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RCMP Suicides: Food For Thought

May 19

On May 12, 2014 Cpl. Stewart Robertson, the Chairman of the Lower Mainland RCMP Members’ Support Group, posted an article on this blog entitled, “Bill C-42 Medical Discharges or Mobbing?” In the comments following that post he cited the suicides of three “E” Division RCMP members in three years; Ken Hind, Pierre Lemaitre, and Neil Ogurian. I would like to give you something to think about with regard to these seemingly forgotten tragedies.

Just as all professionals can say they were influenced in their trade by certain teachers, models, or mentors – I can do the same. The late existential psychologist (there haven’t been many of them) Rollo May had a profound effect on my world view and especially my practice of psychology. He once wrote something (in his book, Love and Will) that has stayed with me for decades; “No one can stand the perpetually numbing feeling of their own powerlessness”.

I would argue (as did May) that a lack of power in one’s life is a breeding ground for violence (refer to the Christopher Dorner articles in the archive of this blog). When we are powerless to effect change in what seems a hopeless situation, there we kindle the destructive forces of bitterness, apathy, frustration, rage and violence; and yes, this violence can be turned inward on self. It could very well be that the members noted above, suffered in a state of hopeless frustration for a prolonged period of time before they turned their violent urges on themselves. They may have felt powerless to effectively influence their situations; they may have all been victims of the same plague – powerlessness.

As one of the common factors running through these men’s lives is their membership in the RCMP, let’s hypothesize that they felt powerless to change some dehumanizing aspect of their employment, and saw this as a threat to their existence. Generally speaking, if an individual capitulates entirely to the system, that person runs the danger of losing agency in his/her own life. In other words, erasing him/herself as a person. In contrast, if one steps out of line and attempts to express him/herself that person is in danger of being labelled disloyal or incorrigible. In the RCMP’s toxic high stress work places of today, I would venture to say that pervasive powerlessness, career dissatisfaction, and lack of goal attainment has led to apathy and acquiescence to a “bunker mentality” (i.e. keep your head down, mouth shut, and suffer in silence). This culture of fear subjects the non-commissioned working ranks of the RCMP to “the perpetually numbing feeling of their own powerlessness” on a daily basis.

It is this powerlessness to effect meaningful change in a hopeless situation that leads people to think inaccurately and behave irrationally. When a human being loses hope, and is seduced by despair, the potential for violence (even against oneself) exists. Within a culture of fear like this, the dynamics begin to rot the organization from the top down; plays for power begin to turn senior executive against membership, senior executive against senior executive. And sadly, member against member.

As far back as 2007, a background paper prepared for the Task Force on Governance and Cultural Change in the RCMP stated that their examination of the RCMP revealed “an ethos that permitted the authoritarianism and intimidation by a few to override the principles of the many, and a culture of fear to prevent any effective challenge by subordinates of abusive behaviour by superiors”. Sound like powerlessness to you? There has been no reputable evidence since this report to suggest that anything has changed. The only change seems to be that more power has been given to the few to continue overriding the principles of the many.

Once a hidden issue (e.g. the culture of fear in which RCMP members work) becomes an acknowledged issue it is recognized as innovative and in need of change. As an acknowledged issue the problem becomes a target for internal and external forces. The unionization of the RCMP (e.g. the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada) represents an internal pressure for change; a vehicle for a cultural makeover. Members of the RCMP will never be safe or comfortable challenging (by themselves) the abusive behaviours of managers until they, the rank and file, have a union. A modern police organization is not complete without an independent association to represent the victims of sexual harassment, intimidation, bullying, etc. It will be the association that represents the member; the member will be protected. An RCMP members’ association would ensure a voice for those with less power in the lower ranks of the organization; they would be safely moved up the continuum of power to a position of agency without fear of recrimination. If you find the above noted suicides repugnant and have grasped the gravity of powerlessness, I urge you to consider your vote carefully, if provided with a choice between your own independent professional association and the hopelessly compromised Division Staff Relations Representative Program.

