Story by Dean Chasnoff
Retired Ontario Provincial Police constable, Todd Ternovan, was known as a “digger”: never satisfied with pat answers or loose ends in cases. His diligence and tenacity once solved a vicious home invasion that saw an elderly man beaten and left for dead and robbed of $20,000. It took more than a year, but Todd tracked down the assailant, recovered the stolen money, and personally returned it to the victim.
This and countless other “truth is stranger than fiction” stories are told in Todd Ternovan’s new law enforcement memoir, Gas of Tank: A Canadian Law Enforcement Odyssey 1979 – 2019, written by LaSalle writer, Matthew St. Amand.
In 1979, while his peers were waiting tables, pumping gas, or delivering pizzas, Todd worked as a corrections officer at the Windsor Jail when he was eighteen years old. A year later, while attending Ryerson University in Toronto, he worked for another four years at the notorious Don Jail—the toughest institution in the country. Among other terrifying characters he ran into, there, Todd spent a summer guarding Nazi war criminal Helmut Rauca leading up to Rauca’s deportation from Canada in the early 1980s.
Todd became a constable with the Ontario Provincial Police in 1990. His first call was a twenty-five-car fender bender in a funeral procession in the town of Merlin. He quickly learned that small-town policing isn’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, harrowing traffic accidents, and even a year spent “Uncle Charlie” (undercover) investigating drug traffickers.
From there, the gyrations and twists of fate that governed Todd’s career with the OPP take the reader on a roller coaster ride: working patrol, B&E squad, drug squad, undercover, highway interdiction in Merlin, Chatham, Malden, Casino Windsor, Lakeshore.
If there is one through-line in this story, it’s Todd’s uncanny ability to police with his wits and cultivate confidential informants. In the era of the Rodney King beating, Todd used his innate cleverness and gamesmanship to outsmart the bad guys, tricking them into writing “letters of confession” and otherwise lifehacking cons to do the right thing: to inform on each other. Todd wasn’t just about policing—he sought to solve crimes.
The book’s unusual title comes from a traffic stop Todd and a partner made of a group of outlaw motorcycle gang members along Highway 401. When the bikers were allowed to go, one of them decided to show his disdain for police by pulling a wheelie on his motorcycle and flipping Todd and his partner “the finger.” The biker was brought to court for stunt driving, and in his defense—delivered in a thick Quebec accent—he stated: “It is not possible to pull a wheelie on a Harley. I had a full gas of tank!” For Todd, that garbled phrase embodied all of the surreal, upside-down, unbelievable encounters police face on a daily basis.
Amid the humour and the horror of these stories, the reader has a front row seat to Todd’s policing style. He specialized in cultivating informants. When the stakes were low, particularly with Highway Traffic Act infractions, Todd gave offenders a chance to pay their debt to society by giving information about other crimes: those that already occurred, or those as yet to happen. This resulted in dangerous weapons and drugs being taken off the street, while at the same time, avoiding clogging the system with people who made bad decisions, which were ultimately harmless.
Reader reviews on Amazon.ca state: “Gas of Tank is an engaging, interesting and highly entertaining read! It is both funny and heart-breaking, poignant and moving”, “Raw, Real Insight Into Life as a Cop in Ontario”,and “This book was a real page turner! Very well written! Totally enjoyable. It is an eye-opener about what police deal with EVERY SINGLE DAY!!”
Gas of Tank: A Canadian Law Enforcement Odyssey 1979 – 2019 is available at Juniper Books and Story Teller Bookstore, both on Ottawa Street, and at River Bookshop in Amherstburg, as well as Amazon.ca.