3 OPP officers take their own lives over a three-week period

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3 OPP officers take their own lives over a three-week period

Postby Thomas » Thu Aug 23, 2018 2:37 pm

'You are not alone': OPP association says to members after 3 officers take their own lives

The president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association is urging members to seek help to deal with trauma they experience on the job after learning that three officers in the force took their lives over a three-week time period.

In the letter, Rob Jamieson stresses that every officer is “valued as a human being.”

“With the events of the past three weeks, I wish to speak openly about member suicide, but a part of me doesn’t know exactly what to say,” Rob Jamieson said in his letter. “In my opinion, many of us, if not all first responders, suffer the strains of dealing with trauma. While I am not a doctor, I believe that there is no way to do this job without experiencing some degree of trauma and for that, we need to be real.”

“I have experienced extreme trauma as a result of doing my job as a police officer and four years ago I needed to step away. This has been a personal journey, and it is difficult to share this with thousands of people I do not know; however, I do so in the hope that it may give some strength to hang on, to speak to someone and to know you are not alone.”

Sgt. Sylvain Joseph Francois Routhier of Belleville was one of the officers who took his life. He passed away on July 31 and his obituary said he took his life “after a brief battle with mental illness.” Routhier’s widow said she wanted to be open and transparent about how her husband died

“He didn’t want to put the burden of things that he had to see at work every day on me or on our family, because he didn’t want to affect me,” Sarah Routhier told CTV News Toronto. “He held it in.”

Sarah said that she came home one day to find her husband missing. A suicide note was left behind, describing where he had gone. She immediately went to find him.

“I was hopeful that maybe he was sitting there having second thoughts or waiting for someone to come help him, but unfortunately it was too late.”

Routhier served with the OPP for 13 years, spending some time with the Tactics and Rescue Unit where he would deal with difficult, high-risk scenarios. His wife said that he sometimes talked about his calls, but would not reveal some of the more traumatic details.

Sarah said that her husband was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in April, after he came home from work and told her he was having suicidal thoughts. They went to the hospital and Routhier started to see a psychiatrist and take medication.

“Initially I thought he was having a stroke. He had a very hard time focusing and concentrating at work that day. He started telling me that he hadn’t been sleeping in about a week,” she said. “We often said he was in a fog.”

“When he was struggling, he was very quiet about it, he didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to tell people why he was off work. He was very worried about what people were going to think of him because he was a trained police officer to be strong, going to work every day, dealing with difficult calls and having to do it day after day after day.”

Routhier was a father of two boys, ages 10 and nine, and a five-year old girl. Sarah said he was an “incredible father” who coached all three of their children in hockey and built a massive ice rink in their backyard.

“He was never embarrassed about spending time with his kids. He was a very calm, outgoing person. He loved to joke around and laugh. It’s hard to think of that kind of person dealing with a mental illness, leading to a suicide. It’s hard to understand how we got there.”

The couple met when they were 18 and got married 14 years ago. While speaking with CTV News Toronto, Sarah wore a necklace with her husband’s police badge number, a gift from his coworkers at the OPP.

“I’m thinking of him all the time and he will always be with us.”

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes said in a tweet about one of the other officers who took his own life: “Detective Inspector Paul Horne passed away unexpectedly on August 11th, after proudly serving 24 years with OPP. Continuing to work together to end the stigma in #mentalhealth.”’

The third officer, who has not been publically named, ended his own life just a couple of days ago.

In his letter to OPP officers, Jamieson said the issue surrounding the deaths of the three officers isn’t about blame, but rather about the stigma associated with mental illness for first responders.

“Over the past several years the OPP has come a long way from the days of 1995, and certainly before that date. Society has also come a long way. More and more organizations are being established to discuss mental health, stigma reduction, etc. The OPPA advocated strenuously for presumptive legislation as another way to support our people and reduce stigma but more can and must be done. “

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes released a statement Wednesday saying the service is “devastated” by the loss of three of its members.

“The OPP is more than a police service, we are a family. With nearly 9,000 members, each and every one is equally important. Losing a member is one of the most difficult aspects of policing. A tremendous void has been left behind and it brings about many questions that may never be answered,” the statement reads. “As Commissioner of the OPP, I am committed to examining the barriers that exist preventing our members from seeking assistance and support. I appeal to our members, their family and friends that if you recognize a fellow member or should a member of your family require assistance, please contact one of our many support services.”

Sarah said that her heart goes out to the families and coworkers of the other officers who took their lives.

“The hardships of a family going through losing a loved one to suicide isn’t worth keeping it all inside and trying to deal with mental illness on their own.”

The OPP says it has internal resources available through the OPP intranet and on the OPPA website. There is also an external helpline available through the Employee and Family Assistance Program at 1-800-387-4765 or at workhealthlife.com.

Anyone suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts should reach out to one of Ontario’s crisis or distress centres. The phone number for the Toronto Distress Centre is 416-408-4357.

Those with suicidal thoughts are also urged to contact their family physician or call 911.

-With files from CTV News Toronto's Tracy Tong

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Cop suicides prompt tearful plea from union leader

Postby Thomas » Fri Aug 24, 2018 3:53 am

TORONTO -- Three officer suicides in as many weeks have prompted a police union leader to write a deeply personal letter urging his members to reach out if they find themselves in emotional distress.

The deaths of the Ontario officers have focused attention on the stresses first responders face and the difficulties of persuading them to find help, Rob Jamieson said.

"I write this message with tears in my eyes, not in thinking of my own journey, but of those we have lost and their families left behind," wrote Jamieson, head of the Ontario Provincial Police Association.

"This has been a personal journey and it is difficult to share this ... however, I do so in the hope that it may give some strength to hang on, to speak to someone, and to know you are not alone."

Jamieson told The Canadian Press that he wanted his almost 9,000 members to know that if a 20-plus-year veteran like himself could run into difficulty, as he did four years ago, anyone can. Among other things, he cited the cumulative effects of investigating sexual assaults of children, dealing with violence and threats from outlaw motorcycle gangs, and responding to fatal car crashes.

"You see some of the worst things that you ever want to see," he said. "I'm not a doctor, but there is just no way that you cannot be affected by these things that you deal with on a daily basis -- that just are not normal to see and are just not normal to experience."

Vince Savoia, executive director of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, which focuses on the mental health of first responders, said definitive statistics on first responder suicides are hard to come by because of a reluctance to report them and because coroners don't necessarily track the deaths by occupation.

However, the suicide rate among police officers is roughly double the overall national average of 10 per 100,000 people, according to Tema. For paramedics, the number is five times the average, reaching 56 per 100,000 in 2016.

Steven Skoworodko, who speaks for paramedics in Saskatchewan, said a colleague in Regina died by suicide on Wednesday, the third or fourth in the province in the past few years. Dedicated mental health professionals who understand the particular stresses of the job are sorely needed, he said.

Savoia, a paramedic himself, said he battled for years after responding as a 27-year-old to the killing of Tema Conter, 25, in Toronto in 1988.

"When I looked at Tema for the first time, I thought it was my fiancee that had been raped and murdered," he said. "Just making that one connection...caused me to really struggle with guilt at not being able to save Tema's life."

What's needed, he said, is a culture change in how we view mental health issues given the stigma they can carry, especially for first responders.

"We all feel that we have to maintain this bravado," Savoia said. "There have been documented cases unfortunately across the country where first responders have come forward and asked for help and they've been terminated from their jobs (or) on occasion are ridiculed by their own colleagues."

In another case, two RCMP officers sued the force for how it dealt with the trauma they suffered after responding to the killing of four fellow officers near Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005.

Savoia said first responders must be made aware resources are out there -- from crisis lines to emergency departments to employee assistance plans. Tema itself runs an "under-utilized" confidential peer-support line for first responders that takes 10 to 15 calls a month, he said.

"First responders just tend to feel very alone and they tend to feel very isolated when they're struggling with mental-health issues."

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Vince Hawkes declined an interview request pending funeral arrangements for the latest officer suicide.

"We are deeply devastated by the recent loss of three of our members," Hawkes said in a statement. "A tremendous void has been left behind and it brings about many questions that may never be answered."

Hawkes also said he wanted to examine the barriers that prevent members from seeking help.

Jamieson said he hoped Ontario's Community Safety Minister Michael Tibollo would convene a summit on first responder mental health that would include spouses of those who had killed themselves.

"It's time to get real on these issues," he said. "Uncomfortable as this may be, we need to have this conversation because we don't want to ever see this happen again."

Tibollo's spokeswoman, Rita Smith, said on Thursday that the minister was trying to identify gaps with a view to fixing them and would have no immediate comment.

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Police suicides prompts call for mandatory psychological tes

Postby Thomas » Fri Aug 24, 2018 3:57 am

Three Ontario Provincial Police officers have committed suicide in the past three weeks.

Though the family of the first officer to take his own life, Sgt. Sylvain Routhier, directly confronted the nature of their loss in a public obituary, the deaths of the other two officers weren’t similarly described in theirs, so the National Post isn’t identifying them.

But various sources confirm the other two also killed themselves.

The three worked in different jobs at different detachments.

Routhier, who was 37, was a 13-year veteran and a former member of one of the OPP’s elite Tactics and Rescue Units. He had a wide-open smile and was an avid Montreal Canadiens’ fan and minor hockey coach.


As is typical of those on the Ontario-wide force, Routhier had served in several cities across the province, but most recently was at the Quinte West detachment in Trenton.

He was married and left behind three children. As his obituary said, “he took his own life on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, after a brief battle with mental illness.”

The second to die, on Aug. 11, was a 50-year-old veteran and former soldier who had served several overseas tours and was described as a wonderful man by those who knew him.

After 24 years on the job, he had risen to become a detective-inspector in the OPP’s organized crime enforcement bureau and was based in the force’s east region. He too left behind two children, and his widow is herself a serving OPP officer.

The third officer died on Monday at the age of 38.

He was an identification officer in the force’s west division and is survived by his wife and a young daughter. In the online condolence book for him, friends remembered his kindness on and off the job.

Three years ago, he and another OPP constable were praised for their desperate efforts to save a 74-year-old man who had choked and was without vital signs when they arrived on scene. The two officers took over CPR until they got a pulse back, but the man later died at hospital.

The officer’s funeral is Sunday.

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes is clearly stricken by the losses.

Taking his cues from the bereaved families, Hawkes tweeted about the first two deaths, praising Routhier’s wife Sarah “for her bravery in building mental health awareness” and adding the hashtags #mental health and #HeroesInLife to his words of condolence about the second man.

Hawkes also issued a formal statement this week, saying “We are deeply devastated by the recent loss of three of our members” and pledging his commitment “to examining the barriers that exist preventing our members from seeking assistance and support.”

He urged OPP officers to contact “one of our many support services” if they recognize a fellow officer in need.

“Together, we can overcome the stigma associated with mental illness and support each other in our times of need.”

