Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Sheila Lemaitre, right, at the B.C. Coroners office in Burnaby, B.C., on Nov. 27, 2018.Jimmy Jeong

The RCMP used Sergeant Pierre Lemaitre as a scapegoat when they refused to let him publicly correct misinformation about the death of Robert Dziekanski, a former communications staffer told a coroner’s inquest, calling it the worst case of institutional betrayal she has witnessed.

Atoya Montague was hired as a civilian communications strategist for the RCMP in July, 2002, and worked alongside Sgt. Lemaitre preparing news releases and media lines.

She recalled Sgt. Lemaitre being shaken following Mr. Dziekanski’s death at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007, and distraught when he realized some of the information he had been given to provide media turned out to be wrong.

“He was really distressed,” Ms. Montague told the inquest via video teleconference, wiping away tears. “He jumped up immediately. I remember him running into the [staff-sergeant’s] office to say, ‘We’ve got to correct this information.’ He realized right away that the information he had given was in some way minimizing or downplaying the extent of that confrontation with police.”

Sgt. Lemaitre knew the public would blame him for the misinformation, Ms. Montague said. Superiors denied his request to correct the record. He was later transferred to the traffic division – a move viewed as a punishment transfer.

“It was the single biggest institutional betrayal I have witnessed in my 15 years [with the force],” she said, sobbing. “There’s no question that he was being used as a scapegoat, and being betrayed so fundamentally by the people he was told was his tribe, his family.”

Sgt. Lemaitre died by suicide on July 29, 2013. The chief coroner called an inquest into his death in hopes of preventing deaths under similar circumstances. Ms. Montague was one of two high-profile former communications staffers who testified on Tuesday.

She also spoke to a 2003 incident in which Sgt. Lemaitre was transferred after filing a report involving his direct supervisor. A journalist had told him the higher-ranking officer had sexually harassed her on a number of occasions, and Sgt. Lemaitre felt obligated to report it, according to witness testimony during the inquest and a 2015 civil suit filed by his wife.

“If anything, this shows Pierre’s integrity as a police officer,” Ms. Montague said. "He obviously knew there would probably be some backlash. He had to report up to his supervisor once removed about his immediate supervisor a complaint of sexual harassment. And he didn’t hesitate. He did what he had to do.”

It was “plainly obvious" that his transfer was retaliatory, she said.

Ms. Montague had her own clashes with the RCMP. In 2013, she filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment from several members of the force, and specifically Insp. Tim Shields, whom she alleged had sexually assaulted her in 2009. He was charged in May, 2016, and acquitted in December, 2017.

The inquest also heard Tuesday from Catherine Galliford, who served as RCMP spokeswoman during the high-profile Air India and Robert Pickton investigations.

She also came forward with allegations of sexual harassment within the force in 2011, and is credited with opening the door for other Mounties to speak.

Ms. Galliford, who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder and agoraphobia, said she has only left her home 15 times in a couple of years. She made a brief appearance at the inquiry, where she spoke to Sgt. Lemaitre’s character.

“I know he had many hard knocks throughout his career and they were just piling up one after another,” she said.

On Monday, Sheila Lemaitre spoke of her husband’s experience with depression and anxiety, which went back to at least the early 1990s. He worked through various traumatic events in both his personal and professional life, but it was after the high-profile airport incident, and his treatment by the force thereafter, that his personality and mental well-being changed dramatically.

He became withdrawn and physically abusive. He began hoarding hobby kits, paints and old furniture sourced from an online classified site, with vague ambitions of fixing them up.

“He was always trying to feel good again, to find something that could get his mind in the right place,” she said.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe