On the day now deceased RCMP Cpl. Ron Francis was to be sentenced on charges of assaulting fellow officers, a provincial court judge in Fredericton made a statement he hoped would bring comfort to Francis's family and his community.
Francis, a 21-year RCMP veteran who crusaded for improved help for Mounties like himself suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, killed himself on Oct. 6. He was 43.
Provincial court Judge William McCarroll accepted Francis's guilty pleas in August on two counts of assaulting fellow officers and one count of breaching an undertaking. He was scheduled to sentence Francis on Monday.
But rather than quietly accept the customary Crown motion to withdraw the charges against the deceased accused, McCarroll told the court he had something he wanted to say before he lost jurisdiction of the case.
McCarroll said of the many cases he has dealt with in the criminal court system, "few, if any, have impacted me the way that this one has."
'Cpl. Francis was not a person who should have been in a criminal court.' —William McCarroll, provincial court judge
"I think what bothers me most, other than the tragic passing of a fine police officer, is that Cpl. Francis was not a person who should have been in a criminal court," said McCarroll.
"He was ill. And it was his illness that ultimately led to where we are today."
McCarroll said he couldn't fault the Crown for proceeding with charges against Francis, who gained national attention when he smoked medicinal marijuana in his RCMP ceremonial red serge as a way to bring attention to the plight of Mounties suffering from PTSD.
"Looking at the matter as a whole, I can find fault with no one, especially Cpl. Francis," he said.
McCarroll said Francis provided exemplary service as a respected member of the RCMP for more than 20 years and served as a role model to the young people of Kingsclear First Nation.
"But the pressures of the job finally took their toll on his health — not his physical health, but his mental health," said McCarroll. "And I ask, `Why wouldn't it?'
"For some reason, we members of the general public have come to expect that these people who provide policing and emergency services and serve our community in the military are superhuman and that the horrendous things they see on a regular basis don't bother them," he said.
"And I say to that, 'How could they not be bothered by what they see?'"
'We think these people are superhuman. They are no different than us.' —Judge William McCarroll
McCarroll noted that police officers and other first responders are called on to deal with suicides, murders, accident fatalities and other tense situations like drug busts on a regular basis.
"All of this would have to have an impact on anyone," he said. "We think these people are superhuman. They are no different than us.
"They have families. They go to work every day. But we expect that they're able to handle situations like this, and sometimes it just gets to be too much."
McCarroll said it is clear from the medical reports that Francis was suffering from PTSD and the incidents that led to charges against him were a result of that.
The judge noted that although PTSD is a recognized mental illness, it is not in a class that would exempt someone from criminal responsibilities, as is the case with mental illnesses such as psychosis or schizophrenia.
'There should be no shadow cast over the fine reputation he attained as a fine member of the RCMP.' —Judge William McCarroll
"The uncharacteristic actions that resulted in his appearance before the court were in my opinion … a cry for help from someone desperately trying to deal with the ravages of post-traumatic stress syndrome," said McCarroll.
"If Cpl. Francis were here with us today to be sentenced, he would have walked out of this courtroom with my respect, and with no conviction having been recorded and no criminal record.
"There should be no shadow cast over the fine reputation he attained as a fine member of the RCMP."