Sheriff's career appears over after prisoner van crash

A former New Brunswick sheriff's officer has learned her bosses were afraid she would sue the department as they debated whether to keep her on the job.

Labour consultant Bob Davidson believes Natalie Doucet is being discriminated against due to disability

A former New Brunswick sheriff's officer has learned her bosses were afraid she would sue the department as they debated whether to keep her on the job.

Natalie Doucet, of Bathurst, is still recovering from injuries she sustained in April 2012 when the sheriff's van in which she and a colleague were transporting prisoners crashed in winter road conditions and rolled several times.

Doucet, 30, who was a passenger, suffered a twisted pelvis, now has back problems and walks with a cane.

Natalie Doucet filed a request under the Right to Information Act to get documents related to her employement with Sheriff Services.
At the time of the accident, Doucet had been working for about three years as a sheriff's officer. Like many in the Sheriff's Services, Doucet was a casual employee and dependent on her bosses renewing a series of term contracts before eventually giving her a full-time job.

Sheriff's officials wrote a letter commending Doucet for her actions in the accident. Following the crash, she was offered another renewal of her contract, this time for six months.

In an internal email to Human Resources, obtained by Doucet, under the province's Right to Information Act, deputy chief sheriff Mary Louise Smith says, "I'm a bit concerned about offering a position if there is still a potential risk of a lawsuit."

Doucet says she doesn't know what the reference to a possible lawsuit is about.

Under provincial law, an employer can't be sued because of a workplace accident, as compensation for the victim would be from WorkSafe New Brunswick. 

Prior to the accident, Doucet had complained about harassment in the workplace from sheriffs whom she had reported to superiors for speeding.

Natalie Doucet was one of the sheriffs in a van crash in April 2012 (Submitted)
​Doucet filed the Right to Information request for documents related to her case in an attempt to discover what department officials were saying about her and why she wasn't being kept on.

She was most shocked to find that barely an hour into her first shift back at work on Sept. 4, 2012, an email stating concerns about her attitude was already circulating in the department.

Doucet was stationed at the front door security post on her first day back on the job and she said she was happy with that because it enabled her to see many colleagues she hadn't seen since the accident.

She said her boss, Paul Branch, arrived around 9 a.m. and they exchanged a simple greeting with no other conversation. The documents Doucet obtained show at 9:04 a.m., deputy chief sheriff Mary Louise Smith sent an email to Human Resources about Doucet.

The email from Smith states that Doucet is "already complaining about being assigned to the front desk and that her boss, Paul Branch, is concerned about her attitude."

Smith also states in the email: "We don't want to box ourselves in too soon by offering her a Temp position."

I wasn't the cause of it, I was a victim. But the way the government makes me feel, it's as if I was guilty of it.- Natalie Doucet, former sheriff's officer

Doucet missed much of her final contract as a sheriff's officer due to sick time and medical appointments related to her injuries from the van crash.

It appears her career has come to an end and Smith believes it is because of the injuries she received in the crash.

"I wasn't the cause of it, I was a victim," said Doucet. "But the way the government makes me feel, it's as if I was guilty of it."

Labour consultant Bob Davidson, a former executive with the Canadian Union of Public Employees in Saint John, believes Doucet is being discriminated against based on a disability.

Davidson points to the department's earlier praise for Doucet in a letter of commendation following the van crash.

"That clearly. to me. shows that but for the injuries, she would have still been working there," he said.

The Department of Public Safety and Sheriff's Services did not respond to a list of questions about Doucet and her case submitted by CBC News.

Officials have previously said they can't comment on individual personnel issues.


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