Golf Oscar Tango

The Daycare Teacher Who Became a Drug Cop

Story by Matthew St. Amand

Interesting how we can live near someone, learn about them through casual conversation, and then one day realize: “My neighbour is Superman.”

Todd and his family moved next door to me fifteen years ago. The first memory I have of Todd is watching him push a lawnmower up and down his lawn. Not very extraordinary, except the lawnmower wasn’t running.

I wondered: “Is he a crazy person?” Then, thinking myself rather witty, I called over: “Would it work better if it was switched on?”

“It is,” he said. “It’s battery-powered.” Check and mate.

Todd was a constable with the Ontario Provincial Police, so it was a relief to learn he wasn’t a crazy person.

Constable Todd Ternovan, circa 2007, aboard the OPP Cessna working Traffic Enforcement 2,500 feet above Highway 401.

As a writer, I’m naturally drawn to interesting stories. The first fascinating detail I learned about Todd—aside from his lawnmower—was that he began his working life as a daycare teacher.

“While doing my Early Childhood Education degree in Toronto,” he said, “I was a part-time Corrections Officer at the Don Jail.” In the early 1980s, the Don was the toughest jail in Canada.
Every story Todd told me sounded like a book jacket blurb. Finally, I said: “We should compile your stories in a book.”

“A lot of people have said I should do that,” he said.

So, one morning in February 2020, seated in his living room, coffees at hand, my laptop open, Todd put Captain Beefheart on the turntable, and told me his story:

He believed in keeping things simple: Studying ECE at Ryerson University, marrying his college sweetheart, and spending his professional life as a daycare teacher. It was a tidy plan. Except for one thing: Man plans and the gods laugh.

While working as the director of a daycare and toy lending library in far-flung Wawa, Ontario, OPP officers on rotation in the area learned of Todd’s experience at the Don Jail. Soon, they took him ice fishing and on “ride alongs” in the police cruiser. After Todd and his family decided to leave Wawa, a constable gave him an OPP job application. Someone else might have graciously accepted the gesture, then politely tossed it out. Todd completed the application and submitted it.

It was all part of the weird, pinball ricochet of events that shaped Todd’s life. He had a knack for taking the most interesting path, every time.

The OPP responded to his application, months later, requesting an interview.

After navigating a gauntlet of interviews, personality and physical tests, Todd became an OPP constable in September 1990. His first post was in illustrious Merlin, Ontario.

“My first call was a twenty-five car fender bender in a funeral procession,” he recalled. “The detachment didn’t have computers at that time. Do you know what it’s like to ‘hand-bomb’ twenty-five Traffic Reports?”

Todd soon learned that small-town policing wasn’t just rescuing cats from trees and performing wellness checks. The concession roads and rural routes of southwestern Ontario are home to some incredibly kind, resilient people and scene to some strange, tragic, and heinous events. Todd dealt with them all, from the naked machete-wielding man who claimed to be Jesus Christ, to armed American fugitives, decades-old sexual assaults, and harrowing traffic accidents.

Early on, Todd was known as a “digger”—a proactive cop. One afternoon, a three year old Wheatley boy was reported missing. Todd searched an area where no one else had looked and found the child hanging by a tree root over a cliff by Lake Erie, 30 feet above the rocky shore. He rescued the boy and returned him to his family.

Todd Ternovan enjoying some old school vinyl in retirement. Photo by Matthew St. Amand.

Cases he worked were featured on TV news magazines and in various published books. Learning that Todd guarded infamous Nazi war criminal, Helmet Rauca, in the Don Jail, Nazi hunter and CBC journalist, Sol Littman, interviewed Todd for his book War Criminal on Trial: Rauca of Kaunas. A case Todd worked involving sex abuse and hockey hazing was featured in two segments of The Fifth Estate in the late 1990s, as well as a chapter in Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada’s National Sport by CBC journalist, Laura Robertson. After learning how he convinced a smash-and-grab jewelry thief to write an “apology letter” (read: confession), attorney Steve Sherriff described Todd’s unique and effective interrogation techniques in the book Convicting the Guilty.

By the end of his career with the OPP, Todd had worked in a dozen different units from the B&E Squad, Drug Enforcement Bureau (DEB), Undercover, the Casino Windsor detachment, Traffic Enforcement, Traffic Interdiction, and finally, the Intelligence Unit.

“I’ll never forget seeing the aftermath of a fatal accident up north when I was about twenty,” Todd remembered. On a rare weekend off from the Don, he and his friends took a road trip and ended up in a rundown roadhouse, playing pool.

A distraught woman entered, screaming for help. Todd and his friends rushed outside and beheld the terrible sight. As the full shock settled in, an OPP cruiser arrived on the scene, two constables exited the vehicle and slowly brought order to the chaos.

“They knew what to do,” Todd recalled. “It must have stuck in my mind that I wanted to be like that. I had no idea, then, that I would be one of those constables less than ten years later.”

Our book’s title, “Golf Oscar Tango”, “G.O.T.”, derives from the phonetic alphabet used by police. It’s short for “Gas of Tank”. The phrase came from a biker who demonstrated his disdain for police by pulling a “wheelie” on his motorcycle following a traffic stop. He was charged with stunt driving. In his defense in court, the biker said, in a thick French accent: “That’s not possible. I had a full gas of tank!”

“I always said if I started a punk band,” Todd said, “I’d call it ‘Gas of Tank’. The phrase just embodies the surreal, upside-down, unbelievable experiences police face daily.”

The book is in its first draft and currently seeks a home with a friendly publisher, somewhere.

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