride when I came across an OPP cruiser, prominently parked along the side of the road. As I have done many times before, I wheeled up to say hi…. I approached from head on and positioned myself at a safe distance from the driver side window, patiently waiting for the officer to acknowledge me on this damp, windy, cool morning.”
He continued, “With veteran-like confidence, the officer slowly lowered his window and glanced my way. I introduced myself and this veteran-like confidence quickly turned to disbelief as Greg shared with me how excited he was to be out patrolling on his own for the very first time. He had just been granted what we at the OPP refer to as his day wings, one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking days in every provincial constable’s career. He asked if we could take a selfie of the two of us, which I later came to learn he widely distributed around, and I understand from which he took considerable heat from his peers.”
Carrique recalled his heartbreak when he first learned that Pierzchala had died: “I am truly humbled to have shared the same uniform as Greg, and immensely proud to lead the OPP, grateful to those who came to Greg’s aid and stayed by his side, grateful for the outpouring of support and compassion from our extended policing family from coast to coast.”
He called Pierzchala an “honourable man who embodied the total package through a thoughtful and balanced pursuit of mind, body, and spirit.… We truly lost an officer who had great potential. Potential he demonstrated time and time again.”
Lieutenant Governor Dowdeswell called Pierzchala’s death an incomprehensible loss, adding, “In the wake of such a profound tragedy we struggle with a terrible mix of emotions: sorrow, anger, grief. In these times I think of the words of our late sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, who said, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love’.”
She continued, “We love the dream a little boy once held of becoming a police officer and serving his community, we love the aspirations of a young man who approached life with determination and passion to realize that dream, and we love the principles of duty and service that Greg embodied and the peace that he strove to keep.”
Premier Ford called the tragedy a “painful reminder that policing is a family calling,” thanking Pierzchala’s family for “sharing your son and brother with us…. Our province and the people he bravely served will never forget his sacrifice. We will never forget your sacrifice.”
“Those who worked alongside him called him exemplary. His brothers and sisters in uniform knew he was rock solid, that he could be relied on when it mattered most,” continued Ford. “Greg was living his dream…. It’s what he wanted to do as a young boy of just five years old. It was his calling.”
He noted that Greg previously served as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and as a special constable at Queen’s Park. He lamented the loss of “limitless potential,” calling his death “cruel beyond words.”
“It’s another difficult reminder that the job of police officer is one of total commitment. While most of us peacefully enjoyed the holidays at home with loved ones, our officers and first responders are on the front lines,” concluded Ford.
Polish ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski shared condolences from Polish President Andrzej Duda, calling Pierzchala a “spectacular person, one that aimed high and achieved his goals…. His qualities provide and will continue to provide an example to all of us. He died while serving others, as a hero. Glory to the heroes.”
Carrique concluded his address, “It’s our turn to get after it for Greg, to pick up where he left off, to find the strength, faith, and resilience to carry on. For those of us in uniform, that means carrying on Greg’s legacy of being the best we can be.”
Justyna summed up her feelings for her brother, stating, “Greg died a hero, and he lived as an inspiration. I may have not said it often, but I love you Greg, and you will always be my big brother.”
Tributes to Pierzchala can be seen across Haldimand County. Members of Haldimand County Council, staff, and the community gathered at the Caledonia Lions Hall to view the funeral live steam. A book of condolences was available at the hall and then at the County Administration Building, which was later given to the OPP to share with Pierzchala’s family.
From blue lightbulbs illuminating porches to blue ribbons tied to service posts in Hagersville and Cayuga, it’s clear the people in the community Officer Pierzchala served will not soon forget the efforts of the young officer, steadfast and true, who paid the ultimate price to protect them.