Calgary police Sgt. Paban Dhaliwal knew Sgt. Andrew Harnett well. Both officers worked out of Calgary's District 5 police office and very often their work overlapped. When Sgt. Harnett was killed in the line of duty on New Year's Eve 2020, Sgt. Dhaliwal said that the death of a fellow police officer was one that filled his heart with heaviness and sorrow. But from that sorrow came something else; an opportunity to honour a fellow police officer.
For the second year in a row, the Fill the Sgt. Andrew Harnett Rink Toy Drive will be held in Calgary on Sunday, December 11. Sgt. Dhaliwal said that the Kidsplayfoundation had made the decision to start hosting their toy drive at the rink, named after Sgt. Harnett as a way to not only remember a member of the police service who was well-respected in the community, but to also honour his life and untimely death by giving back to the community, something Sgt. Harnett did so much of, both in and out of uniform.
"Being involved in the community and giving back is very important to both organization that I volunteer with and the organization I work with," Sgt. Dhaliwal said. "A lot of his [Sgt. Harnett] career was up here in District 5; he's very well known in the community and the community did respect him and wanted to do something to give back to him and in his memory."
Sgt. Dhaliwal said that for him becoming a police officer was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Ever since he was a young boy, he had wanted to be a police officer.
"It always came back down to policing for me; a big part of it is to serve the community and give back to it," he said. "One thing that I always fall back on is the work that I am doing for the community is for the betterment of this community."
The Calgary police officer's enthusiasm may have also rubbed off on another volunteer that is also participating in the toy drive for the second time. 21-year-old Lovedeep Singh started volunteering with the Kidsplayfoundation in 2021.
"It's good to see an organization like this come out and support the kids because at one point, we were kids as well and we got that mentorship," Singh said. "Nowadays with [the] financial crisis, and before with the pandemic, a lot of these kids don't get that support."
Singh himself is planning to go into law enforcement and when he learned of the death of Sgt. Harnett, it gave him pause, though that pause did not leave any doubt in his mind about the career path he is choosing to take.
"Seeing an officer get killed in the line of duty, woke me up to the fact that it can happen to anyone at any time. We should respect these officers. for what they do for us because they're putting their lives at risk for us so that we can be safe."
Singh said that as a young man coming from an immigrant family, whose parents came to Canada to pave the way for a better future for their children, the holidays have taken on a whole new meaning for him, a meaning full of introspection and understanding of the struggles others might be facing.
"It's really tough for families to provide because there are other expenses too, so a lot of kids don't get toys," he said. "And that's just our goal; that every kid gets a toy for Christmas."
However, for volunteer Mandeep Manhas, this will be the first time she is participating in the toy drive for Sgt. Harnett. But just like Singh, it was Sgt. Dhaliwal who would spur her to become a volunteer. When Manhas was in high school, her wrestling coach was none of the then Sgt. Dhaliwal. Through his mentorship, Manhas would continue on in sports and later on become involved in volunteering. She noted that the toy drive isn't just about collecting toys. There is a much deeper meaning behind the goal of how many toys the organization wants to collect.
"This year, our goal is to collect 2,512 toys and hopefully maybe next year we can collect 4,601 toys," she said.
4601 was Sgt. Harnett's badge number.
"For anyone in law enforcement - I work, with the Crown Prosecutor's officer - so it does hit home for a lot of us," she said. "December is a hard month on anyone whether they celebrate Christmas or not."
She also contemplated the fact that it was also at the very end of December nearly two years ago when Sgt. Harnett was killed.
Manhas warmly invited all residents of the Calgary and Airdrie area to Calgary on Sunday, saying anyone is welcome to donate as much or as little as they like. She added that anyone who is interested can always contact Kidsplayfoundation and request that a volunteer come and pick up the toys.
Other than the Calgary Police Service, the RCMP, Calgary firefighters, peace officers, and other law enforcement agencies will also be participating in the event. The toy drive will be held on Sunday, December 11 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sgt. Andrew Harnett Memorial Rink, located at 95 Falshire Drive N.E. Calgary.
For those who would still like to drop off a donation after Sunday, there are many donation locations around Calgary, including all CPS locations, CIR Realty locations, Westbrook Mall, Marlborough Mall, Rogers stores, Ricky’s All-Day Grill, and Humpty’s Family Restaurant that also accept donations.