The commissioner of the RCMP is offering the department’s ”deepest sympathies” to the family of a former spokesman who an inquest heard experienced a deterioration of his mental health before he died by suicide in 2013.
A coroner’s inquest jury recommended this week that the RCMP evaluate its mental health strategy and offer a variety of methods for mental health education for its members after the death of Pierre Lemaitre, who was a sergeant.
The inquest heard that Lemaitre delivered the information he was told to give to the media about the death of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007, and only learned later that a video contradicted some of his statements.
Sheila Lemaitre testified at the inquest in Burnaby, B.C., that her husband urged his supervisors to let him correct the information, but he was ordered not to and became deeply distressed by media reports calling him an RCMP spin doctor and liar.
Commissioner Brenda Lucki says in a statement issued Friday that she is committed to continuing to implement measures that support the mental health of RCMP employees and the force welcomes the recommendations made by the coroner’s jury.
Lucki says Lemaitre’s death is a tragedy that underscores the Mounties’ need to remain dedicated to investing in the health, well-being and safety of employees and families.
“Mental illness is a very real and urgent issue,” she says.
“We must ensure that employees and their families are aware of, and can access, support programs and services. We need to proactively protect our members from the impacts of trauma and operational stress injuries, and foster a culture that supports those who are directly or indirectly affected by mental health issues.”
Lucki says the RCMP appreciates every opportunity to examine existing procedures and policies to ensure it is providing the best support to employees, and by extension, the best policing services to the public.
She says it will review each recommendation and provide a written response to the B.C. Coroners Service.
“For anyone who is suffering or needs help — reach out. You are not alone,” she adds.
Atoya Montague, a former media strategist for the RCMP, testified that Lemaitre was used to tell a false story about the death of Dziekanski, a Polish man who couldn’t speak English and became agitated after wandering around the airport arrivals area for 10 hours.
After the incident, Lemaitre told reporters that officers approached a combative man and jolted him twice with a Taser, but two days later the video emerged that showed Dziekanski was relatively calm when the Mounties arrived and that they used the stun gun five times.
The inquest jury made five recommendations, including calling on the RCMP to conduct mental health assessments in conjunction with the department’s three year mandatory physical assessment and to provide classes to family members after an officer is hired to provide an overview of the potential mental health issues they could face.
The Canadian Press