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British Columbia B.C. coroner’s jury recommends better mental-health assessments after RCMP sergeant’s suicide

A coroner’s inquest into the death of Sergeant Pierre Lemaitre is recommending the RCMP include a mental-health component in the physical assessments that members are required to undergo every three years.

It is also recommending the force make classes available to family members of employees, upon their initial hiring, to provide an overview of potential mental-health issues that can arise from the job.

The inquest was held to determine the facts around the death of Sgt. Lemaitre. He served as the public face of the RCMP in British Columbia when Robert Dziekanski died after an altercation with police at Vancouver International Airport in October, 2007. Sgt. Lemaitre died by suicide on July 29, 2013, at the age of 55 after serving 28 years with the RCMP.

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Over three days, the inquest heard that Sgt. Lemaitre had lived with PTSD, depression and anxiety for years – due in part to traumatic events he witnessed on the job – but that it worsened significantly after the high-profile airport incident.

Sgt. Lemaitre had been given information to relay to media that ended up being inaccurate. He had pleaded to his superiors to correct the record but was ordered not to. He was later transferred to the traffic division, which was seen as a punishment.

His wife and former colleagues told the inquest he was deeply bothered by how he was treated by his employer and labelled a liar by the public. His mental health deteriorated, he became angry and withdrawn and was no longer the same person, Sheila Lemaitre, his wife, told the inquest.

Asked about the day her husband was called to the airport, Ms. Lemaitre said: “That was the last time that I saw him put on his uniform with pride."

The five-person jury on Thursday issued five recommendations, all directed at the RCMP. The others are to: offer a “variety of learning methods” for mental-health education for all members; to develop measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the RCMP’s mental-health strategy; and to make funding available to implement these initiatives. The RCMP could not be reached immediately for a response to the recommendations.

Coroner’s inquests are held to determine the facts around a death with the goal of preventing deaths under similar circumstances. They do not find fault and any recommendations they produce are non-binding.

Walter Kosteckyj, lawyer for Mr. Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, was present for some of the proceedings and expressed doubt earlier in the week that the inquest would lead to meaningful change.

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“The difficulty with the coroners inquest is that they can’t assess blame," Mr. Kosteckyj said earlier in the week. "And so to that extent I don’t believe it will be that useful.

“They’re here to try and prevent things, but they can’t inquire into certain things that deal with the RCMP, they can’t assign fault. So you really wonder: How is that going to be helpful?”

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