Sources say the force’s senior command is troubled by the suicides and has met to discuss them, but that it’s too soon to know if there are any direct links to the officers’ jobs, if any or all were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or another “operational stress injury,” as illnesses related to trauma on the job are called, another mental illness or if there’s any evidence of what psychiatrists call “a contagion,” which is where suicides sometimes occur in clusters.

The force has an employee assistance program and offers counselling to its officers, but some say that either the counsellors aren’t sufficiently familiar with PTSD or that the counselling that is covered by insurance is too short.

Wait times to see a psychiatrist have also been an issue in the past.

In 2012, then-Ontario ombudsman Andre Martin did a study of suicide within the OPP and the force’s approach to getting its members help.

At that time, Marin was studying the suicides of 21 male and two female OPP officers and retired officers who had killed themselves between January of 1989 and May of 2012.

While police officers do routinely see death, tragedy and cruelty and may suffer operational stress injuries, depression remains the mental illness most closely linked to suicide.

For all of these illnesses — PTSD, depression, operational stress injuries — there is effective treatment. The key is to ask for help, and to receive it quickly.

As one of the replies to Hawkes’ poignant tweets this week had as a hashtag, #SickNotWeak.

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Police suicides prompts call for mandatory psychological tes

Postby Thomas » Sun Aug 26, 2018 3:39 pm

The Police Association of Ontario (PAO) is proposing mandatory psychological testing for first responders in this province after the deaths of 5 officers in the past month.

Three OPP officers have died by suicide in three weeks. Two others from community policing have also taken their lives, according to PAO president, Bruce Chapman.

"It's terrible. It's tragic," said Chapman. "I wish I had an answer for it."

The PAO has implemented numerous strategies to help officers and other front line workers. The organization worked with the previous Liberal government to get Bill 163 passed. It recognizes that first responders and other workers can develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on the job and entitles them to benefits under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act. The legislation includes fire fighters, fire investigators, police officers, paramedics, emergency medical attendants, and workers in correctional institutions or secure custody.

Awareness campaigns have also been launched to help workers and their families, according to Chapman.

"We have done so much trying to remove the stigma, to say it's ok to get help," he said. "We've tried to educate our members, their families and the public on recognizing signs of depression or anxiety."

OPP offers condolences

Ontario Provincial Police will address the loss of three officers next week. In the interim, Commissioner Vince Hawkes issued a written statement.

"We are deeply devastated by the recent loss of three of our members. The OPP is more than a police service, we are a family," it reads. "A tremendous void has been left behind and it brings about many questions that may never be answered."

Hawkes said he's committed to examining the barriers that may have prevented his members from seeking help and support. He also issued a plea to all OPP members, their families and friends, to reach out for help if they see someone struggling.

"Together, we can overcome the stigma associated with mental illness and support each other in our times of need."

'We can't give up'

PAO president, Bruce Chapman, said giving up is not an option, which is why he's proposing mandatory psychological testing of all first responders from the start of their careers.

"Because that to me would be a way of removing the stigma of somebody coming forward, 'I can't do that because everybody will think I'm weak or I can't do the job, or they're going to take my gun and my badge and I'm no longer going to be able to do what my life long dream was,'" he said.

Chapman is hoping to set up meetings with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labour to propose the testing possibly every six months or once a year.

"If we make it mandatory then everybody will have to go through it and maybe that will start saving lives."

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Force 'deeply devastated' as three OPP officers commit suici

Postby Thomas » Sun Aug 26, 2018 3:45 pm

Christie Blatchford: Force 'deeply devastated' as three OPP officers commit suicide in three weeks

Three Ontario Provincial Police officers have committed suicide in the past three weeks.

Though the family of the first officer to take his own life, Sgt. Sylvain Routhier, directly confronted the nature of their loss in a public obituary, the deaths of the other two officers weren’t similarly described in theirs, so the National Post isn’t identifying them.

But various sources confirm the other two also killed themselves.

The three worked in different jobs at different detachments.

Routhier, who was 37, was a 13-year veteran and a former member of one of the OPP’s elite Tactics and Rescue Units. He had a wide-open smile and was an avid Montreal Canadiens’ fan and minor hockey coach.

As is typical of those on the Ontario-wide force, Routhier had served in several cities across the province, but most recently was at the Quinte West detachment in Trenton.

He was married and left behind three children. As his obituary said, “he took his own life on Tuesday, July 31, 2018, after a brief battle with mental illness.”

Grieving the sudden loss of #OPP Sgt. Sylvain Routhier, who proudly served his community for 13 years. I commend his wife, Sarah, for her bravery in building #mentalhealth awareness. Our thoughts are with friends and family during this difficult time #HeroesInLife pic.twitter.com/ysFH0fSfSy

— JVN (Vince) Hawkes (@OPPCommHawkes) August 8, 2018
The second to die, on Aug. 11, was a 50-year-old veteran and former soldier who had served several overseas tours and was described as a wonderful man by those who knew him.

After 24 years on the job, he had risen to become a detective-inspector in the OPP’s organized crime enforcement bureau and was based in the force’s east region. He too left behind two children, and his widow is herself a serving OPP officer.

The third officer died on Monday at the age of 38.

He was an identification officer in the force’s west division and is survived by his wife and a young daughter. In the online condolence book for him, friends remembered his kindness on and off the job.

Three years ago, he and another OPP constable were praised for their desperate efforts to save a 74-year-old man who had choked and was without vital signs when they arrived on scene. The two officers took over CPR until they got a pulse back, but the man later died at hospital.

The officer’s funeral is Sunday.

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes is clearly stricken by the losses.

