Police officers prone to trauma just like the Nunavummiut they serve

The issue: Mental health
We say: RCMP not immune to crisis

Mental Health Week is recognized in Nunavut each May.

It inevitably provokes discussion on maximizing the limited resources available to Nunavummiut in hopes of curtailing the territory’s extraordinary and deeply troubling suicide rate. We all know that a single week is far too little acknowledgement of such a pervasive problem.

A reminder arrived in September that the mental health crisis extends to some of our first responders. Four RCMP officers who all served at Nunavut detachments filed a lawsuit against the federal government. They’re seeking damages for “systemic negligence” because the government and the police force allegedly failed to properly address the trauma that these officers endured.

The four Mounties described being subjected to violence – some of it disturbingly extreme – while responding to calls for assistance in various Nunavut communities. The court document also makes mention of an active shooting incident in December 2018 that lasted several hours. These sorts of encounters between police and civilians, where the civilian is barricaded inside a residence with a firearm, are unfortunately too common and which, in some cases, could be another side effect of untreated mental health issues.

Some hunters in our territory have experienced an errant bullet whizzing past after another hunter fires, unaware that there’s someone else just over the horizon. That’s a terrifying experience in itself. Imagine then being in the boots of Mounties who are deliberately being targeted by the person on the other end of the rifle barrel. It’s not the type of thing most people can shrug off, go home and fall into a peaceful slumber, knowing that their life very well could have come to an end that day.

The four RCMP officers say they were met with resistance and humiliation when they did inform their superiors of needing mental health support. They say they heard responses like “suck it up” and that they’d just have to “work through” their issues. If true, it reveals an unacceptable lack of empathy for any workplace.
Mounties also face backlash from the general public, in person and via social media. How often do we hear “pigs” and “f*** the police?” Sometimes they’re spat at, sometimes they’re punched.

Yes, there are bad cops too. That’s been proven and there are still others who have committed despicable acts without any retribution.

But the ones who are well-intentioned and willing to put their well-being on the line for the sake of Nunavummiut still wind up branded the same way.

This brings us back to the need for body cameras. Senator Dennis Patterson hosted a roundtable in June to examine the hurdles that are preventing from the technology being deployed in Nunavut. Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal reaffirmed to Nunavut News last week that he’s committed to seeing body cameras adopted in our territory.
We absolutely must hold politicians’ feet to the fire on this. Body cameras won’t relieve all of the tensions and mistrust between Nunavummiut and police, but they will often show us what really occurred when two sides are telling very different stories.

In the meantime, let’s all try to show a little more compassion for each other. We usually don’t know just how difficult a time the next person is having, whether in uniform or not.

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