Sarah Boisvert will never forget her 25th birthday.
The memory of that day has nothing do with getting older, or a gift she received.
Instead, it is the gift she gave to a stranger in a crisis that will stick with her.
In the early afternoon of March 2, 2021, Boisvert was driving across the Lions Gate Bridge when she noticed a woman start to climb over the railing.
She slammed on her car’s brakes and decided to act.
“I hopped over a railing, and I grabbed the arm and the leg of someone who was half over the railing,” said Boisvert, who was on her way back to her North Shore home in anticipation of a birthday dinner.
“I've been in my own bad place with mental health and tried to talk her down. But I think the line that actually stuck with her is I told her it was my birthday, and it was my 25th birthday. She said, ‘Oh, really, I'm so sorry.’ And then I just held her until police officers arrived.”
Award of merit
The B.C. Institute of Technology environmental sciences student was among citizens and Vancouver police officers recognized Monday for bravery, courage and a commitment to excellence via the department’s annual commendation awards, held at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown.
Police Chief Adam Palmer and Mayor Kennedy Stewart presented Boisvert with the Award of Merit, which is given to citizens who helped or attempted to save a life, helped prevent a crime or assisted police catch an offender.
“Honestly, I didn't even know that this was something that could happen,” she told Vancouver Is Awesome after the ceremony. “I am very grateful.”
Burning camper van
Matthew Coulson was recognized for saving the life of a woman caught inside a burning camper van on Slocan Street last April. Coulson was working as a landscaper and had stopped at a Lowe’s home improvement store to buy supplies when he heard people yelling.
He raced across the parking lot, climbed over a tall retaining wall and went into the camper to save the woman. Coulson was unable to get to a man inside the camper, despite suffering burns to his hand in the process.
“Sadly, the fire had grown too big and Matthew was forced to relent,” said Const. Tania Visintin, a VPD media relations officer, who along with Sgt. Steve Addison operated as masters of ceremonies Monday.
Other citizens recognized were Blake Harvey, Kiran Mooker and Danish Nadan for coming to the aid of three women in separate events on July 10, 2020. Each case occurred downtown and were linked to one man making inappropriate advances and remarks towards the women.
In one incident, Mooker and Nadan signaled for one of the women to get into their car, only to have the man grab Nadan by the neck and try to punch him several times, while demanding the woman get out of the car.
Police eventually arrested the man.
Canadian Tire robbery
Sitting in the audience with family to hear these stories was Const. Justin Fraser, who received a standing ovation when it was his turn to be congratulated by the chief and mayor for a call he and Const. Gary Li responded to Nov. 10, 2016.
Fraser and Li were first on scene to a violent robbery in progress at a Canadian Tire store on Grandview Highway, near Renfrew Street.
The suspect, who was later identified as Daniel Peter Rintoul, was a 430-pound man dressed in camouflage.
He had already sprayed a can of bear spray at a 53-year-old store clerk at the “gun desk” and cut his face and head with a knife, according to the Independent Investigations Office’s review of the incident.
Rintoul had then taken an elderly man hostage before emerging from the store with a knife and the bear spray. He fired the bear spray at Fraser and Li, who then shot his Taser at Rintoul, which enabled the hostage to run to safety.
Fraser and Li moved in to handcuff Rintoul, but he recovered and stabbed Fraser in the abdomen, shoulder and chin. Fraser was able to break free, pulled out his gun and fired. Li also fired, with the bullets momentarily stopping the assault.
Li and another officer then pulled Fraser a few metres from Rintoul, where officers performed first aid until it was safe for paramedics to reach him. But then Rintoul roused once more and refused to drop the knife or bear spray.
The IIO’s review of the incident said three officers—identified only as officers 1, 2 and 4 in the report—fired 10 bullets from their pistols at Rintoul, with nine of the rounds hitting him.
Rintoul was also hit twice with a Taser, five “rubber bullet” rounds from an Arwen gun and pepper spray. He died at the scene.
The IIO cleared officers of any wrongdoing in the November 2016 shooting death.
Fraser, who received the Award of Valour for his actions that day, declined an interview after the ceremony, saying he wanted to spend time with his family and colleagues, including those who responded to the robbery.
'Answered the call that day'
Sgt. Ryan Irving was a member of an emergency response team during the chaotic event, which attracted RCMP officers from Burnaby. Irving has medical training that he used that day on a store clerk and on Fraser, who he was glad to see at Monday’s ceremony.
“We all kind of show up knowing it can happen, but we live in Canada and you don't think it's gonna happen, but sometimes it does,” Irving said. “He stepped up and answered the call that day and did his job.”
Irving was among 18 officers also recognized Monday for their efforts in how they responded to the robbery, with each of them awarded Chief Constable’s citations.
The last awards of the ceremony went to Sgt. Dan Ames, police officer of the year, who was described as a tenacious crime fighter, and accountant Davina Chung, civilian professional of the year, who was recognized for her exemplary work ethic.
Chinatown leader Dr. Carol Lee was given the community safety leader award.
A full list of the award recipients can be viewed on the VPD’s website.
'Just keeping an eye out'
Boisvert, meanwhile, said she never did meet the woman she helped on her birthday.
She would be open to, if the woman was so inclined.
For now, she added, it's important that people look out for each other.
"Just keeping an eye out," Boisvert said. "It's something as simple as even just smiling to someone on the sidewalk who might need it."