Toronto

Daughter of deceased police sergeant 'cautiously optimistic' about inquest into officer suicides

Nine police officer suicides in 2018 have prompted Ontario's chief coroner Dirk Huyer to launch a review to determine what's contributing to the unusually high number.

Dirk Huyer has announced an inquest into the 9 officer suicides that occurred in 2018

Lorianne Rogers with her father Sgt. Richard ‘Buck’ Rogers, a 25-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service who committed suicide in 2014. (Submitted)

A daughter of a Toronto Police sergeant who took his own life in 2014 says she is "cautiously optimistic" about a recently announced coroner's inquest into suicides by police officers.

Nine suicides by officers in 2018 have prompted Ontario chief coroner Dirk Huyer to launch a review to determine what's contributing to the unusually high number.

"In the summer of 2018, we became aware of three suicides that had occurred within the OPP in a very short duration of time and that prompted me to look at our numbers and to see whether we were seeing a pattern of unfortunate loss of life of police officers over a period of time," Huyer told CBC Toronto on Tuesday.

"What I recognized was that there were nine officers that had taken their lives in 2018 and that ... raised concern for me with such a high number."

Lorianne Rogers, the daughter of Toronto police Sgt. Richard 'Buck' Rogers who died by suicide in 2014, said the inquest means some families will get some answers to questions they have had about the deaths of their loved ones.

Rogers was a 25-year veteran of the Toronto Police Service when he died.

"I'm obviously optimistic and encouraged that someone is looking into this," she said on Tuesday. 

'One suicide ... is arguably enough'

Initially, she was concerned that the inquest was starting from 2018 and not looking at earlier cases. She was also concerned that suicide itself among police officers was being looked at as "almost an occupational hazard."

"One suicide, whatever the circumstances may be, is arguably enough. It should be considered unusual," she said. 

But she said the inquest could shed light on the circumstances of the deaths. "I think those families probably deserve some answers. I know we felt we were owed some answers," she said.

"I also think the question isn't: Why was 2018 a particularly bad year? I think the question is: Why in 2018 is this still happening? Why isn't more being done to address this issue?"

She said she would describe her position now as "cautiously optimistic" because the inquest could identify what needs to change and what the barriers are to access of services that could help distressed officers.

Overall, it might lead to a better understanding of the issue, she added. Ideally, it could lead to organizational changes.

"We should be there to help them when they need it," she said.

Overall, it might lead to a better understanding of the issue, she added. Ideally, it could lead to organizational changes, and shed light on what the barriers are to access to services that could help distressed officers.

'There should not be a typical number of officer suicides'

In a letter to Huyer, a copy of which was sent to CBC Toronto, Rogers says every death of an officer matters.

"There should not be a 'typical number' of officer suicides, nor should there be some suicide threshold the office of the chief coroner needs to see before action is taken," Rogers writes.

Lorianne Rogers says her family has been appealing to the chief coroner's office for a review of her father's case, but to no avail. (Submitted)

"In an office whose mandate is 'to ensure that no death will be overlooked, concealed or ignored,' even one officer suicide should be investigated if the circumstances so warrant."

In the letter, Rogers said when her family contacted the office of the chief coroner to request a discretionary inquest be held into the death of her father, it denied her request, saying the case didn't meet the criteria under Section 20 of the Coroners Act for holding an inquest.

Extent of a review always difficult to decide, chief coroner says

Huyer said his office is involved in every suicidal death. However, he said the extent of a review is always difficult to decide.

"I have to make a decision about the case series or the scope, and what I've decided at this point is that I believe that the 2018 number is a notable number, a very significant number and it's across Ontario, it's across police services, across ages of officers and I believe it will give us and the expert panel a true view into the challenges," he told CBC Toronto. 

"Things should be decreasing as opposed to increasing, and when I looked back, unfortunately to see we have police suicides on a regular basis, which is very sad, but in fact the number in 2018 was even more significant in comparison to previous years." 

While not giving a commitment to do so, Dirk Huyer said extending the review could always occur. (CBC)

Huyer said extending the timeframe of the review is always a possibility.

But he noted that things have changed since 2014.

"So I want to focus on the now and look at what we know now as opposed to trying to analyze and understand the changes," he said.

"Our role isn't to be critical of what may or may not have occurred, it's to understand what is going on now and are there intervention points that we can potentially draw to people's attention to deal with things that are occurring now.

With files from Farrah Merali and Kate Bueckert