Taking his cues from the bereaved families, Hawkes tweeted about the first two deaths, praising Routhier’s wife Sarah “for her bravery in building mental health awareness” and adding the hashtags #mental health and #HeroesInLife to his words of condolence about the second man.

Hawkes also issued a formal statement this week, saying “We are deeply devastated by the recent loss of three of our members” and pledging his commitment “to examining the barriers that exist preventing our members from seeking assistance and support.”

He urged OPP officers to contact “one of our many support services” if they recognize a fellow officer in need.

“Together, we can overcome the stigma associated with mental illness and support each other in our times of need.”

Sources say the force’s senior command is troubled by the suicides and has met to discuss them, but that it’s too soon to know if there are any direct links to the officers’ jobs, if any or all were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or another “operational stress injury,” as illnesses related to trauma on the job are called, another mental illness or if there’s any evidence of what psychiatrists call “a contagion,” which is where suicides sometimes occur in clusters.

The force has an employee assistance program and offers counselling to its officers, but some say that either the counsellors aren’t sufficiently familiar with PTSD or that the counselling that is covered by insurance is too short.

Wait times to see a psychiatrist have also been an issue in the past.

In 2012, then-Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin did a study of suicide within the OPP and the force’s approach to getting its members help.

At that time, Marin was studying the suicides of 21 male and two female OPP officers and retired officers who had killed themselves between January of 1989 and May of 2012.

While police officers do routinely see death, tragedy and cruelty and may suffer operational stress injuries, depression remains the mental illness most closely linked to suicide.

For all of these illnesses — PTSD, depression, operational stress injuries — there is effective treatment. The key is to ask for help, and to receive it quickly.

As one of the replies to Hawkes’ poignant tweets this week had as a hashtag, #SickNotWeak.

https://nationalpost.com/opinion/christ ... hree-weeks

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OPP union president urges members to seek help in wake of th

Postby Thomas » Tue Aug 28, 2018 3:07 pm

OPP union president urges members to seek help in wake of three officer suicides

The head of the union representing thousands of Ontario Provincial Police officers is “imploring” members experiencing mental health challenges to seek help, after the suicides of three officers in three weeks.

In a candid letter he wrote with “tears in my eyes” to thousands of members, OPP Association president Rob Jamieson said he wanted to speak openly, in a “real” way, about mental health challenges and suicide, which have rocked the provincial police service this month.

“I have experienced extreme trauma as a result of doing my job as a police officer and four years ago I needed to step away,” Jamieson write in a message sent last week.

“This has been a personal journey, and it is difficult to share this with thousands of people I do not know; however, I do so in the hope that it may give some strength to hang on, to speak to someone and to know you are not alone.”

Three OPP officers have died by suicide this month, including Sgt. Sylvain Joseph François Routhier and Det. Insp. Paul Horne. A third officer, who died most recently, has not been publicly identified.

“As we deal with the grief of our most recent loss, our deepest condolences and thoughts to the immediate family and our (OPP) members,” tweeted OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes on Sunday, alongside an image of flags flying at half-mast at OPP headquarters in Orillia.

Hawkes tweeted late last week that he was “deeply devastated by the recent loss of three of our members,” saying the OPP is examining barriers that prevent members from seeking support.

Though Jamieson stressed that the intention of his letter was not to talk about himself — “the true heroes are the surviving spouses and family members,” he told the Star on Sunday — he is hoping that frank talk about mental health challenges will spur changes to help all officers and civilians get the help they need.

In his letter, he writes that when he joined the OPP in 1995, recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other occupational stress injuries was “virtually non-existent.” This, despite the fact that Jamieson said many first responders, “if not all,” suffer by virtue of dealing with trauma.

Jamieson said he wanted to acknowledge that he, too, has experienced mental health challenges from years on the job, which ultimately prompted him to step away. Since he became president, he said he has seen how members access support — whether it’s someone to talk to or getting into a treatment program.

In all cases, Jamieson said he commended members for “taking that first step in getting help.” While he said both the OPP and society have come a long way since 1995 in terms of addressing mental health, “it is not an easy path to travel, especially in a culture where stigma represents a significant barrier to seeking assistance.”

In 2016, the province introduced what’s known as presumptive legislation, which eliminated the requirement that first responders prove their PTSD was triggered by an on-the-job incident when submitting claims to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

The change, advocated by first responder associations including the OPPA, has helped fast-track worker compensation claims for those in need and reduced stigma, Jamieson said. But he stressed that more “can and must” be done.

Jamieson told the Star on Sunday his call to action “isn’t about blame,” but said he is attempting to convene a meeting with the provincial government and other stakeholders, including bereaved families, to discuss what other steps can be taken to help those who may be struggling.

“I hope there’s going to be some action,” he said.

If you are considering suicide, there is help. Find a list of local crisis centres at the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Or call 911 or in Ontario call Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000

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End stigma of mental illness in OPP

Postby Thomas » Tue Aug 28, 2018 3:08 pm

The death by suicide of three Ontario Provincial Police officers in the past month underscores the necessity to do more, whatever form that may take.

The OPP has an Employee and Family Assistance Program, but is it the most effective program for officers with suicidal thoughts?

I believe the OPP should consider utilizing a resource within the organization — that is, members (either active or retired), who struggled with such thoughts but managed to survive.

I am a retired member of the OPP who was also the addiction counsellor for the organization. I know there are members who managed to survive. These members would be effective as a unit, essentially dedicated to assisting members contemplating suicide.

This will create a paradigm shift and a safety net for troubled officers, who will be able to consult with a fellow officer who has experienced that struggle: someone else has been there!

