RICHMOND, B.C. — When Dean Seskin steps up to receive the Chief Constable Certificate of Merit next month, the 20-year-old student from Richmond, B.C. may well be feeling embarrassed.
“I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to deserve the award,” he said of the Vancouver Police Department’s highest civilian honour. “What I did was a normal act. It just seemed huge because of the situation that surrounded it.”
Seskin is referring to the Stanley Cup riots in 2011, when he intervened to assist Robert MacKay, a local chef who was being beaten up by a mob of 15 assailants. Ten minutes earlier, MacKay had tried to stop the mob from looting The Bay in downtown Vancouver.
“People were surrounding me, throwing punches and kicking me,” MacKay recalls. “I couldn’t even open my eyes, because they were full of pepper spray.”
Seskin was walking along Georgia Street, trying to get to a train station, when he heard the sound of breaking windows at The Bay. He saw MacKay try to stop the looting, and moments later saw him being forced to the ground and attacked.
Seskin and another man, Chris McLelland, made their way through the crowd to rescue MacKay.
“I could see what was going to happen, and realized I needed to get in there,” he recalls.
A video posted on YouTube shows Seskin in a yellow Canucks jersey, as he and McLelland pulled people off MacKay.
“I tried to make a shield around him, because he had been sprayed by mace and couldn’t protect himself,” Seskin says.
They managed to drag him to safety and stayed with MacKay until his girlfriend arrived on the scene.
Seskin went home and informed his father, Darrel, that he had helped a guy who was hurt and had been sprayed with mace. A couple of days later his dad called to let him know he was on YouTube and that the video had gone viral.
“He never told me exactly what he’d done, just that he’d helped someone,” Darrel says. “When I saw it on YouTube, I realized exactly what he’d done. I felt super proud that my son had made the right decision, but it could have turned out differently and incredibly dangerously for him, so I was relieved that he had done good, but had emerged unscathed as well.”
Seskin’s story appeared on TV and in the newspapers, coverage he still finds a bit bizarre.
“It’s sickening that what I did is being called heroic,” he told the Richmond News. “If other people in the crowd had put down their phones and helped, it might have been different. What I did should be normal.”
MacKay, who will also receive the Certificate of Merit Jan. 9, says Seskin and McLelland “were my heroes.”
“Dean definitely deserves this award, because his intervention that day was extraordinary. He jumped in knowing full well what was happening and that he was putting himself at risk.”
The award is given by the Vancouver Police Board to a citizen, when, on their own initiative and in the face of actual or anticipated danger, they have assisted the police in preventing a crime or making a lifesaving attempt.
“It’s the highest award for civilian bravery,” says Const. Brian Montague, media relations officer for the Vancouver force. Seskin, MacKay and 25 others will receive the certificate for their various roles during the riots.
Seskin says many people did good deeds during the riot and that his was singled out because it happened to have been photographed and recorded.
His parents are proud as can be, and news of the award was on Darrel’s Facebook page right away, much to Dean’s chagrin.
“My parents are excited and they wanted to let people know,” he says. “But I didn’t really want others to find out. I don’t need other people to see me getting an award. It’s a personal thing and I don’t need the whole world to clap for me.”