Dr. Mike Webster, R. Psych.

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7 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    Rest in Peace my brother in blue…., Kai-Uwe Alexander Hildebrant July 4, 2002 Reg.#44029. He felt trapped by the organization and didn’t know there was support right around the corner. As an organization there are serious deficiencies but on an individual level we need to remember that the force has good members that care about one another. Member suicides are one of the dirty little secrets, implementation of Bill C-42 will only make this problem worse. Let’s just hope that our current system of representation gets the punt by the SCC and things improve.

  2. Such devastation that could be avoided. What will it take before the RCMP are held accountable for such tragedies? An association will definitely help. Where there are grievances at least they could be dealt with in a timely manner, not left to linger for years and decades that leave the vulnerable member who has been attacked to feel that there will never be a resolution. The SRR system does NOTHING to assist the members with their rights or grievances. They simply play the role as being there for the member but behind the scenes they are kissing managements behind, hoping to receive kudos and a promotion.
    So in my opinion definitely an association an investigation into RCMP suicides (oh wait I think that’s about to happen) and to get rid of “the rotten apples” the ones at the top.
    Commissioner Paulson may say the force has “bad apples”, but we know who the “rotten ones are”.

  3. Stewart Robertson, Chair, Lower Mainland Members Support Group permalink

    Thank you for the recognition you bring to the loss of Kai-Uwe Alexander Hildebrant (Reg.#44029) on July 4, 2002, each and every member who has taken their lives while in service as a member of the Force deserves to be recognized and treated with the due respect they have earned and are entitled to, not cast aside as a piece of refuse.

    If you know of a member who has taken their own life in the service of Canada and the Force, please feel free to identify and recognize them as a person and a brother/sister in arms here on this post as a gesture of respect and honour . Each member deserves that recognition of service without shame.

    Anonymous posts are welcome.

    Respectfully,

    Stewart Robertson
    Chair
    Lower Mainland Member’s Support Group

  4. The Old NCO permalink

    Dr. Webster, I am not sure that an independent Association or Union would fix the many problems that the senior management of the RCMP have created. One thing I can be sure of is that the SSR system does not work for the benefit of the members. My observation during my long career in “D” Division was that every elected SSR in the history of the program was well rewarded for their cooperation with senior management. The SSR system was the creation of senior management as a ploy to appease the rank and file membership. During the 70’s there was a movement by a number of members in particular “C” and “E” Divisions to create either a union or association. Members were voicing their opinions regarding a wide range of issues such as pay, overtime, safety etc. Management needed a way to shut them up. The SSR system was that tool they used to accomplish their objective.

    I have never had the experience of working in a union environment so in complete fairness do not feel qualified to say if it would or would not enhance the working environment of the present day RCMP members. What I did have a lot of experience with and feel competent to voice my opinion on is the dysfunctional workings of the senior management of the RCMP. The whole system of commissioned/appointed government positions is quite similar to that other Canadian embarrassment, namely the Senate. The people appointed into these positions are not capable of making the decisions for a front line police service. They rely on NCOs and constables to make the every day decisions and carry out the policing duties They exist only as a elite privilaged group of persons that will do as their told, will never oppose government, executive management or anything from the Commissioners office. Much like the Senators they too are taken care of. They receive excellent pay and benefits complete with travel expenses. Much like the Senators they too have status and a social circle that does not include the working members of the force. What Canadians may not realize is that they are funding two complete organizations. One being a team of hard working dedicated front line police officers and the other a group of socialites dedicated towards status, personal gains and as many benefits as they can acquire.

