Traumatized Nunavut Mounties sue their employer

Lawsuit alleges RCMP brass mocked and blackballed police who sought mental health care

This RCMP vehicle was riddled with bullet holes after a dangerous shooting incident in Iqaluit on Dec. 22, 2018. Because of exposure to multiple violent incidents like this, traumatized Mounties seek mental health care but often can’t get their supervisors to authorize it, a recent lawsuit alleges. (RCMP handout photo)

By Jim Bell

Four traumatized RCMP members exposed to extreme violence while serving in Nunavut have filed a lawsuit with the Federal Court of Canada alleging their employer failed to provide them with adequate mental health care and subjected them to abusive and discriminatory treatment for seeking such care.

Their statement of claim, filed on Sept. 16, makes numerous disturbing allegations that suggest the Nunavut RCMP suffers from a deeply dysfunctional workplace culture.

The four police officers, three of whom now live in Nova Scotia, allege that when Mounties seek help for on-the-job stress injuries, their supervisors resist and often refuse such requests.

And the lawsuit alleges that even when traumatized Mounties are allowed to receive mental health care, upon their return they suffer treatment from supervisors that makes their existing mental health problems even worse.

Multiple violent incidents

Much of the trauma the members suffered appears to be related to multiple violent incidents in Nunavut, although plaintiffs were also exposed to traumatizing incidents in other remote locations, such as Labrador and northern Manitoba.

The four plaintiffs have asked the Federal Court to certify the lawsuit as a class action.

If the court agrees, that means all Mounties diagnosed with an operational stress injury could be eligible for compensation should the legal action succeed.

The statement of claim, in addition to damage awards, seeks adequate funding to design, implement, operate and administer mental health services for class members, and support services for their families.

“Violence, danger, and tragedy”

One of the four Mounties, Cpl. Garrett Moore, was sent to Nunavut in 2012 after graduating from a six-month training program in Regina.

“During his first years as a Mountie, Cpl. Moore was frequently exposed to scenes of violence, danger, and tragedy while posted in a remote, northern region,” the statement of claim says.

But the RCMP in Nunavut didn’t offer any mental health services.

“Accordingly, Cpl. Moore struggled with mental health alone following his first series of calls to violent crime scenes and gruesome critical incidents,” the statement of claim said.

After that, Moore left Nunavut to serve in Sherwood Park, Alta. In 2017, a medical examination found that he was at marked risk for mental health issues.

The RCMP sent Moore back to Nunavut anyway. There, his mental health deteriorated, but when he sought help, the RCMP wouldn’t accommodate him.

“He experienced discrimination and belittling comments from superiors and peers simply because he sought medical help,” the statement of claim alleges.

In December 2018, Moore was ordered to respond to an active shooter incident in which Mounties were shot at for several hours.

The statement of claim doesn’t say where that incident occurred.

But on Dec. 22, 2018, in what RCMP described at that time as an “active shooter incident,” two men in the Happy Valley neighbourhood of Iqaluit fired rifle rounds at police for hours on a dark mid-winter night.

Only three days earlier, at another residence, an Iqaluit man had held three children hostage for 12 hours before RCMP crisis negotiators convinced him to give up.

“Insufficiently masculine and resilient”

After the Mounties involved asked for a medical debriefing, senior officers in Nunavut took note of which RCMP members sought help.

“Those who did [seek help] were treated and taunted as insufficiently masculine and resilient for a successful career and advancement opportunities,” the statement of claim alleges.

After that experience, Moore was diagnosed in Ottawa with post-traumatic stress disorder. He alleges that RCMP officials then tried to force him to quit by offering him a medical discharge.

“His PTSD symptoms were met with opposition, derogatory comments, and recommendations that he simply leave the force,” the statement of claim alleges.

Another plaintiff, Const. Kelly McQuade, had managed her own mental health while serving in the south in 2010, when she sought treatment from a psychologist.

But in 2017, when she was transferred to Nunavut, she was “shocked” to learn that RCMP members in remote locations get virtually no access to mental health services.

