Ontario’s Chief Coroner has released the findings of an expert panel on police suicides days after two officers took their own lives.
Speaking to CTV News Toronto, Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack confirmed that an officer died by suicide on Sept. 26. And just one day later, an officer in Ottawa also took his own life.
“The devastation of going and dealing with the family… it's the worst day you could have,” McCormack said.
McCormack added that the death of an officer is “devastating to that officer and to his family- and the people around him, it is something that really has tentacles and it spreads out.”
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack is seen here in this photo. (CTV News Toronto)
After nine police officers in the province died by suicide in 2018, Ontario’s Chief Coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer assembled a panel to study the issue and report back.
“The fact that we're continuing to see deaths, and last year a particularly high number of deaths, caused me to think further about this and to understand whether we do have a full understanding of what's going on with police service members and suicides,” Huyer said.
The review was initiated earlier this year, and the panel has now delivered their 29 page report, titled “Staying Visible, Staying Connected For Life”.
In it, the eight member panel admits that while each case of suicide is unique, there was a pattern evident in studying the nine deaths.
“We observed that by the time each of our subjects formed that determined intention to end his or her life, each had traveled a series of pathways, and each pathway had reached its end,” the report reads.
The report highlights workplace stress and the stigma around mental health as two of the issues that need to be addressed.
Fourteen recommendations are made in the report, including creating the Ontario Police Members Mental Health Collaborative (OPMMHC), a body comprised of officers, managers, association members, mental health professionals and police family members.
The OPMMHC would be tasked with finding gaps and service deficiencies in mental health resources for officers, and would lead a campaign to normalize mental health challenges for officers across the province.
“If you see across in society, where we're much more open, much more talkative, much more understanding of mental health issues- but in policing that still is a significant challenge,” Huyer said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by McCormack, who admits there is a “macho culture” within the force.
“It has been difficult to deal with not only suicide, but mental health issues and getting them to the forefront and giving our officers the ability to come forward and to get the help that they need and that is something that has been very challenging in the police culture,” McCormack said.
The report also calls for officials to more carefully track and monitor suicides by first responders.
So far this year, the chief coroner says six officers have ended their own lives.
The report and its recommendations will be forwarded to Ontario’s Solicitor General, as well as the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.
Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645), Centre for Suicide Prevention (1-833-456-4566) or Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.Staying Connected Report (PDF)
Staying Connected Report (Text)