Retired officer challenges OPP's internal suicide review

A retired OPP officer says he's disappointed the force is conducting an internal review after the recent suicides of three officers, rather than asking an independent organization for help.

Officers are 'not going to come forward to share the difficulties that they're facing,' retired officer claims

Retired OPP officer Bruce Kruger has been advocating for change in the force since being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. (Bruce Kruger)

A retired OPP officer says he's disappointed the force is conducting its own internal review following three officer suicides, rather than turning to an independent organization for help.

Bruce Kruger lives with post-traumatic stress disorder after his 29-year career. He's become an advocate for change in the force, and said it's unlikely officers will talk candidly about their struggles with mental illness to colleagues.

Officers are so concerned about their future careers they don't want to talk to personnel within the force.- Bruce Kruger, retired OPP detective inspector

"Officers are so concerned about their future careers they don't want to talk to personnel within the force — the very people who are going to be judging them for promotions in the future," he said. "They're not going to come forward to share the difficulties that they're facing."

On Thursday, OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes announced a three-part collaborative approach to addressing mental health concerns within the force.

A detective superintendent has been tasked with reviewing officer suicides over the past five years to find any commonalities. OPP will also meet with officers to ask what struggles they face accessing mental health services. And there are plans to consult with families and outside experts for recommendations, too.

Commissioner says internal review is faster 

Hawkes said the reason the inquiry is being done internally is because he's doesn't want to scrap all the work the force has done to roll out a mental health strategy. They've made strides in that department, he said, in the aftermath of a 2012 ombudsman report that found OPP were failing to take stress injuries seriously.

He now wants to find gaps in that work.

"I think by having a multi-prong system that it's going to be more beneficial and something that I as commissioner can act on much more quickly," Hawkes said.

Earlier this week, OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes announced plans to review the force's mental health strategies. (Facebook Live)

But Kruger is sceptical the approach will lead to real change.

"I truly believe the OPP commissioner and senior management within the force are trying their utmost to make change," he said. "But I just feel they're not capable of doing what is truly necessary to get that outcome."

'Many detachments are left with skeleton shifts'

Kruger believes an external organization, such as the provincial ombudsman's office, is more capable, and that it can offer confidentiality to officers, allowing them to open up more.

As well, an ombudsman's recommendations would have more teeth and could push the province for additional funding to backfill officers on stress leave, he said.

"Many detachments are left with skeleton shifts. There is then resentment that the officers injured mentally are off duty and not supporting their detachments. That's a real problem," Kruger said.

"The only thing that's going to correct that is an influx of funding to the OPP to cover for the added resources that are needed."

Widow calls review a step in the right direction

But not everyone close to the issue disagrees with the OPP's approach. ​The widow of one of the officers who took his own life said the OPP's planned review is above and beyond her expectations. 

"It's really a great step in the right direction," Sarah Routhier said. "It's overwhelming and we feel really grateful they are going to do that to help other people."

Routhier decided to share her late husband Sylvain Routhier's story publicly to help other families. He died by suicide on July 31 in Belleville, Ont., after a brief struggle with mental illness.

Sarah Routhier has offered to help OPP with their review and hopes officers will open up in light of the recent deaths.

"It's definitely a possibility that officers don't talk openly about it," Routhier said. "But I would hope that with situations that have happened recently that people will feel comfortable speaking out."

Late OPP Sgt. Sylvain Routhier leaves behind his wife and three children. His spouse Sarah Routhier says he was an 'incredible man and husband' who loved his job. (Sarah Routhier)

Need help? Here are some mental health resources in the National Capital Region:

  • Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
  • Ottawa Suicide Prevention: 613-238-3311