The man accused by RCMP Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre’s widow of calling her husband “redundant” denied doing so, in testimony at a coroner’s inquest Wednesday.
Lemaitre committed suicide on July 29, 2013, after the fallout from the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport in 2007 set the already-depressed officer on a downward spiral.
On the first day of the inquest, Lemaitre’s widow, Sheila, spoke of Lemaitre overhearing a boss calling him “redundant” on his last day of work in Langley’s traffic detachment, where he had been transferred.
The alleged statement, which occurred in 2012, sent Lemaitre on stress leave from which he would never return.
On Wednesday, that boss, Chief Supt. Denis Boucher, denied the accusation and called Lemaitre a “very dedicated, well respected employee.”
Inquest counsel John Orr questioned Boucher closely. “Did you hear him being referred to as being redundant?”
“No, sir,” Boucher said.
“Did you consider him redundant?” Orr asked.
“No. Pierre was an integral part of my team,” Boucher said.
Lemaitre had been the first RCMP spokesperson to speak to the media about Dziekanski’s Taser-linked death and how four RCMP officers had responded.
His statement was later thrown into doubt when a citizen-recorded video surfaced that showed the Mounties firing their Tasers five times, not twice, and Dziekanski to be much less aggressive than described by the RCMP.
Lemaitre had tried correct the misinformation, but his bosses refused.
Former colleagues told the inquest about a climate of bullying at the RCMP, particularly towards Lemaitre who felt he had become a scapegoat for the force’s failures in the Dziekanski incident.
Dr. Shaohua Lu, a psychiatrist at the B.C. Occupational Stress Injury Clinic, testified that repeated workplace harassment could lead to post traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms.
Lemaitre had been diagnosed with PTSD, and was working with health professionals to ease “a rage in his head” he could not control.
Lemaitre’s inability to be out in public during his last years was a classic sign of PTSD-sparked avoidance, Lu said, and that the escalating abuse towards his disabled wife could mean the symptoms were increasing.
Marriages and families are the first to break down as patients struggle with PTSD, Lu said, while work is often last, so it may have been hard for the RCMP to truly see Lemaitre get worse.
Boucher said the RCMP had programs in place to deal with harassment.
“If anybody were to be harassed, they would make a complaint and that would be taken on as an investigation… to see if it met the standards for harassment,” Boucher said.
Asked if Mounties took advantage of the programs, or if there was a culture of not acknowledging any weakness and simply struggling alone with it, Boucher said the police force no longer shrugs off mental health issues.
“I take [harassment] seriously, it’s not something I pass off,” he said. “I’ve ordered investigations. I’ve suspended people.”
Lemaitre’s last months
Lemaitre left his position at the RCMP in 2012 to go on stress leave.
Boucher said members have unlimited sick leave and that Lemaitre did not reveal much to him about his mental issues.
“All he was required to tell me is that he was off,” Boucher said.
Anyone off for more than one week had to provide a doctor’s note, he said. Lemaitre’s note did not have a diagnosis or treatment plan. His psychiatrist’s reports were sent to the RCMP’s health services detachment, not to his supervisors.
Boucher stayed in touch with Lemaitre via email to provide support and keep him engaged.
“Pierre certainly told me he suffered from PTSD and that he had suffered from depression, but there was no further discussion,” Boucher said. “He never delved into causal factors.”
Nor, Boucher said, did Lemaitre ever tell him about any negative interactions at work.
Lemaitre’s emails told Boucher of a change in medication in late June.
“I’m sorry this is taking longer than expected,” he wrote.
Boucher paused, his voice cracking as he read from emails exchanged his colleague’s final days.
“I hear there can be ups and downs… We can meet for a coffee if you want,” Boucher wrote on July 22.
Boucher’s voice was barely audible as he read Lemaitre’s last email, dated July 23: “Thanks for being there… this is very difficult. The psychiatrist just changed my meds because they’re not giving the results they want.”
Lemaitre was found dead in his Abbotsford home on July 29, six days later.
The coroner’s inquest was scheduled to end Wednesday and is not meant to find legal fault, but to prevent similar deaths.