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With four strokes of a pen, SWAT Sergeant Ron Heinemann set in motion the disbandment of an elite crime-fighting unit. Was he a villain, or the scapegoat for a corrupted police culture?

by Stephen Williams

First published in the May 2007 issue of The Walrus Magazine
2008 NMA (National Magazine Award) nominee: Investigative Repoting

Word Count: 6,300


It was 4:35 a.m. on January 12, 2004, four below zero, with blowing snow and treacherous roads, when the twelve members of the Ontario Provincial Police Barrie Tactical and Rescue Unit (TRU) set off in two unmarked Suburbans, two gun trucks, a bomb truck, and an unmarked van. It took six hours to get from Barrie to the Chippewa of the Thames reserve, thirty kilometres southwest of London. When not spelling off the driver, Ron Heinemann positioned himself over the axle in the bomb truck’s windowless cube van, cleaned his weapons, put on his hostage rescue kit, and prepared charges for explosive forced entries.

With the truck’s non-existent suspension, twice when it hit bumps, Heinemann’s handiwork threatened to obliterate his crew. Heinemann wasn’t new to the game. He’d been on Barrie TRU for almost a decade, was head of bomb tech for the province, and, as the most senior constable on the Barrie team, often led training and field ops.

When they arrived on the scene, TRU members would go immediately to the front line, but, as in all such deployments a senior officer known as the Incident Commander (IC), holed up in a command centre away from the action, would call the shots. Particularly since the Ipperwash Provincial Park occupation in 1995, when native protester Dudley George was shot and killed by Heinemann’s teammate Ken Deane, ICs had become increasingly gun-shy, ignoring crucial TRU Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS) that senior command had decided too provocative for reserves.

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