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Wife of dead officer files lawsuit against RCMP for making him a ‘scapegoat’

Sergeant Pierre Lemaitre on the stand via live video feed April 21, 2009, during the Braidwood Inquiry into the death of Robert Dziekanski.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

The widow of a former RCMP spokesperson who died by suicide has sued the force for allegedly making him a "scapegoat" after the Robert Dziekanski incident at Vancouver International Airport.

Sheila Lemaitre's husband, Pierre, was the RCMP's top spokesman in British Columbia at the time of the airport incident. He killed himself in July, 2013. Ms. Lemaitre, herself a former RCMP member, this week filed a lawsuit against the Attorney-General of Canada and the B.C. Justice Minister for the actions of the Mounties.

The allegations in the lawsuit, which was filed in B.C. Supreme Court, have not been proven. An RCMP spokesperson declined comment Thursday and the force has not filed its defence.

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The notice of civil claim says Sergeant Lemaitre received a phone call at 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 14, 2007, hours after Mr. Dziekanski died following a confrontation with four RCMP officers.

Mr. Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who did not speak English, had come to Canada to live with his mother but became lost and wandered the airport for 10 hours. He eventually began throwing furniture in the arrivals area and was stunned with the taser seconds after the officers arrived on the scene. He died on the airport floor.

Sgt. Lemaitre, the lawsuit says, would conduct several media interviews in the days that followed. However, the lawsuit says, some of the information he was given by another spokesman – which had been cleared by superiors – would quickly be proven incorrect.

Sgt. Lemaitre initially said Mr. Dziekanski was stunned by a taser twice, when he was actually stunned five times. His initial account also described Mr. Dziekanski as "combative." He said RCMP officers used the taser only to "immobilize the violent man." Video that was shot by a bystander quickly surfaced and challenged Sgt. Lemaitre's account.

The lawsuit says Sgt. Lemaitre requested that he be able to correct the misinformation, but was ordered not to. Sgt. Lemaitre was ultimately removed from his position and transferred to the Langley detachment as the program director for traffic. The lawsuit says the posting "was essentially a demotion and was considered by many within the RCMP as being a 'dumping ground.'"

The lawsuit says Sgt. Lemaitre was devastated and was brought into public contempt, accused of being "the RCMP liar" or "the RCMP spin doctor."

The notice of civil claim says he was shunned and isolated by his fellow Mounties and became depressed. The court document says he, at one point, told his wife he had "a rage in his brain that he could not stop and he could not control and didn't know why."

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The lawsuit says Sgt. Lemaitre was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and went on sick leave in February, 2013. It says he was on a combination of as many as four anti-depressants and anxiety drugs in 2012 and 2013. It says his death was a result of severe psychiatric and psychological conditions "which were a direct result of his service in the RCMP and the negligence of the RCMP."

The lawsuit says the incident involving Mr. Dziekanski was not the only time Sgt. Lemaitre was unjustly transferred. Around 2003, it says, he was transferred after he filed a report involving his direct supervisor. The lawsuit says Sgt. Lemaitre filed the report after a journalist told him the higher-ranking officer had sexually harassed her on a number of occasions.

The lawsuit calls for general damages, damages compensable under the Family Compensation Act, interest, costs, and any other relief the court deems fit.

At the public inquiry into Mr. Dziekanski's death, the commissioner rejected claims that Sgt. Lemaitre – who testified – had purposely attempted to mislead the public. The commissioner said Sgt. Lemaitre appeared to be doing his best to inform the public while the investigation was in its early stages and the facts had not been determined.

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