Toronto Star

Critics push RCMP for action on mental health

Mountie says his colleagues didn’t receive enough help after Moncton shooting


For 13 hours straight, the RCMP officer stood guard on what had been a quiet residentia­l street, waiting and watching for a gunman who had shot five of his colleagues and was stalking the woods somewhere behind him.

He and other officers were tucked behind the engine block of their police car in a bid for protection against an assailant known only for the highpowere­d long guns strapped to his back, hunting knives in his camouflage clothing and an apparent mission to take down police.

As he and his colleagues stood watch, he says they couldn’t shake the knowledge that their small police-issue handguns were no match for Justin Bourque’s longer-range weapons.

It was only when the radio crackled with news of Bourque’s capture near his post on June 6 that their tension eased. “They came on the radio and said, ‘We got him,’ ” he said. “From there, the intensity level just dropped and it was like an adrenalin rush — like, finally this is over.”

The intensity may have ended months ago, he says, but some officers are still shaken by the event and say they didn’t receive enough help from the RCMP in coping with the deaths of their colleagues or the trauma of the search for Bourque.

The officer says for many of the hundreds of responding officers not based in Moncton, the only followup from the organizati­on was an email letting them know they could attend the sessions in the city. “They made an attempt. Was it the best attempt? No, there are better options . . . A lot of people wished it would have been more of a personal approach.”

The criticism is the latest in a volley of complaints from serving and retired RCMP members who say the organizati­on is failing to adequately care for the mental health of its officers. The claim became particular­ly pointed over the last year with the suicides of several RCMP officers.

Cpl. Ron Francis, who served with the Mounties for 22 years, commit- ted suicide in early October after feuding with his superiors about not being allowed to smoke medicinal marijuana while in uniform.

There have been 32 suicides of retired or serving RCMP members since 2006 and his death put even more pressure on the force to address what many saw as a growing problem of operationa­l stress injuries. The force appointed Gilles Moreau as its so-called “mental health champion” last spring and rolled out a five-year mental health strategy in May that emphasized reducing the stigma of psychologi­cal disorders.

Moreau speaks candidly about his own struggles with mental health problems that at one point found him holding his revolver and contemplat­ing suicide. It’s a powerful story Moreau hopes will move other members to seek help, without fear of retributio­n or shame in doing so.

“That’s what we’re trying to change — that culture,” he said from Ottawa. The response to the Moncton shootings involved a full contingent of care providers, including several health services officers and psychologi­sts, he said. Most members from the local detachment were also given time off, with some still off work.

Some say the strategy does not go far enough in making sure officers feel comfortabl­e in seeking help and have the support of their superiors, while also providing robust resources to treat them. Jeff Morley, a psychologi­st who served in the RCMP as a front-line officer for 23 years, says he pushed to have a strategy that included research and evidenceba­sed measures to prevent and treat people with PTSD or other stress injuries. He’s glad to see the RCMP working to help members cope.

“But I think there are huge gaps in the strategy in areas in developing resilience, treating trauma and conducting research to determine the extent of the rates of PTSD and other mental health concerns in RCMP employees,” he said from Vancouver.

 ??  ?? Cpl. Ron Francis committed suicide in early October after serving the RCMP for 22 years.
Cpl. Ron Francis committed suicide in early October after serving the RCMP for 22 years.

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