Against the backdrop of a notably difficult and stressful two years for all Canadians, the Mass Casualty Commission will open on Tuesday with a mental health panel to highlight the trauma and psychological harm caused to those affected by the mass casualty. This will help prepare the public for the manner in which information will be presented. Of course, those affected include RCMP Members who responded directly to events and those who worked tirelessly on the investigation; as well as Members for whom these proceedings and discussions will trigger previous memories and mental health injuries.
Daily, RCMP Members put their lives and psychological wellbeing on the line protecting communities where they work and live. They often experience lasting operational stress injuries and psychological trauma from repeated exposure to violence and tragic events.
A 2017 study of public safety personnel conducted by the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT) found that 52% of RCMP Members self-reported experiencing a mental health disorder; most frequently Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder resulting from their typical duties. Stigma around reporting and seeking treatment for mental health injuries remains high among police as well as the public, and too often dissuades injured Members from self-identifying or seeking the treatment they need.
The average adult will experience 8 to 10 traumatic events over the course of their lifetime, compared to between 800 to 1,000 for police over their career. The almost 100 Members involved in the active response of April 18 and 19, 2020 and the ensuing investigations, experienced unprecedented stress, violence, and trauma at a scale unlike any previously experienced by the public or law enforcement in Canada.
As a result of the high incidence of operational stress injuries, RCMP Members and all police officers face a higher risk of long-term qualify of life impacts and death by suicide. MCC discussions must carefully consider this risk and exercise sensitivity for everyone affected.
We are only able to know a fraction of the impact of RCMP Members’ exposure to the mass casualty event, which included many hours of intense and unpredictable threats and loss of life over those two days, followed by numerous investigations of the many crime scenes. These impacts are ongoing and may be re-animated by public discussion or media coverage of the events.
Police officers and their families are members of small communities across Canada, including the ones directly impacted by the events in Nova Scotia in April 2020. In addition to the weight of their experiences as first responders, our Members and their families share the emotional burden of the mass casualty as community members. They are people with hearts, feelings, and natural human responses in the face of such experiences. They are deserving of the same respect and consideration afforded to all victims of these events, in addition to consideration for the sacrifice of their public service.
The Commission has committed to a trauma-informed process for all participants. The NPF will continue to advocate for this approach when it comes to the Commission’s treatment of our Members, so that we can all meet our shared goal of completing this important work in a restorative manner. Only by doing so will we be able to determine what happened and, most importantly, to determine causes, context and circumstances of these events and recommendations to prevent and respond to any similar future events, without causing further harm.
National Police Federation
Fabrice de Dongo
Manager, Media Relations