RCMP Const. Dani Zaya honored with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Van de Vorst Family Award

CBC News 

December 15, 2020

When RCMP Const. Dani Zaya first came to Saskatchewan from Ontario, he didn’t know what a snowmobile trail was.

“Those are not roads, so I learned that quickly. … I did not know what those were,” he told CBC’s Saskatchewan Weekend.

Zaya grew up in Bowmanville, Ont., population 40,000, which he considered to be a small town. So when he moved to Carlyle, Sask., population 1,500, it was a bit of a shock.

“It’s just unbelievable how everyone is so friendly here,” he said. “There’s a sense of community here. … It just seems everyone knows everyone. They’re always here for you.”

Zaya was recently honoured with the Van de Vorst Family Award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving for his work in removing impaired drivers from the road.

The award began after Lou and Linda Van de Vorst lost their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren when a drunk driver crashed into their vehicle on a highway just north of Saskatoon.

Const. Alexa Dubeau, also from the Carlyle Detachment, and Cpl. Collin Volman from the Rose Valley/Kelvington Detachment received the award along with Zaya.

Zaya said the award was unexpected and he was happy to receive it.

“But like a lot of members here, I don’t do my job to get recognised,” he said. “We all play a role in keeping Saskatchewan roads safe.”

From Iraq to Canada

Zaya was born in Baghdad, Iraq, and moved to Canada with his family when he was four years old.

“It was, unfortunately, a war-torn country and we had to flee,” he said. “My parents wanted a safe place to raise their children.”

He said he doesn’t remember much about Iraq because he was so young when he left, but that his father has always reminded him about how privileged he is to live in Canada.

“Growing up, my dad always instilled into me just appreciating the little things, even simply just going to turn, like, the tap of water on,” he said.

“Because back home, like, you know, there wasn’t running water all the time or they would be turning off the electricity and, like, you wouldn’t have electricity.”

Compassion a big driver

Zaya said he knew he wanted to be a police officer since he was in Grade 8 and, to this day, he has vivid memories of the first time he was fitted for the iconic red serge Mounties uniform.

“It’s just an overwhelming feeling that comes over,” he said. “The whole world slows down and it’s like you look at yourself in the mirror and they’re mending it and all the tailors are fixing it and measuring you up and you have it on and … I can’t describe it in words. It’s just surreal.”

He says one of his best experiences as an RCMP officer so far was when he got to present his mom with her Canadian citizenship — along with 68 other Canadians.

“I went and surprised her,” he said. “My parents didn’t know and my mom had a double look at me and she started crying right away, realizing that it was her son in the red serge. And it was amazing. I’ll always remember that moment.”

Compassion is a big driver for Zaya, he said. In addition to his work getting drunk drivers off the road, he has also been committed to helping other RCMP officers have a better understanding of the mental health issues people they encounter might be dealing with.

Zaya said that’s in part because his two younger brothers have non-verbal autism.

“It’s just natural to me to be able to help somebody that has autism,” he said. “It taught me … to obviously respect people with differences like that and just to be able to, like, show that compassion and be patient.”