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100th Anniversary Edition

Alumni News | Vol. 27 No. 2 | Summer 2019

A legacy of change and compassion

ALUMNI NEWS MAGAZINE | 100th Anniversary Edition

leanne fitchLeanne Fitch (BA’85, MA’95) has been tested in more ways than most during her almost 35 years as a Fredericton police officer, but through it all, she has never lost her faith or her belief that people are good at heart. 

Leanne has been chief of the Fredericton Police Department since 2013 and a member of the force since the mid-1980s. She is retiring in June from the career in which she has spent her entire adult life. 

While it was long her intention to retire at this time, her decision was made more difficult by the tragic events of Aug. 10, 2018, in which two police officers and two civilians were killed in a mass shooting that shocked Fredericton to its core. 

Leanne knows that the sad events of that day will haunt her for the rest of her life. 

“Everything changed,” she says. “I have suffered a tremendous amount of guilt knowing we are still down a number of people who aren’t back at work yet. This feels like a really terrible time to be passing the torch to another chief.” 

However, upon reflection Leanne believes this is the right time to step aside and let someone else take over. “It will be good to have a new chief in here leading the way forward,” she says, adding that it’s not like she will be closing the door forever on the force and never looking back. 

Leanne’s passion for law enforcement began in childhood. Her father, the late Ken Fitch, spent many years with the RCMP in New Brunswick and Leanne remembers how proud she was of her dad. She recalls that he was concerned about her decision to pursue policing as a career, not because she was a woman, but because he knew firsthand how tough it is to be a cop. 

“My father, God bless him, it’s not that he didn’t want me to go into policing from a gender perspective, he didn’t want me to go into policing because it is a difficult job – emotionally and physically. The fact is you have to deal with the hard, sad side of life every day; I think he wanted to spare me from that.” 

Her father tried to steer his daughter towards a law degree, but the only other career Leanne was considering was a veterinarian. She knew however, that her heart would eventually lead her into policing, but before entering the force, she chose to first study sociology. 

She considers her time at UNB extremely valuable. 

“My undergraduate studies gave me an extra four years to mature and become a little more worldly,” Leanne says. “It was four years of working at various jobs and studying. I loved sociology; I found my niche when I started to study that.” 

Her student jobs often involved policing including a stint with the UNB campus police, and a period as a summer park patroller and an auxiliary officer with the Fredericton police. 

“I literally grew up in this organization,” she says. 

She spent a short time with the Toronto police following graduation, honing her skills. But she was lured back to the Fredericton Police Force in 1986 and that is where she stayed. 

“When I came back here, I was the fifth woman on the force at the time, but only the third person with a university education,” she says. “That did not put me in good standing coming into the organization. People were very threatened by that.” 

It was a different culture in those days. Women trying to break through male-dominated professions often encountered stubborn resistance, and police forces were notoriously difficult places for female officers. Leanne had one male colleague who refused to speak to her. “There was a huge gap: an age gap, a gender gap and an education gap,” she says. 

Then in the late 1980s, Leanne met her future wife, Sara, now a training coordinator at the Fredericton Police Department. Before long, the two were embroiled in a frightening, internal investigation of their relationship. For years in Canada, there were programs to identify and remove LGBTQ+ people who worked in the military and public services – programs that now are completely discredited. 

“There was a big investigation,” Leanne recalls. “Our colleagues were called in and questioned, trying to find out what people knew about our relationship. We were tipped off by one of the officers otherwise we would have been completely blindsided.” 

This was one area where Leanne acknowledges that “unwillingly and unknowingly” she and Sara blazed a trail that others have followed. “But not by our choice,” she says. 

In other respects, Leanne does not see herself as a trailblazer. However, her determination in the face of so much deterrence set her apart and won admiration within the force. 

“My father used to say, ‘Never let them see you sweat Fitchie’,” she says with a laugh. 

“He says it doesn’t matter where you go in life there are always going to be people who don’t like you just because you are you and that is the same for everybody. But, I never considered myself a trailblazer. I didn’t want to be distinguished for my gender.” 

Leanne was working on difficult cases involving family violence and child sexual abuse when she decided to get her master’s degree in sociology from UNB. 

Her graduate studies completely changed her perspective on policing. 

“I had a phenomenal supervisor, Dr. Peter McGann out of Saint John,” she says. “The work expanded my world view of policing. It took me from looking at policing through a straw to looking at it through a telescope. It made me excited about staying in policing and being part of creating change.” 

The future looks blissful for Leanne – writing about nature, spirituality and justice, and enjoying her rural hobby farm with Sara and their pets, including three horses.  

When asked about her legacy, Leanne says: “Putting care back into policing.” 

“My mission statement for many years has been to make the practice of policing more kind, compassionate, ethical and professional by acting justly, loving tenderly and walking with God.” 


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