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OHRC letter on the systemic review of police officer mental health and suicide

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February 24, 2016

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Gerry McNeilly
Independent Police Review Director
Office of the Independent Police Review Director
655 Bay Street, 10th Floor
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 2T4

Dear Mr. McNeilly:

Re: Systemic review of police officer mental health and suicide

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (Commission) is concerned about the number of officers experiencing mental health issues and dying by suicide as a result of their policing work, and the barriers – such as widespread stigma about mental health issues in the policing community – preventing officers from accessing adequate support. We understand that you are preparing to launch a systemic review to examine the experiences and suicides of Ontario police officers with mental health disabilities, and commend you for working toward addressing this serious problem.

We are writing to urge you to include Human Rights Code (Code) considerations within the scope of your review.

Situations involving police officers developing and dying from mental health disabilities related to their work raise a host of issues from a human rights perspective.  Indeed, the Commission is currently involved and seeking systemic remedies in two Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario cases concerning Toronto Police Service (TPS) officers who died by suicide. The Commission has intervened in The Estate of Richard Rogers v. Toronto Police Service et al., a case about whether the TPS failed to accommodate an officer with a mental health disability, leading to his death by suicide. The Commission has also filed its own human rights application alleging that the TPS’ practice of commemorating officers who die from physical injuries incurred in the line of duty, but not mental health ones, is discriminatory.

In light of the extent to which the circumstances of police officers with mental health disabilities engage human rights concerns, we ask that the terms of reference for the systemic review address the following:

  • Officers’ rights under the Code, and whether officers are facing discrimination and harassment in the workplace on the basis of mental health disabilities. This should include examining the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the policing community, the existence of poisoned environments, and how these affect officers’ ability to seek support;
  • Police services’ legal obligation under the Code to accommodate officers with mental health disabilities to the point of undue hardship; and,
  • Whether police services have practices, procedures or policies (e.g., commemorative practices) that discriminate against officers on the basis of mental health disability.

There is no doubt that the challenges of policing can take a toll on mental health. It is critical that Ontario’s policing community acknowledge this, and signal to officers coping with mental health issues that they are recognized and can seek support without being stigmatized.  As is evident from the number of officers dying by suicide, failing to do so has grave consequences.

Accordingly, we hope to be able to continue to engage with you on this very important issue, and contribute to the systemic review as it moves forward.

Yours sincerely,

Renu Mandhane, J.D., LL.M.
Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission