Francis suicide highlights RCMP failures on PTSD

coreyCorey Brehaut
Guest Columnist

The RCMP has failed Cpl. Ron Francis and potentially every other officer suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses.

Francis committed suicide on Oct. 6 after over a year of publicly battling the RCMP for his rights. His troubles started when he was stripped of his uniform and red serge late last November for smoking medical marijuana on duty.

The marijuana treated his PTSD and was legally prescribed by his doctor. Recent studies show marijuana may prevent PTSD from altering the brain’s fear centre, a key cause of PTSD symptoms. The 21-year veteran of the force was prescribed medical marijuana because of a serious problem.

Last December Francis was tracked down by the RCMP for a wellness check in order to assess his psychiatric state after his suspension for smoking marijuana on the job, and ended up being brought down by a stun gun. He was charged and pleaded guilty to two counts of assaulting a police officer and one of breaching an undertaking not to possess or consume alcohol or non-prescription drugs.

Francis was stripped of his uniform for taking the medicine he was prescribed, and then arrested when he behaved as a highly distressed person with PTSD would be expected to behave. This seems particularly dubious since the officers were going to check up on a person with a potentially instable mental state.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said he was embarrassed and disappointed when Francis made the case public.

Francis had come out to say he should be able to smoke his medical marijuana in uniform, and accused the RCMP of trying to force members with PTSD to stop taking prescribed cannabis. It certainly looks like this officer was used as a scapegoat then dragged through the mud when he refused to take it lying down.

Now he’s dead.

Francis isn’t the first person to suggest that officers suffering from PTSD are shoved out the door and forced to quit or into early retirement. There’s also the fear of seeming weak by coming forward with their issues, as these are considered “manly” jobs and sufferers fear seeming weak in their colleagues’ eyes.

Twenty-three first responders in Canada have killed themselves this year as of October, and government statistics show that more Canadian soldiers have committed suicide than have died in combat in Afghanistan. There have been numerous complaints from RCMP officers, regular police, firefighters, and the military that the counselling and treatment options for PTSD available to them are inadequate.

Hopefully this event will open up the dialogue about mental illness in this country. Judging from the hundreds of people that showed up for Cpl. Francis’ funeral, it looks like people are ready for a discussion.

This country needs to stop treating mental illness like a dirty little secret that will go away if they ignore it long enough.  It’s time to acknowledge that not all diseases can be seen.