With the endorsement of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), the first Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR) in Canada was held in 1987 and generated $100,000 in funds through the participation of Law Enforcement personnel from Southern Ontario. In Ontario alone, over $40 million dollars has been raised since then, establishing it as one of the most profitable Torch Run relationships in the world. The LETR is proudly the official ‘Charity of Choice’ for the OACP and is grateful for the 33-year relationship that continually grows and evolves in the name of Special Olympics.
Chief Andrew Fletcher (South Simcoe Police Service) serves at the Chair of the OACP Torch Run Executive Committee, which is comprised of three Chiefs of Police, one OACP Executive Director, one Special Olympics Ontario (SOO) Board of Directors Member and the President & CEO of Special Olympics Ontario in an ex-officio role as Secretary. “Special Olympics is one of the greatest things we do” stated Chief Fletcher, emphasizing the importance of including the annual LETR cheque presentation and awards ceremony every year at the OACP Annual Conferences Opening Ceremony. “Seeing the athletes on stage with dedicated members of the LETR is a highlight of the Conference and a testament to the OACP’s commitment to the charity” said Chief Fletcher.
Chief Fletcher first got started with the LETR as an officer with the Halton Regional Police Service by participating in the local community run each year. But it was when he attended his first Special Olympics Provincial Games Opening Ceremonies when he had his ‘a-ha!’ moment: “I was absolutely hooked from there, to see the smiles on the athletes faces and the energy, passion they put into everything they do – it’s inspiring!”
When asked what Special Olympics means to Chief Fletcher he proudly said: “It is an organization that allows individuals with intellectual disabilities to develop through sport and a feeling of inclusivity. It brings people together, builds friendships, and creates a feeling of belonging for anyone that joins with them. It also helps you put life into perspective. The athletes show true sportsmanship – win or lose – and always offer a hug even in the toughest time. They re-energize you! I encourage all law enforcement officers to get involved in this amazing cause!”
Chief Paul Pedersen (Greater Sudbury Police Service) is currently the President of the OACP and also sits on the OACP Executive Torch Run Committee and is a 30+ year participant of the Torch Run. “When I began this career in policing as a teenage cadet, I knew that I was getting into a fantastic profession and expected that I would experience many wonderful things. But I can truly say there have been few experiences as rewarding and amazing as my participation in LETR activities for Special Olympics!” said Chief Pedersen.
While working for York Regional Police (YRP), Chief Pedersen was highly involved with the Torch Run thanks to the late Rob Plunkett who organized runs in small communities like Bala and Mactier and ran all the way to Cornwall for the 1996 Special Olympics Ontario Provincial Games. This was the first time that a Law Enforcement Agency hosted the Special Olympics Games and agencies have continued to do so every year since. Ontario is the only Special Olympics program in the world which has this unique Games partnership with the policing community!
In 2000, YRP hosted the Special Olympics Games and Chief Pedersen recalls his involvement fondly: “I remember picking up floor hockey boards with a bunch of other officers in the middle of the night in Toronto and setting them up in York Region the next day for the games. It felt like some sort of a covert operation. My young daughters helped volunteer for those games, what a great memory!”
Chief Pedersen has participated in many LETR fundraisers such as Tip-a-Cops and Polar Plunges and absolutely loves the engagement with Special Olympics athletes. When speaking about playing Cops vs. Athletes in Floor Hockey he said: “They kick our butts each time!”
In 2013, while still with YRP, Chief Pedersen sat on the Games Management Team for the Special Olympics Summer Games and said: “the sense of accomplishment as athletes compete in sport is overwhelmingly fulfilling.” The 2013 Games were one of the most successful financially, raising over $1 million dollars and raised the bar for future Games.
In 2014, Pedersen became the Chief of Police in Sudbury and has not slowed down his involvement with the Torch Run. He actively participates in the Run, Polar Plunge, and SOO School programming. “As President of the OACP and member of the Executive LETR Committee, I see firsthand why LETR remains the charity of choice for the OACP. Interacting with athletes and coaches, interacting with colleagues from various police services, interacting with community members and sponsors all to give Special Olympics athletes’ experiences that so many others often take for granted has truly been one of the best parts of my career. I really believe that through the LETR we are truly showcasing the abilities of these amazing athletes. It’s an honour to be part of this special relationship between policing and Special Olympics.”
The Torch Run is blessed to have champions of the movement at the OACP level and both Chief Pedersen and Fletcher are shining examples of how much Special Olympics means to the policing community. Chief Fletcher had a hard time pinpointing his favorite moments with Special Olympics: “From the early days of carrying the Torch while running with athletes in local torch run events, to dancing and singing with athletes during opening ceremonies. One of my favorite memories is sitting in the stands of a Winter Games Opening Ceremony with a team of local athletes and seeing their faces light up when the music starts and the Zumba dancers hit the stage. Or watching their sense of delight and belonging when you put your police cap on their head or getting those all mighty and powerful high fives. Its indescribable!”
On behalf of LETR and Special Olympics we applaud the OACP and its members for being true Guardians of the Flame.