The head of the New Brunswick RCMP is speaking out about post-traumatic stress disorder following the high-profile case of a Mountie based in Oromocto who has a medical marijuana prescription for his symptoms.
Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown says too much attention has been put on Cpl. Ron Francis publicly smoking the drug in his red serge uniform.
Brown contends the focus should be how to support people with PTSD and how to remove the stigma surrounding the disorder.
“I've taken some criticism from some people, I mean, outside, saying, 'You know what, it's part of their job, grow a skin, suck it up,'" Brown told CBC Information Morning Fredericton.
"No, I will stand up and say that members, anyone in the general public that needs some assistance with respect to those suffering from PTSD … and we need to break that culture and I will do my part to do it," he said.
Francis, a 21-year veteran of the RCMP, received a prescription for medical-grade marijuana on Nov. 4.
He says the marijuana helps him deal with his PTSD, which he says is a result of his work. His prescription allows for three grams a day, which he estimates to be nine to 15 joints, though he said he doesn’t typically smoke that much.
Francis, who is now on medical leave, believes he should be able to smoke the drug in uniform and did so publicly last week.
Mounties promptly seized his regular working uniform from his Kingsclear First Nation home on Nov. 28 and Francis was ordered to turn in his red serge uniform the following day.
Brown says the decision to take Francis's uniforms was made following a thorough assessment involving a psychologist and doctor.
Francis will get the uniforms back when he is well, Brown said.
Brown says he is deeply troubled by a recent editorial cartoon in provincial newspapers that poked fun at Francis's case.
"People who suffer from PTSD or any mental illness need to be supported," he said. "They can't be ridiculed, can’t put in a position where they're humiliated, exploited. They need help. We need help. And I think collectively, we all need to work on this together."
PTSD is a real and serious issue, stressed Brown.
"Making fun of it as the newspapers chose to do is deeply disturbing. If these cartoons depicted a physical disability or a visible mental health issue, there would be a public outcry — and rightly so," he said in a statement.
"The very nature of police work requires us to see and experience things that are sometimes troubling. When the majority of other people are fleeing a dangerous scene, first responders are going in; when the majority of people are stuck in traffic at an accident scene, police officers are the ones struggling with life and death realities; when loved ones fail to arrive home safely, we are the ones advising their families that they won't be coming home any more," he said.
"Police officers are human beings too and each one of us reacts in a different way to these traumatic situations."