The bravery of Canada’s police force – the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP as they are more commonly known – has been celebrated for years. Most recently, RCMP in Moncton, New Brunswick were honored for their bravery following the killing spree that lone gunman Justin Bourque went on that resulted in the deaths of three RCMP members and the injuries of two others. Now, another is dead, this time by his own hand.
RCMP Corporal Ron Francis was a 21-year veteran of the force, but was facing six criminal charges. Two of the charges were a result of his assault on two fellow officers, and Francis had already pleaded guilty to three charges. He was ordered to return his RCMP uniform because he smoked medical marijuana while on the job last year. For all of the hard work that Francis put in with the RCMP, he was unfortunately working with an unwanted partner, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. He was a vocal advocate for those living with the condition, and commented that asking for help was a strength rather than a weakness.
Francis was also vocal in his dismay that the force was less than supportive of those members that had PTSD. News about PTSD is not all that new. Both the Canadian and American military have had their share of victims; some victims have gone so far as to take their own lives, which appears to be the case in this tragic situation. My biggest fear is that those with PTSD are fighting a losing battle without full support of their organization will continue to fall through the cracks and be deemed unfit for duty. All these men and women in uniform want is to be of service to their country.
Veteran Ottawa policeman Kal Ghadban took his own life at the end of last month, and his suicide was the 22nd by Canadian emergency responders since April 29, 2014. Vince Savoia of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust notes that there are many who effectively dismiss symptoms of PTSD in emergency response organizations. That includes the military, firefighters, and, of course, police organizations like the RCMP.
To be sure, there are many in society who simply believe that these protectors of society should be all right; rushing in where others are rushing out is what they signed on for. However, we tend to forget that first responders are human too. They will and are doubtless disturbed by the images they see daily and the heartwrenching jobs they are sometimes given. We take for granted that these men and women are somehow made of sterner stuff than us, which is why they are in the jobs they are.
However, first responders like RCMP member Cpl. Ron Francis struggle, often silently, to get through the darkness. Some never make it out, no matter how hard they try, and they do not deserve the derision or ignorance that they reportedly receive from their superiors or even their colleagues. It is as though we believe them to be weak, somehow, when in reality, they are just being human. Organizations that employ first responders such as the late RCMP member Cpl Francis need to step up and prove that they truly are supporting their members. The lip service just is not worth it anymore.
Opinion by Christina St-Jean