'A man of his word': Retired RCMP sergeant shows up every week for man with autism
Pierre Gosselin keeps weekly parade meet-up with Matthew Brandon, who has mental disabilities
When Pierre Gosselin, 57, announced he would retire as a sergeant from the national police force after 37 years of service, he knew he'd be spending a lot of time on the golf course.
But he also knew that every Tuesday at noon, he'd be back at the RCMP training academy in Regina.
It's his duty, he says, as an officer and a friend.
Because every Tuesday, for nearly six years, he has held hands with Matthew Brandon, 28, and watched the Sergeant Major's Parade, a training exercise for cadets.
Brandon — known by most as Matty — has autism, cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. He has the cognitive skills of a toddler and is non-verbal, but his happiness is written all over his face.
"It's like déjà vu. Every Tuesday is Groundhog Day," Gosselin said.
When Gosselin announced his retirement this year, Brandon's caregivers, Chris and Shannon Gardiner, were understandably nervous.
"I freaked out," said Shannon Gardiner.
Rituals and relationships
Brandon's world makes sense when he sees the same people, and the same places, on the same day of the week, every week.
"It's important for Matty to be on schedule and do things that he knows he's going to do, because as soon as we change his schedule, he kind of goes off," Gosselin said.
"Off" means Brandon becomes agitated, or at his most extreme, physically aggressive. But that rarely happens because so many people work hard to maintain weekly rituals and relationships.
Last winter, for instance, the RCMP refinished the hardwood floor inside its drill hall and had to cancel the Sergeant Major's Parade. Brandon's behaviour started to regress, so Gosselin invited him to visit Depot division, which is home to the training academy, anyway.
Chris Gardiner says Brandon intuitively picks out people to trust, so the idea of losing one of his most trusted people filled the Gardiners with trepidation.
"[Gosselin] is retired. He doesn't have to be doing this anymore," Gardiner said.
The beginning of a beautiful friendship
The Gardiners first took Brandon to see the Sergeant Major's Parade in 2013.
It's a strictly regimented training exercise that dates back to the late 1800s. RCMP cadets march in military-like formation for roll call and inspection. Senior officers bark commands. A brass band provides the soundtrack for a carefully choreographed parade.
Brandon, who had always been fascinated by marching bands, stomped his feet and expressed joy with guttural sounds. The Gardiners went back week after week.
Over time, senior officers, such as Gosselin, befriended Brandon and even bent the rules a bit to allow him to march with the band following the parade.
Thousands of troops have trained at Depot and met Brandon in the past six years. He's even been in graduation photos.
Last year, Chris Gardiner was pulled over for speeding north of Regina and the RCMP officer on the highway recognized Brandon in the backseat from his time as a cadet.
That connection comforts the Gardiners.
"We've often said, we wanted Matthew to be met by police in his happy place, not in a moment of crisis," Gardiner said.
On Brandon's 25th birthday, Gosselin named him an honorary drill member and got him a grey and navy cadet uniform with the name tag "Matty" on it.
Gosselin joined the national police force in 1982 when he was just 20. He's worked security detail for prime ministers and done accident reconstruction analysis for horrific crashes.
As the commander of the drill unit, he understood that for some cadets, meeting Brandon was their first opportunity to interact with a person with an intellectual disability. Gosselin believed it would help them become better police officers in the future.
Even when Gosselin transferred to another department at Depot in 2018, he still popped by at lunchtime every Tuesday to see Brandon.
'I'll be here for Matty'
Gosselin's last day on the job was July 5.
And almost every Tuesday since then, he's shown up.
"He's a man of his word, so he's been coming like clockwork," Shannon Gardiner said.
Chris Gardiner said Gosselin recognized the importance of keeping to the routine.
"He showed up, like a friend does."
Gosselin has missed a couple of Tuesdays when he was out-of-town.
"I know it's important for me to be there. It's important for Matty to see me," Gosselin said. "Matty is one of my good friends. Every time I see him, I'm happy. We don't share much conversation, but I know when he's happy."
Gone is his rimmed police hat and starched uniform. Now Gosselin relaxes in jeans — something Brandon had to get used to.
Each week, when the parade ends, Gosselin escorts Brandon to the band room to watch cadets put away their instruments. He also makes sure Brandon, who loves stamps, gets a stamp on his hand of the drill unit logo.
Gosselin then brings Brandon out to the car, buckles his seatbelt and tells him he will see him next week.
"As long as I'm capable of being here every Tuesday," Gosselin said, "I'll be here for Matty."