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes recently said, “The OPP is more than a police service, we are a family.” So, who better to assist a troubled officer than a member of the family?

The stigma of mental illness is one of the major issues that prevent officers from seeking assistance. However, that barrier may be lessened if support is available from fellow officers.

If this proposal is adopted, it’ll be successful if just one officer is saved.

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OPP overhauling mental supports in wake of suicides

Postby Thomas » Wed Aug 29, 2018 3:59 pm

Widow wants force to set aside time for officers to talk about difficult calls

Ontario's provincial police force is expected to announce changes to its mental health support system in response to the recent suicides of three officers.

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes is expected to announce details later this week. So far, Hawkes's only public comments about the deaths have been on Twitter, where he wrote he was "deeply devastated by the recent loss of three of our members."

Hawkes also vowed to examine any barriers preventing members from seeking help.

The widow of one of the deceased officers is calling on the OPP to set aside time in each officer's day to allow them to discuss difficult calls with their peers.

Sarah Routhier's husband, Sgt. Sylvain Routhier, was 37 when he took his life on July 31, after more than a decade as a OPP officer in Belleville, Ont.

She said her husband was a gentle soul and loving father of three who coached all of his kids' hockey teams and built a large backyard rink.

"He would have been the last person anybody would have suspected to commit suicide or to struggle through a mental illness," Routhier said. "This can really happen to anybody if they don't take some preventative measures to make sure they're OK with their job."

'They're expected to keep those emotions in'

Routhier spoke to CBC News from Camp FACES in Barrie, Ont., where she and her three children are getting support from professionals and other families of first responders who have lost loved ones.

She's sharing her husband's story publicly to prevent another tragedy.

Two other officers, including another from eastern Ontario, also took their own lives in the past month.

"First responders are human beings as well," Routhier said. "They see a lot of very difficult things day after day with their jobs. They're expected to keep those emotions in when they're dealing with a call.

"There's very little time to deal with those emotions afterwards because then they've got to go to the next call."

Routhier's husband trained to become a police officer in Ottawa at Algonquin College, then started his career working security at the House of Commons as part of the prime minister's security detail in the early 2000s.

He later landed a job with the OPP and worked as an officer across the province responding to car crashes, assaults and domestic violence. He then joined the tactics and rescue unit, where he dealt with high-risk calls including the Parliament Hill shootings in 2014.

Over the years, her husband didn't talk about being stressed or having a difficult time at work, she said, except for a few moments where he would talk about hard calls.

Then, in April, her husband came home from work and told her he wasn't feeling like himself. He felt stressed and hadn't been sleeping.

The next day he told Routhier he was having suicidal thoughts.

Husband worried about stigma

Routhier brought her husband to the hospital and he started the process of doctor's visits and taking medication. But he had a "very difficult" time with having to take stress leave from work, she said.

Her husband had just been promoted to sergeant and didn't want to let his detachment down.

"My husband was very worried about what other people were going to think of him for being off work or admitting he had a mental illness," Routhier said.

She convinced him to seek help through the OPP. He met with the force's wellness unit and told her the peer support was helping.

But the next week he disappeared and was later found dead.

'It was completely not on my radar'

She said that despite his struggles, she never imagined this would happen.

"It was completely not on my radar, even though he had spoken about suicidal thoughts a few months earlier. There were no warning signs," she said.

Routhier said she may never know why her husband took his own life. She said she doesn't blame OPP, but does hope the police force can learn from his death.

Speaking about difficult calls sooner rather than later would be a start, she said.

Removing the stigma about going on sick leave for mental health issues and making spouses aware of what resources are available would also help, she said.

OPP support programs

In a statement to CBC News, the OPP said it offers a number of resources for members, including peer support programs, mandatory mental health awareness and resiliency training, and an employee and family assistance program.

The force also said the OPP commissioner will be making an announcement later this week about what the OPP is doing in response to the three deaths.

The focus needs to be on learning from what happened to bring about change, according to OPP union president Rob Jamieson.

He wrote a letter to members talking about his own journey.

"I have experienced extreme trauma as a result of doing my job as a police officer and four years ago I needed to step away," wrote Jamieson.

"This has been a personal journey, and it is difficult to share this with thousands of people I do not know; however, I do so in the hope that it may give some strength to hang on, to speak to someone and to know you are not alone."

In an interview with CBC, Jamieson said OPP members often work in communities that don't have the same number of resources as bigger cities.

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Officer suicides prompt new OPP mental-health strategy

Postby Thomas » Thu Aug 30, 2018 4:02 pm

On Wednesday morning in a crowded conference room at Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) headquarters in Orillia, OPP Comm. J.V.N. (Vince) Hawkes opened up about suicide within OPP ranks.

After the suicides of three OPP officers over the past month, including Sgt. Sylvain Routhier of Belleville and Det.-Insp. Paul Horne of Iroquois, the OPP have now unveiled a new mental-health strategy that will provide more support for officers.

“I would like to start by addressing the deaths of three of our members recently due to suicide. We’ve been dealing with the grief of our loss,” started Hawkes. “There’s a tremendous void that’s been left behind that has impacted the entire organization.”

“This is a very difficult time.”

The OPP will be working with partners toward a three-pronged approach to mental health that includes building awareness, reducing stigma and providing more member training and resources.

During his remarks, Hawkes outlined various programs already in place for officers, including wellness checks, mental-health training for officers and the introduction of the OPP Wellness Unit in 2014.

“I’ve outlined some of our programs at work that are helping our members... but we clearly need to do more,” said Hawke. “There are serious gaps and barriers that require further examination, review and evaluation.”