Blackballed, mocked for seeking help

After experiencing a string of traumatic events in her first year in Nunavut, she alleges she sought basic mental health support, but was met with “denials and hostility” from her supervisors.

“In the face of constant opposition, Const. McQuade did not stop asking for mental health services,” the statement of claim alleges.

As a result of that, she says a supervisor told her that she was “blackballed” and that any request she made would be rejected.

“She is currently on long-term medical leave for PTSD and does not know when she will be able to return to work,” the statement of claim said.

Staff-Sgt. David Combden, a 25-year veteran of the force, alleges he experienced the same kind of callous treatment from senior RCMP staff, after postings in multiple remote isolated communities, including Nunavut, where “he was subjected to both extreme violence and a toxic, discriminatory workplace culture.”

Combden says he lived with untreated PTSD symptoms for years and continues to live with those symptoms “exacerbated by years of suffering alone and in silence.”

Const. Graham Walsh, another plaintiff, says he already suffered from untreated PTSD when he was posted to Iqaluit in 2016.

“He continued to witness scenes of violence on a regular basis, but no mental health services were offered,” the statement of claim alleges.

He participated in responding to an active shooter incident in 2018 and was diagnosed with PTSD in the spring of 2019.

When he returned, he overheard “senior officers, supervisors and peers openly mocking Mounties with operational stress injuries, indicating that they were insufficiently tough to do their jobs,” the statement of claim alleges.

The allegations have yet to be proven in court. The online records of the Federal Court of Canada’s Halifax office show the attorney general of Canada, the RCMP’s legal representative, has yet to file a statement of defence.

By coincidence, Nunavut Finance Minister George Hickes, at a committee of the whole meeting on Sept. 24, told MLAs that an average of 11 Nunavut RCMP members were on long-term disability in 2019-20, up from an average of only 1.25 officers in 2012-13.

And it’s the Government of Nunavut that must pay the related costs, he said,

“When somebody from the RCMP does go on long-term disability, we are still continuing to pay for that in addition to paying for the replacement officer,” he said.

Traumatized Mounties Statem... by NunatsiaqNews

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by True on

    I worked alongside with officers years ago. Incidents/situations they experienced and witnessed is what no one should ever go through.
    This is very serious and glad mental health has been given more attention in recent years.

  2. Posted by Keith Morrison on

    At this point, anyone who thinks PTSD is simply a matter of not being “tough enough” is so obviously wrong that they have no excuse for their ignorance. Anyone, no matter how tough they think they are or appear to be, can get PTSD. Sometimes it’s minor enough to be able to carry on with minimal assistance, sometimes medical intervention is needed, and sometime it’s debilitating.
    .
    Mistreating someone who tries to get help so that they can carry on is contemptible.

  3. Posted by Fred on

    Something like this shows the need for much more than 6 months training to become an RCMP member and also shows the need for a new culture in the RCMP. New members seem to be posted in the north’s small communities as a means of getting training, before they get here they should already have that training. Police work, by nature of the duties, can be very traumatic work and those that can’t take the traumatic stress involved likely shouldn’t sign up. But at the same time, those that have suffered from it should be looked after in the form of aftercare so they can get the help they need to overcome it.

    They should start by making the training a much longer process. As I always say, if it takes a person 4 years to be become a plumber to unplug my toilet it should take a person more than 6 months to be able to carry a side arm and use it at their discretion. Something doesn’t add up here.

    • Posted by UNGAVA on

      Plumbers are true heros

    • Posted by Keith Morrison on

      “those that can’t take the traumatic stress involved likely shouldn’t sign up”
      .
      You don’t know if someone can deal with the trauma ahead of time, and thinking you can, and the mindset “Well, if they couldn’t take it they shouldn’t sign up”, is part of the reason why there’s a stigma about PTSD. You might say it to be well-meaning, but you’re simply helping spread that myth. A person doesn’t know how they’ll react until they’re faced with the situation.
      .
      And you know what? If you could magically restrict emergency workers to only those who didn’t have to deal with some form of PTSD, you’re suddenly going to find yourself short of a lot of police, nurses, doctors, paramedics, firefighters, coroners, and other first responders.

