The head of the RCMP says he's embarrassed and disappointed after a New Brunswick Mountie made national headlines last week for smoking marijuana for medicinal reasons while in uniform.
Commissioner Bob Paulson told a House of Commons committee Tuesday the force tried to discourage Cpl. Ron Francis, who serves with J Division in Fredericton, from going public.
"It was very, very awkward and disappointing to see how, despite extensive efforts from our commanders in New Brunswick and other staff that we were unable to dissuade him from going to the media," Paulson said in response to a question from Saint John MP Rodney Weston about the situation.
"I was pretty disappointed, frankly, to see that story because I'm still trying to figure out what the story was. And I was sad for the member, and I think his colleagues were sad for him," said Paulson.
"It was all very embarrassing, I think for not just the force, but for Canadians."
Francis, a 21-year veteran of the RCMP, has a prescription for medicinal marijuana. He says it helps reduce his post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms and calm him down.
He contends he should be able to smoke the drug while in uniform and did so publicly after he said he had been ordered by RCMP bosses not to.
Francis had his regular work uniform seized from his Kingsclear First Nation home by two RCMP officers on Nov. 28 and turned in his red serge uniform the following day, as instructed.
He still has his badge, but is on medical leave.
Paulson said the case has raised the issue of managing employees who are prescribed medical marijuana, particularly those engaged in public safety, and whether they should be provided with designated spaces at work.
He stressed that Francis was never conducting duties that would have been "remotely understood to have been police-related" while taking his medication.
"We're working with him to try and help him get better and we had to take some decisive actions to make sure this situation wasn’t exploited by people who wanted to, you know, exploit this poor member," he said.
The RCMP already has a "robust support mechanism" for members who experience mental health difficulties, but is working to build on that, "recognizing this is growing a lot," Paulson said.
"As many of you know, policing is a particularly demanding and stressful profession," he added.
Weston said the RCMP's decision to seize Francis's uniform created some confusion among citizens. Some of his constituents were supportive, but others questioned the response given the fact Francis does have a prescription, he said.
Paulson said the RCMP has policies with respect to the wearing of uniforms, as well as officers talking to the media and representing themselves as members of the force on force-related matters.
"So all of these things are being applied now," he said.
"The member in question was spoken to ahead of this incident, asked not to do what he had done but, like, he’s not in a good place," said Paulson.
"So consequently, it got away on a bunch of people and it gained an enormous public aspect that really didn’t do the member, I think, any service."