As a result, Hawkes then announced that the OPP will be undergoing an internal review of member suicides over the past five years, which will include round-table discussions with officers, families of members and experts in the field of mental health.

“We will enhance our existing strategies, we will examine the root causes and evaluate what works and what doesn’t through the eyes of lived experience members and their families,” said Hawkes.

“No one should suffer in silence.”

When the floor was opened, Hawkes fielded questions about the specific timeline for the plan, as well as specific statistics on officer deaths from suicide.

Hawkes indicated that over the last 30 years, there have been 24 active and nine retired members who have died from suicide that the OPP has documentation on.

When asked a question about these initiatives carrying over to also help officers in other units such as the Barrie Police Service or South Simcoe Police Service, Hawkes said that everything the OPP does of this nature is linked into the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, where they share everything they do with other police forces across the province.

“That’s one of the advantages of learning from others,” he said, also saying he met with other units on Wednesday as well as representatives from the provincial government to discuss the plan, including the Toronto Police Service. “We share in everything we do.”

Hawkes opened up with empathy about his own struggles while on the force, and the importance of existing resources.

“I’ve had some bad days, just like everyone else,” said Hawkes. “The wellness checks are just one piece of the whole strategy.”

When asked questions about fear and the ramifications on one’s career as a result of admitting to mental health struggles -- that is not necessarily unique to the police force -- Hawkes said that understanding can be achieved through knowledge.

“When it comes to fear, how do we overcome some of that fear? Some of that is knowledge,” he said. “One of the worst fears I hear from officers is, ‘If I say that, I’m going to lose my gun,’” said Hawkes. “There’s that perception that if they lose their gun they’re going to lose their authority. That’s devastating for a police officer.”

When asked if this exercise has resulted in OPP officers across the province being more compassionate or empathetic toward the general public when attending mental health or suicide calls, Hawkes said that community outreach is a major component of the new strategy.

“We’ve come a long way over 30 years of dealing with people who are in crisis,” said Hawkes.

“The biggest difference in how we train our officers, is (pushing) de-escalation. Basically, using your mouth before you use any type of force.”

Hawkes also indicated that corporate language is a major part of training.

“We are teaching officers not to use terms like ‘crazy’, and understanding that we don’t use terms like that anymore,” said Hawkes. “It’s all about dealing with someone who is going through a crisis.”

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OPP commissioner announces internal review of officer suicid

Postby Thomas » Thu Aug 30, 2018 4:03 pm

OPP commissioner announces internal review of officer suicides

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Vincent Hawkes has announced an internal review of officer suicides after three officers took their own lives in as many weeks this month.

The review, which will look at OPP member suicides and attempted suicides over the past five years, is part of what Hawkes described as a “three-part approach” to addressing the recent deaths. At a news conference Thursday, he said the review will attempt to identify what could have prevented the suicides and what gaps exist in current mental health supports.

Hawkes also announced the formation of a series of mental health roundtables featuring officers, their family members and outside stakeholders that will help form the basis of a report for the commissioner’s committee, as well as the modernization of the Safeguard Program, which monitors the mental health of officers working in high-risk areas such as forensic identification and child sex exploitation.

Hawkes said he expected the entire process to take less than a year to complete, but added that if there is a change that can be implemented quickly, he won’t wait until the final recommendations are out.

“We owe it to our members to get this right,” he said.

According to some studies, first responders, including police officers and firefighters, are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty. Their rates of post-traumatic stress disorder are also twice the national average.

Hawkes said that in the last two decades, the force has documentation showing that 24 active members and nine retired members have died by suicide.

More recently, three OPP officers have died by suicide in three weeks, rocking the provincial police service and sparking calls to overhaul its existing mental health support system. Those officers include Det. Paul Horne, Sgt. Sylvain Routhier and Const. Joshua De Bock.

Hawkes said the stigma associated with mental illness, worries that coming forward could their jeopardize careers and an overall frustration with the process of seeking help is preventing many officers from getting the assistance they need.

“I urge you to come forward, to seek support,” Hawkes said. “No one should suffer in silence.”

Robert Jamieson, the head of the OPP Association, sent a letter to officers last week also imploring them to speak to someone if they feel they need help.

“Please know that you are valued as a human being and know that you matter,” Jamieson wrote in the letter.

Bruce Chapman, the president of the Police Association of Ontario, told CTV News Channel that while he welcomes Hawkes’ announcement, he feels a “year is too long” to implement his three-part strategy for addressing suicides in the profession.

“When we sign up for this job, we know what we inherit when we go to these scenes,” Chapman said, “but we need to do more to get the help for these officers as soon as we can.”

Bridget, a retired OPP officer who wished to be identified only by her first name, told CTV Toronto that she knows from her own personal experience that more needs to be done to help those who are struggling.

When a colleague committed suicide, Bridget said that she began to feel “that I could next,” but when she spoke to a social worker provided to her by the OPP, she felt her concerns weren’t being taken seriously when she was told to just do yoga.

Sgt. Routhier’s widow, Sara Routhier, told CTV News that she believes her husband spent years repressing emotions over his decade-long career as an OPP officer in Belleville, Ont, worried about the stigma that can be associated with mental illness.

When he told her in April that he was having suicidal thoughts, she rushed him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Four months later, he took his own life.

She hopes that speaking candidly about his story will help prevent another tragedy.

“If someone doesn’t come forward to say that they need help, then no one is going to know that they need help,” she said. “It starts with trying to bring awareness and ending that stigma and letting people know that it’s okay to seek help.”

