220 retired N.B. RCMP officers suffering from PTSD, collecting benefits
St. Andrews family questions why 4 charges dropped against former Mountie Larry Burden after May incident
A CBC investigation has revealed 220 retired New Brunswick RCMP officers are collecting disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, which is far higher than the Canadian average and more than Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined.
There are 2,924 veteran Mounties across Canada receiving PTSD disability benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada, the ministry responsible for RCMP retirees, as of the end of June. That's a 34 per cent increase since March 2013.
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Rob Creaser, a retired RCMP officer diagnosed with PTSD, said he is not a bit surprised by the high number of veteran officers collecting disability benefits for the condition.
Creaser is a member of the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, a group hoping to organize current RCMP members into a union.
He said police officers see and deal with things nobody wants to see.
And, he said he believes, the work environment at the RCMP is not conducive to recovery.
"It's becoming more and more prevalent that what I would classify as non operational issues such as harassment in the workplace, the treatment of RCMP members, the chronic understaffing right across Canada is putting more and more pressure on those that are left doing the job," said Creaser.
Creaser could not explain why the number would be dramatically higher in New Brunswick, and neither could Veterans Affairs Canada. The province has 853 working RCMP officers.
Family questions why charges dropped
The statistics were uncovered as members of a St. Andrews family question why assault and impersonation charges against a retired New Brunswick RCMP sergeant were dropped last month.
Larry Burden of St. Andrews faced four charges in total, one of impersonating a police officer and three of summary assault.
- Retired Mountie has charge of impersonating an officer dropped
Impersonating a police officer is a criminal offence and summary assault is laid in cases deemed less serious. But all four charges were withdrawn after Burden admitted to the allegations in court last month.
He left after signing a peace bond, agreeing to have no contact for one year with the people he admitted to have assaulted. He will have no criminal record.
While Crown prosecutors are saying little about the matter, the condition may have been a factor in the willingness of the Crown to drop the prosecution.
Burden would not talk to CBC News but he did turn over a written statement that he says he gave RCMP investigators after the May 30 incident.
"I have been diagnosed with and suffer from PTSD and I am receiving medical treatment for it," wrote Burden in the statement, "in addition to having received a medical discharge from the RCMP one year ago."
Burden says he snapped
The retired officer's statement and interviews with people involved in the St Andrews incident paint starkly different versions of the event. Burden was the only person charged afterward.
Where there is agreement is that something strange was happening with Burden that evening.
In his statement, he writes that he snapped emotionally.
Guy Sorrell, one of the people assaulted that evening, says it was more than emotional, it was physical.
"He was irate. Incredible," said Sorrell. "There was something up, for sure. He wasn't in his right mind."
He wanted somebody to touch him is what he wanted, he was looking for that.- Guy Sorrell
The Sorrell family was holding a barbecue with friends and a couple of neighbours.
Sorrell says there was nothing going on that would concern people living nearby.
Next door to the Sorrells, Burden and his wife were at another barbecue.
On heading home, Burden stopped his car at the end of Sorrell's driveway and shouted that he wanted to speak to the homeowner. That's when events spiralled out of control.
There was yelling and Burden was out of his car and deep into a private driveway confronting a group of strangers.
When asked who he was, he said he was an RCMP officer.
"When he came down the driveway, he came down chest puffed out," said Zaira Sorrell, Guy's then 18-year-old daughter, and another of the people named as an assault victim.
She said Burden physically thrust her aside when she tried to step between the retired officer and a guest at the event.
Burden grappled with Lindon Garron, another Sorrell guest, and fell to the ground.
All agree at this point that the former officer's face struck the surface of the asphalt drive. Blood began to seep from wounds on his forehead.
Guy Sorrell says Burden later slapped him on the face with a blood-covered hand. Throughout it all, says Sorrell, nobody went after Burden.
"He wanted somebody to touch him is what he wanted, he was looking for that," said Sorrell.
"He said he'd never lost a fight. He brought that up."
Burden admitted to allegations
While Burden officially admitted to the allegations against him in court, the statement he says he gave to police claims he was the victim in the incident, that he was "hit from behind" and "pummeled" to the ground.
Four RCMP officers arrived at the scene and Burden was the only one charged.
Although he eventually admitted to the allegations against him, in his written statement Burden concludes with a note alleging bias on the part of the police.
Because Burden had been the senior RCMP officer in Charlotte County, the case was handed to special prosecutor Paul Hawkins.
Hawkins has no connection to either Burden or to the officers who investigated the incident.
"My position was a peace bond is appropriate," said Hawkins.
He would not speak to PTSD in the Burden case specifically but did say the condition is a factor weighed by both prosecutors and judges when it comes up in cases involving soldiers, firefighters and police officers.
And it is something that has come up, particularly in the Oromocto area, adjacent to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, where Hawkins worked prior to becoming a special prosecutor.
Burden's appearance before a judge in Saint John lasted less than a minute.