In Depth

'He was in agony': Dead Mountie's friends blame RCMP for betrayal

The woman who sparked a torrent of accusations about sexual harassment within the RCMP testified at a coroner's inquiry Tuesday into the suicide of her colleague, Pierre Lemaitre.

Former RCMP spokeswoman Catherine Galliford says coroner's inquest can validate Pierre Lemaitre

Catherine Galliford says she wanted to attend a coroner's inquest into the death of her friend, Pierre Lemaitre, despite agoraphobia that has left her a virtual prisoner in her own home. (Jason Proctor/CBC)

Catherine Galliford says she has only left her house about 15 times in the past two years. 

The woman whose face was on the cover of every newspaper in the country after she broke the wall of silence about sexual harassment within the RCMP now has agoraphobia — fear of crowds.

She lives as a recluse in her northern B.C. home, imprisoned by internal demons.

But Galliford promised herself she would come to the Lower Mainland and a coroner's inquest on the 20th floor of an office tower next to one of the busiest malls in the province this week to honour her friend, Pierre Lemaitre.

"I was really trying not to be here, because I have a tremendous fear of leaving my house," Galliford said as she stood by a bank of elevators at the foot of Metrotown Tower. 

"But I thought I need to do this for Pierre. And I need to do it for myself. Even if I could only do it on medication. I got here, and I did it for Pierre."

'I watched him go through hell'

Galliford was the last witness to appear Tuesday in a day of dramatic testimony that centred on the impacts of policing — both in terms of the horrors RCMP members experience on the job and the way the force handles those traumas internally.

Lemaitre died of self-inflicted wounds in 2013.

But the seeds for major depression and post traumatic disorder were sown in tragedies he attended as an on-duty officer and administrative battles he fought as a media liaison.

Pierre Lemaitre is shown here speaking to reporters in 2006. He died of self-inflicted injuries in 2013. (CBC)

Lemaitre was apparently devastated when he was prohibited from correcting initial misinformation he gave reporters after the tasering of Robert Dziekanski by four RCMP officers at Vancouver International airport in 2007.

Atoya Montague, a former civilian member of the media relations unit, told the coroner's jury Lemaitre gave the public the facts investigators gave him.

And when it became apparent those details were at odds with reality, he knew what the public would think.

"I watched him go through hell," Montague said. "He was in agony. It was just terrible."

'The single biggest institutional betrayal'

She said Lemaitre heard a popular radio host describe him as an RCMP spin doctor. He saw his face appear on split screens alongside Dziekanski's with the words "Mountie lies" written in captions beneath.

All he wanted to do was tell the truth, she said. Instead, he was ostracized and shipped out to another unit where he would later overhear an officer describe him as "redundant."

Former RCMP civilian employee Atoya Montague told the coroner's inquest she believed the force had betrayed Pierre Lemaitre. (CBC)

"It was the single biggest institutional betrayal I witnessed," said Montague.

Like Galliford, Montague said she was determined to set the record straight. She appeared by Skype from the United States. She sobbed as she finished her testimony in a torrent of words.

"I blame 100 per cent this incident and his mistreatment for his suicide," she said.

"There is no question that he was being used as a scapegoat and being betrayed so fundamentally by the very people who he was told were his tribe, his family … and nowhere in this whole timeline, in the years that followed, did anyone responsible show any humility or apologize to him for destroying his career and his reputation and betraying him in this terrible way."

'It is not a normal job'

Montague was medically discharged in 2017. Like Galliford, who is now retired, she has had her own public battles with the force. Both women filed lawsuits alleging sexual harassment. Galliford's was settled in 2016.

Montague's outburst drew a caution to the jury from coroner Vincent Stancato. He reminded them their job is to find facts as opposed to fault. They are also expected to make recommendations accordingly.

Robert Dziekanski is seen at the Vancouver Airport before he was tasered by police. Pierre Lemaitre's colleagues claim he was used as a scapegoat for lies told about the incident. (Paul Pritchard/The Canadian Press)

To that end, three medical professionals all testified about their attempts to deal with the major depression and PTSD that turned Lemaitre from a kind, gentle and sensitive soul into a man consumed by rage, anger and anxiety.

Psychologist Georgia Nemetz described Lemaitre as a "lovely man." But she said he was also proud.

Nemetz said the RCMP has become more responsive to PTSD in the years since his death. But support still varies from detachment to detachment and commander to commander.

"I don't believe all is being done," she said. "It is not a normal job and recruits going in should not expect to have a normal life, and they should not expect that their usual coping skills will be sufficient to protect them."

'His name has actually been cleared'

Galliford walked slowly to the stand after watching Montague's testimony dissolve into tears.

She spoke deliberately about her experience with Lemaitre, telling the jury he was a "genuine, kind person" who automatically garnered her trust.

She detailed an incident in which he was transferred to a night shift after reporting a supervisor for sexual harassment.

"It's interesting," she said. "Pierre was transferred to some throwaway place" while the supervisor ended up near a detachment where he had a holiday home.

Testimony done, Galliford walked gingerly out of the inquest room and took the elevators back down to the busy office lobby.

She wore a heart shaped necklace and thought carefully before looking squarely into a television camera.

"I absolutely feel that this is giving him some validation," she said. "And his name has actually been cleared."

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.