An RCMP officer who was fatally stabbed Tuesday in a park in Burnaby, B.C., was there to notify the occupant of a lone tent that he wasn't allowed to live there, police said Wednesday.
Sgt. Timothy Pierotti of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team told a press conference that Const. Shaelyn Yang, 31, volunteered to work on a mental health and homeless outreach team and she was helping a city worker deliver the news to the man, he said.
Yang's death prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say that mental health supports need to be stepped up so police are not sole providers for such outreach in many situations, and the House of Commons held a moment of silence to honour her Wednesday.
"My understanding is that Const. Yang was asked to assist in notification to him that he was not permitted to be in the park. They were not there to remove him at that time, they were just there to notify him of that," Pierotti said.
Pierotti said an altercation broke out and Yang was stabbed. The male suspect, who B.C.'s police watchdog said was shot by Yang, was taken to hospital.
Jongwon Ham, 37, has been charged with first-degree murder and remains in custody.
The B.C. Prosecution Service said in a statement Ham made his first court appearance on Wednesday and was remanded to Nov. 2.
Pierotti said a warrant had been issued for Ham's arrest on Monday, but Yang was not there to execute it, and he did not know if Yang had previous contact with Ham.
"We often get called to assist the city with going and speaking to people and encampments or any kind of transient camp. We don't always know who it is," Pierotti said.
Yang volunteered to join the outreach team because she wanted to help people, he added.
"She wanted to be a part of this and to help these people that were in need."
RCMP said earlier that Yang had joined the police three years ago.
Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre told Parliament Wednesday that Yang had been murdered while "courageously doing her job," saying it was among a series of killings of police that were part of a "larger violent crime wave."
He asked Trudeau what he would do to end it.
"My heart goes out to the family of Const. Yang, to the community, not just in B.C. but right across the country," Trudeau said, referring to killings of police in Ontario and elsewhere.
He said front-line police dealing with mental health outreach needed "the tools to be supported as they encounter difficult situations."
Trudeau said police should not be the only mental health workers accessible to many people. "They have been extraordinary at it but we need to provide better support," he said, adding that the provinces and federal government should work together on funding.
Deputy RCMP Commissioner Dwayne McDonald said Yang was known as a kind and compassionate person, which made her death even more difficult to accept.
"As the commanding officer of the B.C. RCMP, I can tell you that an on-duty death is the most difficult and heart-wrenching incident we deal with as an organization," McDonald said.
Homicide detectives are investigating the stabbing, while the Independent Investigations Office of B.C., which looks into any incidents of serious harm or death involving police, is also reviewing what happened.
A statement from the National Police Federation says Yang's homicide marks the fifth on-duty death of a police officer in Canada in as many weeks, adding "no one should fear their next shift could be their last, and no colleague should have to bear the unfathomable loss of a fallen peer."
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Taiwan's de facto diplomatic office in Vancouver, said Yang was the daughter of immigrants from Taichung in central Taiwan, and office staff had been in contact with RCMP.
A spokeswoman for the office said it did not know where Yang's parents were now, and the office had asked RCMP to pass on condolences to Yang's family.
As part of Yang’s outreach work, she worked closely “on several occasions” with transit police officers to help unhoused people along the transit system, the Metro Vancouver Transit Police said in an statement.
Chief officer Dave Jones described Yang in an internal email to members as “a bright, enthusiastic and caring person.”
“Constable Yang was known by some of our members who on occasion had the opportunity to meet and work with her,” the internal email said.
“Events such as this can have an effect on some individuals in a variety of ways, I want you to know that if there are questions or concerns that you may have that we are here to support you and provide whatever assistance you may need."
Premier John Horgan issued a statement Wednesday saying Yang's death is a "horrific tragedy" and a stark reminder of the dangers faced by those working to keep our communities safe.
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Wednesday that he would be heading to the funeral on Thursday for two Ontario police officers killed in a shooting in Innisfil this week.
He recently attended the funeral of a fallen police officer in Toronto, he said, and would be reaching out to law enforcement in British Columbia now too.
"It has been a really difficult period, there's no doubt about that. You know, there have been a number of losses on the front line, and I've been grieving with the community," Mendicino said.
The statement from the police federation called the deadly attack "an unfortunate but stark reminder that police officers face risk every time they show up for work."
It said that reality is "becoming all too common" and called October a "devastating month" for all Canadian police officers and their families.
A procession of police vehicles drove slowly through Metro Vancouver on Tuesday night to honour Yang.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2022.