Ontario Ombudsman André Marin said today that 23 OPP officers have committed suicide since 1989, a total that exceeds the number of officers killed on duty over the same time period.
Marin was speaking Wednesday afternoon at a news conference at Queen's Park in Toronto to release a report on his investigation into how the province and the OPP have addressed operational stress injuries of police officers.
"The Ontario Provincial Police and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Service both say they take the issue of operational stress injury seriously," Marin said.
"But my investigation shows they are failing and the results are frankly tragic. My investigation reveals for the first time that 23 OPP officers have committed suicide since 1989, two more than have been killed on duty."
The ombudsman has issued a new report, entitled In the Line of Duty, which makes 34 recommendations to provide better support to officers and to end the "persistent stigma" against operational stress injuries.
"This is about supporting the people who put their lives on the line in the most difficult kind of public service and keeping them healthy and functioning," he said.
"It’s hard to think of a better public investment."
OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis said the police force welcomes the report from the ombudsman and will review its recommendations.
"The OPP is committed to supporting its workforce and this includes addressing operational stress injuries," Lewis said in a statement released Wednesday.
"I am proud of the efforts of our employees to deliver programs and resources relating to wellness, stress management, and critical or traumatic incidents. But I also acknowledge that, while we continue to make significant progress in this area, we can still do better — and we will."
Lack of data
Marin said the OPP doesn’t formally keep track of the number of officers that have taken their own lives.
But his investigation has confirmed the 23 instances since 1989 in which retired and active officers have taken their own lives, including five such cases in the past 18 months.
Marin has also learned that the OPP has only one staff psychologist who is primarily assigned to screen new recruits, not to deal with front-line officers.
"The OPP is made up of over 8,000 members, it’s a powerful, sophisticated organization and it just fails to deliver when it comes to taking care of its own members," said Marin.
Former OPP Det.-Insp. Bruce Kruger has firsthand experience with the kind of stressful experiences that Marin is talking about.
During his 29-year career with the provincial police, Kruger faced repeated dangerous and traumatizing experiences — including one occasion in which he found his partner’s body in a snowbank, after he had been shot to death.
He suffered greatly as a result of these collective incidents, becoming at times anxious, angry and depressed.
"I just never ever want to see another police officer or police family go through the horrendous experiences that we did with no help," Kruger told CBC News.
"There’s help out there, there’s great doctors, medication and support systems. Let’s use them and get our police back into proper shape."
Ten years ago, Marin released a report on post-traumatic stress within the Canadian military.
Back then, Marin said the Canadian military used to have a "culture of denial" with respect to operational stress injuries.
But he said the military changed and caught up with the times.
"If the military culture can evolve, I am optimistic that police culture can, too," he said.
"But we certainly cannot afford to wait another 10 years."