      • Posted by Right on

        The cumulative effects of repeated exposure to serious situations can lead to PTSD. A first responder could be fine/cope/excel with responding to a certain type of call, say the first 20 times, but with the 21st one it’s a tipping point. People can also have PTSD and not be diagnosed and lead ,what seem to be, ‘normal’ lives to those around them. People can be ‘high functioning’ and have mental illnesses.
        People with PTSD (first responder or not) can be invaluable in crisis situations — brains ticking along at rapid speed, assessing things, planning for various possible outcomes, back-up planning, etc. It’s often after the situation is over that the problematic symptoms of PTSD arise.

  4. Posted by northbaffin on

    i wouldn’t want to be a cop, there are good ones out there, must be hard to deal with the job and negative pressure at the same time.

  5. Posted by Been there, not what I saw on

    RCMP officers volunteer to go to a northern isolated post go through a selection process. None of them are forced to go/return/stay in Nunavut. Having said that, like in other departments / agencies, once at post some individuals realize the environment and type of work they encounter is different from what they expected and they have a difficult time to, or unfortunately never, adjust. Sometimes greed (yes, there are nice perks), promotional opportunities early in their careers and the possibility of returning to their home Province after their tenure cause some of them to apply / go / stay longer than they should. I am not saying this is the case with the plaintiffs identified in the article. Each case is unique and deserves to be examined individually.
    As far as the lack of psychological support is concerned, it is not what I witnessed first hand in my several years in Nunavut. I have seen instances where psychologists were flown up within 24 hours of a critical incident and officers flown south to obtain the required help / follow-ups. Based on my experience, management was very supportive of officers, and their family members, getting the proper help.
    Again, I am not saying the plaintiffs did not experience what is reported in the article. I simply wanted to provide another perspective. Stay safe!

  6. Posted by Fact Checker on

    Trauma is a serious thing! These heroes come and take on the worst of whats up here.
    If you or anyone you know are in pain due to psychological trauma; please encourage them to at least anonymously call for help. There are people sitting by a phone waiting to help you or your friend out.

    Kamatsiaqtut Nunavut Help Line: 1 800 265 3333, or http://nunavuthelpline
    Local Health Centres – Trained staff
    RCMP Assistance Services: 1 800 268 7708
    Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program (CFMAP): 1 800 268 7708

  7. Posted by Jobie on

    Good take, Jim Bell.
    Trauma takes real emotional toll. It has cost many people their jobs but also their healthy living. Trauma also causes more trauma down the time line. It is not something you get over, but deal with. Only by some determination and in your own self can you begin to be made free from the effects. Thank you, Jim Bell for helping our understanding

  8. Posted by Hunter on

    RCMP overtime must be capped. RCMP members are not robots they a people like everyone else.

    Truck drivers can only driver a certain limit a day. Air plane pilots can only fly a certain limit per day/week. This is because when they get tired people end up dying.

    Making judgement calls that could result in life or death decisions needs time on the clock needs to be regulated too.

    That being said when a member responds to a violent and traumatic incident at the end of their shift they cannot shut off the emotions and feelings that come with responding to such incidents like a light switch. Then having to do this repeatedly for days without a real break because their detachments are under staffed for the volume of calls they get.

    Honestly each rcmp member should o oh be expected to work 10 hours overtime a week….anything more is just not right especially with a high stress job.

  9. Posted by A.K.A.Truestory on

    I wonder if the offenders that were hurt by the RCMP can sue too? Offenders get PTSD when the RCMP rough handles the offenders, even when they’re handcuffed, or on the ground.

  10. Posted by Jim on

    Well have been there and had to leave after the internal bullying and harassment got so bad at the office. That was over 30 years ago and still have dreams of those times several times a week. Glad to see the Force has kept up the image.

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