Calgary

Calgary police officers displayed 'bravery and heart' trying to save constable's life, says judge

A Calgary judge has recommended CPS review its mental health services for officers after a fatality inquiry into one constable's suicide. During the inquiry the judge heard there's been a 195 per cent increase in officers accessing psychological services since 2013.

Fatality inquiry report released after Const. Britni Joyal took her own life in 2016

Calgary police Const. Britni Joyal took her own life in 2016. A fatality inquiry report has been released, recommending CPS examine its psychological services staffing. (calgaryherald.remembering.ca)

For nine hours Calgary police officers did everything they could to save Const. Britni Joyal's life. 

It was April 1, 2016 and Joyal was suicidal. She and her partner were in the middle of a break-up. 

Joyal — who had been with the Calgary Police Service (CPS) for just over a year after serving as a military police officer — began saying her goodbyes to friends and family through texts, phone calls and a letter to her mother.

She had taken her service pistol out of her locker and got into her car.

Joyal spent hours in her car — driving to Drumheller and then back to Calgary — as police assembled a crisis team who communicated with her via texts and phone calls.

They were determined to save her life.

Joyal then drove to the medical examiner's office. After two hours and as a last resort — believing the worst case scenario was imminent — the TAC team moved in.

They boxed in Joyal's car with an armoured vehicle and fired a distraction device but it was in that moment the officer took her own life.

The details of the 27-year-old's final hours are laid out in a fatality inquiry report published earlier this month. 

'Bravery and heart'

Last November, 10 witnesses were called as part of the inquiry, a hearing where a judge is tasked with listening to the details surrounding a person's death and making recommendations in order to prevent similar deaths in the future. 

"Great skill, effort, bravery and heart were exhibited by each and every person involved on the night of April 1, 2016," wrote Provincial Court Judge Mike Dinkel in his report.

"There was no need for any officer to second guess their actions on that night."

In his 23-page report, Dinkel made two recommendations:

  • The CPS tactical unit be provided a drone in order to help establish visual contact.
  • The service review its psychological services department staffing, adding resources if needed.

195% increase in officers using psych services 

Dinkel heard evidence that between 2013 and 2018, there was a 195 per cent increase in the number of officers accessing psychological services offered by CPS, attributable in part to a program added in 2013 for new recruits aimed at improving mental health literacy and awareness.

Stacey Ferland — CPS' manager of psychological services — told the judge she believed there was also less stigma attached to officers who accessed mental health services and had become embedded in the culture of policing.

Ferland said her department was in need of more resources including a full-time nurse and two more psychologists or therapists.

On the night of the death, CPS psychologist Dr. Adrianne Celser was brought in to join the crisis team of officers trying to save Joyal's life.

'Nightmare' for CPS to investigate its own officer's suicide

Another issue identified by Dinkel was the fact that CPS assigned its own officer — Det. Mike Cavilla — to investigate her death.

Cavilla told Dinkel he felt he was in a conflict of interest and suggested the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) should have led the investigation.

"For compassionate reasons, why take a CPS investigative team through this, for lack of a better term, nightmare for each of us, as one of our own. ASIRT should have taken this."

Dinkel agreed and although technically he can only make recommendations, he urged the government and affected police forces to use ASIRT investigators in the future. 

CPS to review judge's recommendations

In a written statement provided to CBC News, the Calgary Police Service said "the health and wellbeing of our people is of utmost importance to us."

"[Joyal's] death was a loss felt deeply within our organization. We are committed to thoroughly reviewing the judge's findings for any learnings that can be applied to help prevent further such tragedies. We will be submitting a written response to the judge's recommendations in the near future."

CPS also thanked Dinkel for his compassion.

Joyal was described by her supervisor as an "outstanding" officer who was always happy to be at work.

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.

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