By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
HAGERSVILLE—Residents across Hagersville have united in their shared grief over the loss of hometown hero Sgt. Andrew Harnett, who was killed in the line of duty on New Year’s Eve.
Harnett, an officer for the Calgary Police Service, died after being struck by a vehicle he had pulled over. Two teenagers, 17 and 19, have turned themselves in and are facing first degree murder charges.
“It’s totally senseless. He was an outstanding police officer, an outstanding leader, and an outstanding person,” said Chief Mark Neufield of the Calgary Police Service during a news conference.
All across the community and the country, tributes for Harnett have been pouring in, with the loss being felt especially hard in his childhood hometown.
As a sign of tribute and solidarity with the Harnett family, blue lights and blue ribbons have been a fixture on many buildings in the community since the tragic incident.
Rob Phillips, President of the Hagersville Chamber of Commerce, stated, “No doubt our entire community is grieving this loss and I know that I can speak for our entire Chamber and business community in expressing our condolences to the entire Harnett family, as well as to Andrew’s fellow officers with the Calgary Police Services and all police forces across the country.”
Janice Schweder worked with Harnett’s mother, Valerie, as teachers at Hagersville Secondary School (HSS).
“I’ve known Andrew since he was a little boy,” said Schweder. “I came to know Andrew more when he entered Grade 9 at Hagersville Secondary School (HSS). I was the co-ordinator of the student Crime Stoppers program there; I started the program in 1993 and Andrew immediately got involved.”
It was in HSS Crime Stoppers that Harnett found his calling.
“He told me in Grade 10 that he was going to be a police officer and he never changed his mind. He just got more determined as he went through his senior years at HSS,” recalled Schweder.
She added, “He had that persona about him that he could feel comfortable with anybody. Somebody older than him, somebody younger than him, somebody less fortunate than him. He could walk with all leagues. That was one of his best attributes and the Calgary Police Service have confirmed that.”
Around the same time he was volunteering for Crime Stoppers, Harnett found a mentor in former OPP Officer Hal Brown.
“Andrew and I hit it off right from the get-go. I knew from a really young age that he was very interested in policing,” said Brown. “He would do ride alongs with me…. It wasn’t just me he went with; he wanted to learn the different aspects of policing.”
Brown, who served as an officer from 1994-2014 in Haldimand County, also worked as a Community Services Officer and recalled the countless times that Harnett would volunteer with him at events, including the Caledonia Fair and Jarvis Corn Fest.
“He was an outstanding individual,” said Brown. “Him and I have stayed in touch – when he was in the Military Police in Edmonton and when he joined the Calgary Police.”
Brown couldn’t have known when he got a text from Harnett this September that it would be the last time they would see each other. The two met at MJ’s Diner for a coffee, and Harnett introduced Brown to his partner Chelsea, who is currently several months pregnant with their first child.
“I’m pretty proud that I was able to have had an influence on him,” said Brown. “No ifs, ands, or buts about it, he was a rock-solid guy.”
Having grown up in Hagersville as well, retired Military Police Master Corporal Jeff Hagan had an immediate connection to Harnett when they first met in Edmonton in 2005: “He was like a little brother to me, and being from Hagersville I had a special place in my heart for him.”
Although Harnett only spent a couple of weeks training with Hagan, their friendship endured through the years.
Hagan last saw Harnett when the two met with a group of friends to take part in a charity golf tournament near the end of summer 2019.
“That whole day at the golf tournament he was calling all the ex-military police we used to work with, and just saying, ‘Hey, just wanted to touch base, all the guys are here’ and then we’d all jump on speaker phone,” recalled Hagan. “He’s always thinking of others.”
Later that night, Harnett quietly went to the bar and took care of his friends’ $700 tab for the night, just one example of how he liked to give to the people in his life.
As an officer, Hagan describes Harnett as one of the best he ever met.
“His demeanour is always constant. He is very easy going, understanding. People talk about cops not giving them a fair break, Andrew was not that guy. He is going to listen to you,” said Hagan. “When his brother said he had the capability to be the Chief of Police one day, there’s a lot of truth to that.”
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique also issued a statement in tribute of Harnett to the public.
“Although his death occurred thousands of kilometres away on New Year’s Eve, it has touched many of our members and the Ontario community where he grew up prior to his formal journey into a career in law enforcement,” said Carrique.
“Sgt. Harnett had long-standing ties to the community of Hagersville and had demonstrated a remarkable commitment to public safety early in his formative years.
“The death of a police officer in the line of duty anywhere is a tragedy for the survivors and the communities they served. Our hearts go out to Andrew’s family, his partner Chelsea, shift mates, and his colleagues in Calgary who are now dealing with the grief this awful incident has created, and to Chief Mark Neufeld as he continues to lead the brave women and men of the Calgary Police Service.”
The Calgary Police have set up a trust fund for Harnett’s family. Donations may be sent to ATB Financial Account #219-07149-00721001979 (Inst-Transit-Acct) or by e-transfer to SgtHarnettFamily@gmail.com. Alternatively, the family has asked for donations to local legions in Harnett’s honour.