    If I may, I wish to outline one big problem that needs to be addressed. There are far too many ranks in the Commissioned sector of the RCMP. There are basically three Non Commissioned ranks that being Cpl., Sgt. and S/Sgt. These guys and the constables do all the work. Personally I believe that could be reduced to two ranks. The Commissioned ranks on the other hand have six, that being Insp.,Supt., C/Supt., A/Comm., Dept/Comm. and Commissioner. This waste of tax payers money only exists as a means to reward these chosen elites. Their main function is to maintain the status quo and pursue the social activities that they are known for. On paper they may have a job description that suggests they are commanders or leaders but the constables and NCOs are always there to bail them out and often make them look good in the process Most of these commissioned Officers are afraid to make decisions, fearing a mistake can come back to haunt them and jeopardize their Cousy positions. The real leaders are not promoted because they are judged as outspoken, opinionated, and trouble makers. It is the actions of senior management to identify and squash such people as they are considered a threat to their way of life. They employ such tactics as intimidation, delay time lines on grievances, transfers and the list goes on. They appear to have little regard pertaining to the consequences these actions may have on a member’s physical or mental health. Matter of fact that enhances their goal as medical discharge may be the final death blow to get rid of someone. The most recent changes in the RCMP act have only given the Commissioner greater powers to employ this tactic as a means to get rid of what they refer to as a trouble maker. You might have noticed in the media how Commissioner Paulson was quite outspoken how he needed such powers to run the RCMP effectively. How many members will fall to the Commissioners double edge sword or end up taking their own lives as he exercises his new increased powers. A possible union or association may be a good thing for todays members. I feel the best thing we veterans can do to help them is to tell what we know. The public needs to know the truth about the RCMP. We have to stop putting this myth up on such a high pedestal that it appears invincible. The organization is sick and it won’t get better until such time as all these cancers are exposed. Then and only then can we start to mend and work towards making the RCMP truly a organization that all Canadians can be proud of.

    • Anon permalink

      Old NCO,

      I’ve worked in a union environment at the provincial and I can assure you that the nonsense would end quickly. Where there is a legally binding agreement with mutually agreed upon rules it removes a lot of the garbage and abuse. After losing grievances and embarrassing themselves, officers and NCO’s would eventually fall into line and maybe, sooner, rather later, we may be walking our talk when it comes to our core values. As it stands now, if the person in the rank above you decides the sky is pink and polka dotted, it’s pink and polka dotted. And that my friend, is “crazy-making.”

  5. Bob permalink

    The RCMP never ceases to amaze me with their incredulous lack of understanding around mental health issues. An online CBC article dated May 28, 2013 notes there is a mental health crises in the RCMP.

    Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau notes there have been sixteen (16) documented serving member suicides and thirteen (13) retirees in the last eight years. The article notes the RCMP has yet to review those suicides despite indicating last year plans to conduct mandatory reviews.

    It would appear despite all the nice “rhetoric” coming from RCMP HQ in Ottawa, getting around to understanding why members are committing suicide is not a pressing issue. If you do not understand the problem, how can you address the solution. Or, in this case, if you bury your head in the sand, you do not have to worry about if your corporate initiates around mental health will be successful or not.

    The RCMP is not interested in finding solutions: they simply provide mechanisms for treatment without having any understanding, or attempt to understand, the casual factors that impact so many members, and for those that end up taking their lives. One might suggest a progressive organization would bring in experts/specialists from outside the organization to assist in reaching that understanding.

    Or as Asst. Commissioner Moreau said earlier that he dealt with his issues himself without support groups etc… This characterizes the current thinking – if you suffer a psychological injury at work just deal with it and get back to work; we really do not want to hear about the details as to why.

    In the article they quote Dr. Passey, a specialist in PTSD treatment, who quite nicely sums up the RCMP efforts to date:

    “The problem with the RCMP is that on paper it appears they are doing a lot of things,” he says. “But in reality they are not.”

    Sound familiar?

    Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/rcmp-suicide-levels-a-mental-health-crisis-says-mountie-1.2655931

  6. Anonymous permalink

    Also … Constable Martin (Marty) Bouchard, November 8th, 2012. In memorium to his dedication and service. Minnedosa, MB, Wasagaming, Shamattawa and Selkirk, MB. Strathmore AB, and Calgary IBET.

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