For English-speaking police in Quebec, access to PTSD services is not a guarantee

For Harold Bosum and other police officers in Quebec suffering from PTSD, services are difficult to access or tailored to those who speak French.

Cree officer suffers from PTSD, but the only intensive program for police in province is French-only

Harold Bosum in 2012. Bosum says he quit the Eeyou Eenou Police force in 2013 because PTSD symptoms were putting a strain on his family. (Submitted by Harold Bosum)

It was constable Harold Bosum's second day on the job working in his home town as an officer with the Eeyou Eenou Police (EEPF), the police force that serves the nine Cree communities in Quebec; the end of an uneventful night shift in the small northern town of Ouje-Bougoumou when he was called to a house at 5 a.m.

Bosum requested an ambulance on his way over and, when he arrived, he found a woman dead at home with her young children, who were upset and scared. Bosum gave the woman CPR until first responders arrived.

"It actually only took the ambulance five minutes to get there from the time I called them, but performing CPR on her felt like forever because I knew she was already gone," Bosum recalls.

"At the same time, I had to calm the kids."

In 2012, three months after that incident, Bosum sought help and was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Bosum would experience a numb feeling down one side of his body and he became irritable and bad tempered at home.

"I would get angry with my family. I couldn't be happy anymore, I couldn't enjoy life," Bosum said.

The EEPF referred Bosum to their 1-800 help line, but he found accessing the line more frustrating than helpful.

The traumatic impacts of police officers' jobs — and the services available to them — have been thrust into the spotlight in Quebec in recent months. In July, Patrick Bigra, a 22-year police veteran, committed suicide after living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for over a decade.

David Bergeron, director of the Cree police force, said his police are trained to recognize PTSD in fellow officers, and in such cases, the suffering officer would either be referred to the local clinic for counselling or to the EEPF's full time psychologist.

David Bergeron (left) and Calvin Hester of the EEPF. Bergeron says further training is planned for his officers for recognizing and treating PTSD. (Jaime Little/CBC)

Bosum said the counselling he receives locally helps him even today, but he would have preferred to have been sent out for treatment, away from his home community, which holds so many reminders of that night that trigger his PTSD.

Unfortunately, for Bosum and other non-Francophone officers in the province, such services are not available.

Specialized treatment available for French-speaking officers

According to a spokesperson from Sûreté Du Quebec, any of their officers suffering from PTSD and other mental health issues are referred to a special facility in Quebec City called La Vigile.

La Vigile is a retreat where police, firefighters and first responders can go for extended periods of time for counselling. Bergeron said he's aware of La Vigile, but that it's not accessible to his predominantly English-speaking police force.

"We're entitled to their services but they are only offered in French. In the province of Quebec they don't have the specialized (PTSD) treatment for English speaking officers," Bergeron said.

La Vigile was not available for comment at the time of publication.

Other regional police forces have taken their own steps. Officers living with PTSD in the Katavik Regional Police (KRPF), the police force that serves the 14 Inuit communities in northern Quebec, are sent to Montreal when services are not available locally, said Julien Viau-Petite of the KRPF.

"The KRPF works with specialists such as first respondents and psychologists … when a police officer is involved in a stressful incident, he or she is referred to these specialists," Viau-Petite stated in an email.

The EEPF and Cree Nation Government are currently working with La Vigile and other specialists to provide more English services for officers experiencing mental health issues.

With his symptoms continuing, even through local counselling, Bosum decided to resign from the EEPF in 2013. On his last night as a police officer, he received a call, again at around 5 a.m. A woman's granddaughter was not breathing.

"When I got there the parents were holding their baby and she was all purple. They were crying like they had just lost their baby," Bosum remembers.

Harold Bosum in 2019. He spoke about his experience with PTSD at the Annual General Assembly of the Cree Nation Government earlier this month. (Jaime Little/CBC)

He immediately began administering CPR on the child and, this time, was able to revive her.

"You just gotta do what you gotta do when you're trained. I don't consider myself a hero," he said. 

Bosum continues to live with PTSD but, looking back, he feels a certain sense of closure in that last night of his policing career. He can receive some comfort in knowing that although he was not able to save a mother, he was able to save a daughter.

"It's like the Creator knew what I was going through and he just closed that door."