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Seventeen Ontario Provincial Police officers have killed themselves since 2012, according to a newly released report that says the country’s second-largest police force is suffering from a “mental-health crisis."

Three independent commissioners who have spent nearly a year looking at the OPP’s workplace culture are urging the force to dismantle a perceived “old boys’ network" atop the organization.

It also recommends bolstering badly needed supports for officers.

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“There is currently one psychologist on contract working within the OPP, in an organization that is grappling with a mental-health crisis,” the report says, calling this “patently insufficient.”

The OPP Independent Review Panel’s 91-page report, based on surveys of thousands of officers, does not go into any details about how or why any of the officer suicides took place. But rank-and-file officers said they are overworked and some accused their commanders of bullying, the report says.

“This is a critical moment in the OPP’s workplace culture. There are significant issues that demand immediate attention,” the report says, adding that "this is the moment to effect transformational culture change inside the OPP, for the good of its members and the public they serve.”

The stakes for the police force’s nearly 9,000 employee are high. The OPP patrols Ontario’s highways and First Nations communities, and its detectives investigate organized-crime groups, outlaw bikers and child-exploitation rings.

In recent years, several suicides by officers have cast the OPP’s workplace culture into public attention. The Progressive Conservative government hired three prominent Ontarians to delve into how officers at the force perceived their own organization.

The former deputy attorney-general Murray Segal, the former chief justice Douglas Cunningham and former cabinet minister Dave Cooke spent nine months looking at the OPP’s culture. But even as they started their work, more tragedies occurred. “There were three subsequent deaths by suicide in 2019,” said OPP spokeswoman Carolle Dionne.

The overall figure of 17 suicides in eight years includes four OPP officers who died as retirees. Earlier reports from Ontario’s coroner and by the OPP have also looked at the issue of police suicides.

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Emotional impact of suicide

in the OPP community

 

Over all, 51 per cent of members reported that they had been emotionally affected by the suicide of a member of the OPP.

However, just 16 per cent sought supports to help them through the experience; most preferred to manage on their own.

Missed days of work:

Experienced suicide of close colleague:

Experienced suicide of colleague:

20

days missed

10

days missed

Experienced suicide of someone in OPP:

No experience of suicide:

12

days missed

3

days missed

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

MINISTRY OF THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL

Emotional impact of suicide in the OPP community

 

Over all, 51 per cent of members reported that they had been emotionally affected by the suicide of a member of the OPP.

However, just 16 per cent sought supports to help them through the experience; most preferred to manage on their own.

Missed days of work:

Experienced suicide of close colleague:

Experienced suicide of colleague:

20

days missed

10

days missed

Experienced suicide of someone in OPP:

No experience of suicide:

12

days missed

3

days missed

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE:

MINISTRY OF THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL

Emotional impact of suicide in the OPP community

 

Over all, 51 per cent of members reported that they had been emotionally affected by the suicide of a member of the OPP.

However, just 16 per cent sought supports to help them through the experience; most preferred to manage on their own.

Missed days of work:

Experienced suicide of close colleague:

Experienced suicide of colleague:

Experienced

suicide of someone in OPP:

No experience of suicide:

20

days missed

10

days missed

3

days missed

12

days missed

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: MINISTRY OF THE SOLICITOR-GENERAL

The panel finished its report in December, but the government released it to the public only on Monday. The same day, Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones travelled to the police force’s headquarters in Orillia. Meeting with police officers, she issued a statement emphasizing that her government has already started working to fix problems.

The panel itself struck a less sanguine tone. The report suggests that the OPP leaders must effect a sea change in attitudes, so that ordinary officers can start to seek help without feeling like they are risking their careers or appearing weak.

Several obstacles still stand in the way, according to the report:

· The OPP has “a negative workplace culture.” Half of the employees who responded to a survey said they experienced bullying, harassment, discrimination or rejection in in the past year, but rarely reported such incidents;

· Dangerous work, staff shortages and work-related stresses are combining to create “unprecedented” numbers of officers off-duty to the point that one in every five OPP officers is on some form of leave;

· The promotion process is seen as compromised, with the officers complaining of “incidents of nepotism and cronyism in management hiring that sustained the ‘old boys’ network.’ ”

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Police, firefighters and paramedics are in crisis across all of Canada, says Bill Rusk, the executive director of Badge of Life Canada, which connects police officers with mental-health care. “It’s not a new issue but it’s one that light has finally been shone on,” Mr. Rusk said.

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