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Retired officer warns OPP to listen to mental health concern

Postby Thomas » Thu Aug 30, 2018 4:06 pm

'You can't prevent all suicides, but I think there is an awful lot more that can be done'

A retired detective inspector with the OPP living with post-traumatic stress disorder wants the force's commissioner to launch an independent review after three officer suicides in the past month.

Bruce Kruger said the deaths disturb him, especially since he's been warning the force of the risk of suicides if they didn't make changes.

"I'm just heartbroken for these families," Kruger said.

"I had predicted this was going to continue on. I realize you can't prevent all suicides, but I think there is an awful lot more that can be done."

Kruger, a former detective inspector, is a decorated officer with a medal of bravery from the Governor General.

His own personal struggle with PTSD helped lead to a 2012 report by the province's watchdog revealing the force had been failing to support police officers.

This week, Kruger penned a letter to OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes saying the force still isn't listening to members with mental injuries.

"Sadly, in my continuous attempts to advocate for change, the very persons and organizations who have the capacity to correct the downward spirals of suicidal policing personnel, have not done so," he wrote in the letter dated Aug. 26.

Hawkes tweeted an appeal to members to seek help and he is expected to announce the force's new plans later this week to deal with the spike in suicides, but Kruger said that isn't enough.

"I'm sick and tired of these pleas for help," he said.

"That doesn't cut it anymore."

'The biggest fear is that their career ends'

Kruger wants Hawkes to hire an independent expert to travel across the province for three months and meet with OPP members.

The discussions would include asking members about their experiences with mental health issues, including what barriers they face seeking help and getting stress leave.

All of that work could lead to a report and a forum with police, associations, and health professionals to come up with a solution for OPP, said Kruger.

Kruger stresses that it's crucial the process is confidential and conducted by someone outside of the force.

Currently, he said officers are getting in touch with him weekly for advice because they don't all feel the services OPP offer enough privacy.

"There's no way for our officers — in their mind — to safely convey their troubles," he said.

"Many are afraid of the stigma attached. The biggest fear is that their career ends once they say they're suffering from a mental illness."

PTSD connected to difficult calls

Kruger has experienced firsthand what it's like to keep a mental illness a secret.

"I know that fear, I lived through it," he said.

"I hid my post traumatic stress disorder."

During his 29-year career with OPP in Niagara Falls, Bracebridge, Toronto and Huntsville, he was involved in many calls that later haunted him.

In 1977, Kruger shot and killed a prison escapee.

The next year, he recovered the bodies of his son's six-year-old friend and his father who had drowned.

He also found the body of a slain colleague, Const. Rick Verdecchia who was killed by two armed robbers.

Long struggle

By 1984, Kruger knew he needed help and turned to a new peer support program that OPP had launched, but the officer told him continuing treatment would impact his career.

"I never opened my mouth again until after I retired," he said.

He thought his issues would stop when he retired, but within two years he was "horribly struggling."

The OPP has yet to respond to CBC's request for a comment for this story, saying earlier this week it has a number of mental health resources for its members and will be announcing changes to its mental health support system this week.

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Former OPP officer told to take yoga after coworker took his

Postby Thomas » Thu Aug 30, 2018 4:17 pm

'It shook me': Former OPP officer told to take yoga after coworker took his own life

A former Ontario Provincial Police officer said that she was told by staff at the force’s Employee Assistance Program to take yoga to help relieve her mental health issues.

Bridget, who only wanted to be identified by her first name, told CTV News Toronto that she was hired as an OPP officer in August 1995. She worked primarily as a front-line officer in northern and eastern Ontario.

In May 2017, she learned that one of her coworkers had taken his own life.

“It shook me. It scared me and I thought I need to address this before I’m next,” she said. “At the time I made a phone call to our (Employee Assistance Program). I was looking specifically for a referral to some kind of counselling, psychiatric or psychological or even group counselling that was dealing with police issues or first responder issues.”

Bridget said that she spent an hour with a social worker and at the end of the session it was suggested that she take up yoga.

“I was in some pretty dire straits there and yoga was not really the help I was looking for.”

Bridget took some time off work and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Nine months later, after a consultation with her doctors, she decided it was time to explore other employment opportunities.

Bridget decided to speak publicly about her mental health after learning last week that three OPP officers took their own lives over a three-week period.

On Aug. 22, the president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association sent out a letter urging members to seek help to deal with the trauma they experience on the job.

“I have experienced extreme trauma as a result of doing my job as a police officer and four years ago I needed to step away. This has been a personal journey, and it is difficult to share this with thousands of people I do not know; however, I do so in the hope that it may give some strength to hang on, to speak to someone and to know you are not alone,” Rob Jamieson wrote in the letter.

Two of the officers who took their lives have been identified. OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes identified one of the officer as Detective Insp. Paul Horne. He died on Aug. 11.

The second officer was Sgt. Sylvain Joseph Francois Routhier of Belleville. His obituary said that he passed away on July 31 and that he he took his own life “after a brief battle with mental illness.” His widow, Sarah Routhier, said that her husband had served with the OPP for 13 years and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in April.

“Initially I thought he was having a stroke. He had a very hard time focusing and concentrating at work that day. He started telling me that he hadn’t been sleeping in about a week,” she said. “We often said he was in a fog.”

Routhier said that she came home one day to find her husband missing. A suicide note was left behind.

Routhier told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday that since speaking publically about her husband’s death, she has received numerous messages and phone calls from people saying they are now going to seek help to deal with their mental health.

“That’s all we can hope for,” she said. “That people know it is okay to get help if they need help with their struggles.”

