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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Two red jackets Giesbrecht's pride

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EACH player on the 1965 Western Canadian Little League Baseball championship team from CPAC received a red, wool mouton jacket adorned with crests; one to commemorate the title on the arm and a big maple leaf on the left side of the chest.

These red CPAC jackets were a huge status symbol in Winnipeg's North End during the 1960s. They were worn with pride until they wore out or simply got too small.

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It could be that Allen Giesbrecht thought of his CPAC jacket when he put on another crimson symbol of immense pride -- the red serge of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Just 20 years old, Allen joined our national police service in April 1972.

As he neared his 12th anniversary with the force, Giesbrecht was stationed in the quiet Alberta town of Vegreville. The town of 5,200 had been kept awake on occasion by the antics of 44-year-old Tom Zaiec, who was known to police for strange and erratic behaviour. When one of Zaiec's neighbours claimed he had been threatened with a shotgun, Allen and the three other RCMP members who were dispatched to Zaiec's house all put on their protective vests.

Zaiec had been known to take wreaths out of graveyards, put them on his front door and light them with candles. Of more concerns to Giesbrecht and his colleagues were the anti-RCMP signs, like "RCMP are Pigs," that Zaiec would place in his windows. When they arrived at the house and hacked their way in with an axe, they found Zaiec barricaded in a dark bedroom while his mother walked around chanting unintelligibly.

Standard procedure in such cases is to establish contact with the perpetrator and try to negotiate a peaceful resolution. For some reason, Geisbrecht peered around a corner into the darkened bedroom (RCMP called it a "mistake" in their tribute). Without warning, Zaiec fired his .270 calibre rifle and hit Geisbrecht in the stomach.

Normally, the body vest would have withstood such a gunshot. But this bullet struck Giesbrecht on the right side in the gap between the two protective panels. He staggered back into the kitchen and fell to the floor mortally wounded. This precipitated an exchange of gunfire with Zaiec where another RCMP officer was wounded.

Because of the threat of Zaiec's firepower, the police had a difficult time removing Giesbrecht from the scene. Finally, they were able to get him into an ambulance and he was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital in Vegreville. The doctors determined he was bleeding internally. There was no plasma available at the 70-bed rural hospital so there was no choice but to risk the 45-minute ambulance trip to University Hospital in Edmonton. Giesbrecht arrived there at 8:45 p.m. but died about 30 minutes later from trauma and loss of blood.

Eventually, RCMP removed Zaiec's mother from the house and negotiations went on all night. Zaiec constantly asked if he had killed Geisbrecht. Around nine o'clock the next morning, a loud bang was heard from inside the house. No more contact could be made with the suspect and, at 12:30 p.m. the force sent in a robot TV camera. It showed Zaiec lying motionless on a bed. When the RCMP tactical squad went in, they found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

 

-- Don Marks

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 27, 2011 J5

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