BURNABY, B.C. — A coroner’s inquest jury is recommending the RCMP make changes to mental health programs for its officers and their families after the death by suicide of a sergeant in 2013 who was involved in a high-profile case in British Columbia that resulted in criticism of the department.
The inquest heard three days of testimony before the recommendations were made Thursday, much of it focused on Pierre Lemaitre’s role as the RCMP’s media spokesman after the death of a man who was in a confrontation with police at Vancouver International Airport in 2007.
The inquest heard Lemaitre released inaccurate information about the case of Robert Dziekanski that his superiors wouldn’t let him correct.
Lemaitre’s former family doctor and psychologist testified he had post-traumatic stress disorder from dealing with victims of crime but the incident involving Dziekanski increased his depression and anxiety.
Atoya Montague, a former media strategist for the RCMP, said 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 a video emerged that showed Dziekanski was relatively calm when the Mounties arrived and that they used the stun gun five times.
Sheila Lemaitre said her husband was transferred off the case after two days and eventually moved to the traffic division, which he compared to “being put out with the trash.” He felt belittled and disrespected by his colleagues, with one calling him “redundant,” she testified earlier this week.
The five-member jury made five recommendations that call on the commissioner of the RCMP to:
— Include mental health assessments in conjunction with the department’s three year mandatory physical assessment.
— Offer a “variety of learning methods” for mental health education for all RCMP members.
— Develop measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the RCMP’s mental health strategy.
— Make funding available to implement the jury’s recommendations.
— Provide classes to family members after an officer is hired to provide an overview of the potential mental health issues they could face.
The RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the jury’s recommendations.
The officer’s family doctor told the inquest Lemaitre was prescribed antidepressants and anxiety medication but he was not suicidal. Dr. Cameron Smith described Lemaitre as a stoic man whose mental health issues began improving, only to worsen after Dziekanski’s death.
RCMP Supt. Denis Boucher, who was Lemaitre’s supervisor when he was moved to the traffic division, broke down as he read the last few email exchanges between the two men. He described Lemaitre as an integral part of the team.
But John Ward, a retired staff sergeant who was Lemaitre’s supervisor in the media division, said the officer didn’t seem overly stressed about the inaccurate information he gave the media after Dziekanski’s death.