Three weeks, three suicides
Worked at different jobs, detachments
Three Ontario Provincial Police officers have committed suicide in the past three weeks.
Though the family of the first officer to take his own life, Sgt. Sylvain Routhier, directly confronted the nature of their loss in a public obituary, the deaths of the other two officers weren’t similarly described in theirs, so the National Post isn’t identifying them.
But various sources confirm the other two also killed themselves.
The three worked in different jobs at different detachments.
Routhier, who was 37, was a 13-year veteran and a former member of one of the OPP’s elite Tactics and Rescue Units. He had a wide-open smile and was an avid Montreal Canadiens’ fan and minor hockey coach.
As is typical of those on the Ontario-wide force, Routhier had served in several cities across the province, but most recently was at the Quinte West detachment in Trenton.
He was married and left behind three children. As his obituary said, “he took his own life on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, after a brief battle with mental illness.”
The second to die, on Aug. 11, was a 50-year-old veteran and former soldier who had served several overseas tours and was described as a wonderful man by those who knew him.
After 24 years on the job, he had risen to become a detective-inspector in the OPP’s organized crime enforcement bureau and was based in the force’s east region.
He too left behind two children, and his widow is herself a serving OPP officer.
The third officer died on Monday at the age of 38.
He was an identification officer in the force’s west division and is survived by his wife and a young daughter. In the online condolence book for him, friends remembered his kindness on and off the job.
Three years ago, he and another OPP constable were praised for their desperate efforts to save a 74-year-old man who had choked and was without vital signs when they arrived on scene. The two officers took over CPR until they got a pulse back, but the man later died at hospital.
The officer’s funeral is Sunday.
OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes is clearly stricken by the losses.
Taking his cues from the bereaved families, Hawkes tweeted about the first two deaths, praising Routhier’s wife Sarah “for her bravery in building mental health awareness” and adding the hashtags #mental health and #HeroesInLife to his words of condolence about the second man.
Hawkes also issued a formal statement this week, saying “We are deeply devastated by the recent loss of three of our members” and pledging his commitment “to examining the barriers that exist preventing our members from seeking assistance and support.”
He urged OPP officers to contact “one of our many support services” if they recognize a fellow officer in need.
“Together, we can overcome the stigma associated with mental illness and support each other in our times of need.”
Sources say the force’s senior command is troubled by the suicides and has met to discuss them, but that it’s too soon to know if there are any direct links to the officers’ jobs, if any or all were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or another “operational stress injury,” as illnesses related to trauma on the job are called, another mental illness or if there’s any evidence of what psychiatrists call “a contagion,” which is where suicides sometimes occur in clusters.
The force has an employee assistance program and offers counselling to its officers, but some say that either the counsellors aren’t sufficiently familiar with PTSD or that the counselling that is covered by insurance is too short.
Wait times to see a psychiatrist have also been an issue in the past.
In 2012, then-Ontario ombudsman Andre Martin did a study of suicide within the OPP and the force’s approach to getting its members help.
At that time, Marin was studying the suicides of 21 male and two female OPP officers and retired officers who had killed themselves between January of 1989 and May of 2012.
While police officers do routinely see death, tragedy and cruelty and may suffer operational stress injuries, depression remains the mental illness most closely linked to suicide.
For all of these illnesses — PTSD, depression, operational stress injuries — there is effective treatment. The key is to ask for help, and to receive it quickly.
As one of the replies to Hawkes’ poignant tweets this week had as a hashtag, #SickNotWeak.
OPP Sgt. Sylvain Routhier and his wife Sarah.