Routhier said that her husband did receive support from the Employee Assistance Program, but also said that it was the stigma associated with mental illness that provided a real barrier.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt to offer more support and more resources to members of the Ontario Provincial Police and their families. The more support the better, but there is a huge stigma here so it has to start with people reaching out for help and knowing it is okay to reach out for help if they are struggling.”

For Bridget, that stigma associated with mental illness meant that she didn’t know her colleague was struggling until it was too late.

“It wasn’t talked about. You don’t ask questions. They try to cover it under privacy issues, where they don’t want to reveal what people are going through, so you are left to wonder. Does someone have a serious medical illness? Is there family trouble? You don’t know. And then you get the news.”

“Obviously this is a real issue,” Jamieson told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday. “To what extent, I don’t know. But I know this. These folks, those who wish to come forward, need that support.”

“There are folks that have died by suicide prior to these officers. One is too many. We need to have continuing conversations around mental health.”

In a statement released last week, Hawkes said the service is “devastated” by the loss of three of its members.

“As Commissioner of the OPP, I am committed to examining the barriers that exist preventing our members from seeking assistance and support. I appeal to our members, their family and friends that if you recognize a fellow member or should a member of your family require assistance, please contact one of our many support services.”

The OPP held a conference call with the province Wednesday to discuss the high suicide rate inside the force. The commissioner will be making a public address at 10 a.m. on Thursday alongside psychologist Julie Devlin to discuss suicide awareness.

The OPP says it has internal resources available through the OPP intranet and on the OPPA website. There is also an external helpline available through the Employee and Family Assistance Program at 1-800-387-4765 or at workhealthlife.com.

Anyone suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts should reach out to one of Ontario’s distress centres or call 911. The phone number for the Toronto Distress Centre is 416-408-4357.

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Retired officer challenges OPP's internal suicide review

Postby Thomas » Sun Sep 02, 2018 3:13 pm

Officers are 'not going to come forward to share the difficulties that they're facing,' retired officer claims

A retired OPP officer says he's disappointed the force is conducting its own internal review following three officer suicides, rather than turning to an independent organization for help.

Bruce Kruger lives with post-traumatic stress disorder after his 29-year career. He's become an advocate for change in the force, and said it's unlikely officers will talk candidly about their struggles with mental illness to colleagues.

"Officers are so concerned about their future careers they don't want to talk to personnel within the force — the very people who are going to be judging them for promotions in the future," he said. "They're not going to come forward to share the difficulties that they're facing."

On Thursday, OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes announced a three-part collaborative approach to addressing mental health concerns within the force.

A detective superintendent has been tasked with reviewing officer suicides over the past five years to find any commonalities. OPP will also meet with officers to ask what struggles they face accessing mental health services. And there are plans to consult with families and outside experts for recommendations, too.

Commissioner says internal review is faster

Hawkes said the reason the inquiry is being done internally is because he's doesn't want to scrap all the work the force has done to roll out a mental health strategy. They've made strides in that department, he said, in the aftermath of a 2012 ombudsman report that found OPP were failing to take stress injuries seriously.

He now wants to find gaps in that work.

"I think by having a multi-prong system that it's going to be more beneficial and something that I as commissioner can act on much more quickly," Hawkes said.

But Kruger is sceptical the approach will lead to real change.

"I truly believe the OPP commissioner and senior management within the force are trying their utmost to make change," he said. "But I just feel they're not capable of doing what is truly necessary to get that outcome."

'Many detachments are left with skeleton shifts'

Kruger believes an external organization, such as the provincial ombudsman's office, is more capable, and that it can offer confidentiality to officers, allowing them to open up more.

As well, an ombudsman's recommendations would have more teeth and could push the province for additional funding to backfill officers on stress leave, he said.

"Many detachments are left with skeleton shifts. There is then resentment that the officers injured mentally are off duty and not supporting their detachments. That's a real problem," Kruger said.

"The only thing that's going to correct that is an influx of funding to the OPP to cover for the added resources that are needed."

Widow calls review a step in the right direction

But not everyone close to the issue disagrees with the OPP's approach. ​The widow of one of the officers who took his own life said the OPP's planned review is above and beyond her expectations.

"It's really a great step in the right direction," Sarah Routhier said. "It's overwhelming and we feel really grateful they are going to do that to help other people."

Routhier decided to share her late husband Sylvain Routhier's story publicly to help other families. He died by suicide on July 31 in Belleville, Ont., after a brief struggle with mental illness.

Sarah Routhier has offered to help OPP with their review and hopes officers will open up in light of the recent deaths.

"It's definitely a possibility that officers don't talk openly about it," Routhier said. "But I would hope that with situations that have happened recently that people will feel comfortable speaking out."

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OPP Commissioner announces retirement

Postby Thomas » Sat Sep 08, 2018 3:52 pm

The Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Vince Hawkes is preparing to leave the force causing a major shakeup in the ranks.

CTV Barrie obtained a memorandum posted by the commissioner to the OPP’s internal website on September 5.

“It is with mixed emotions that I announce my decision to retire from the Ontario Provincial Police after 34 ½ years of service. My last day of work will be November 2, 2018,” Hawkes writes.

He goes on to say, “when I was appointed Commissioner almost five years ago, I wholeheartedly accepted the responsibility and promised that I would do my very best for all of you. I could not have done that without you – our dedicated members. I am extremely proud of all that we have accomplished together.”

Hawkes, who previously served as the OPP’s deputy commissioner, took over the force’s top job in March 2014. He joined the OPP in 1984 and has held a variety of roles throughout his career.

Hawkes has served as the OPP’s 14th commissioner.

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