OPP created safety risk for employees by mishandling mentally ill constable, arbitrator finds

An arbitrator is ordering the Ontario Provincial Police to develop a protocol addressing disability management issues by the end of December and pay out more than $40,000 in damages, after four officers filed grievances regarding the reintegration of a mentally ill colleague in the workplace.

Arbitrator orders the OPP to develop a system, following multiple grievance cases

The August 31 decision came after four officers filed grievances against the OPP, mainly because they felt unsafe in the workplace following the unsuccessful reintegration of a mentally ill colleague. (CBC)

An arbitrator is ordering the Ontario Provincial Police to develop a protocol addressing disability management issues by the end of December and pay out more than $40,000 in damages, after four officers filed grievances in connection with the re-integration of a mentally ill colleague in their workplace.

The cases revolve around a Barrie traffic enforcement officer, known as Const. X in the documents, who took time away from the service following multiple suicide attempts.

The OPP "failed to follow its Disability Accommodation Policy as well as its Occupational Health and Safety Policy," and these failures contributed to further harm to X, including a further suicide attempt, and created a safety risk for her colleagues, arbitrator Randi H. Abramsky wrote in her decision.

"The OPP turned a 'blind eye' to the information it had and allowed the situation to deteriorate," Abramsky wrote.

The decision comes two weeks after the OPP announced an internal review of member suicides and attempted suicides after three officers recently took their own lives. 

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes announced the review Aug. 30, saying the force has made strides in its mental health services for members, but that more needs to be done. (CBC)

Constable X

Const. X worked with the Barrie Enforcement Team (BET) Highway Safety Division, and the documents state her mental health issues became apparent in late 2011. 

She began to have disagreements with her colleagues and in multiple incidents, Abramsky wrote, X felt her colleagues were "against her." Eventually, her fellow officers became aware of this feeling, which in part, caused them to feel unsafe. 

Over the course of a year, X made attempted suicide multiple times, and she was diagnosed with recurrent Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorder and possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Before being re-integrated back into the workplace, the OPP insisted X complete an independent medical examination (IME) to ensure she was fit for her duties.

A doctor compiled a detailed 31-page report but unfortunately, Abramsky wrote, the OPP "ignored all of his recommendations."

'Imperative' to create safety plan, arbitrator says

The report said it was "imperative" a safety plan be put in place for X's return to work in 2014 so colleagues, supervisors and treatment providers knew how to respond should a concern arise. 

The OPP created a plan for X's first four months back but following that, no plan was put in place for when she transitioned back to her full duties, including the return of her firearm.

Const. X did complete weapon recertification training, but started crying multiple times and injured herself. Still, she passed.

Her immediate supervisor testified "that he was given no guidance or training from management or Human Resources regarding X's return ... other than being instructed to 'make it work.'" 

While on duty in 2014, X had a disagreement with a colleague who questioned how she conducted an alleged impaired driving call, and through a hearing, the service later found X "was neglectful in her duty."

The incident caused some of X's colleagues to voice concerns to their superiors, fearing for their own safety. Their emails went unanswered for at least three months. 

After further "suicidal ideations," X's doctor recommended she eventually be transferred.

"I was put on administrative duties, and my firearm was taken from me. This made me extremely upset and depressed," Const. X's statement reads.

In August 2015, X went to the Barrie office intending to kill herself. According to Abramsky's written decision, X said she meant to draw attention to the mistreatment she felt subjected to at work.

She intended to use her firearm, the decision reads, but it was not in her locker. She overdosed on a medication instead.

Officer grievances

A colleague found X, and she survived the suicide.

Abramsky wrote the testimony of the four officers who filed grievances "confirmed that they felt silenced, and that their concerns for both X's health and safety, as well as their own, were not being heard."

In her decision, Abramsky focused on the OPP's failure to create a safety plan, as instructed, as one of the main reasons why all of the above events occurred following X's return to work.

"In the absence of the safety plan, X's co-workers and supervisors were left without direction in regard to how to proceed if concerns arose," she wrote.

Safety protocol

Abramsky ordered the OPP pay $5,000 in damages to each of the four officers who filed grievances, as well as $5,000 to three other members of the Barrie team and $7,500 to X's supervisor for violating their right to a healthy and safe workplace.

She also called on the OPP, in coordination with other stakeholders, to create a protocol addressing disability management issues, including mental illness in the workplace.

If they cannot agree to a protocol within 120 days, Abramsky will be consulted.

Police Association of Ontario president Bruce Chapman, right, and Ontario Provincial Police Association president Rob Jamieson attend a news conference at the Queens Park Legislature in Toronto on Thursday Nov. 2, 2017. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA) represented the officers. The OPPA president, Rob Jamieson, said discussions have begun and he's eager to fix the deficiencies noted in the decision. 

"It's not about blame, but we have to learn from situations like this. Lessons are repeated until they're learned," he said.

"I just want to take this third party report ... and make sure that if something like this happens again, that we can have the proper systems and protocols in place to adequately support those members."

OPP response

"The OPP accepts the court's decision and will comply," OPP media relations coordinator Sgt. Carolle Dionne said in an email.

She also referenced the Commissioner's Pledge made last month, when the OPP introduced their internal review into officer suicides and attempted suicides.

Part of the review will include examining cases such as X's in order to find out what barriers prevent members from seeking assistance. 

The appeal also reminds all officers to seek support if they're struggling.

"If there's resistance to anything along those lines, please let the OPP Association know," Jamieson added.

OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes says many officers still choose not to talk about their struggles out of fear they may lose their gun. 0:54