‘You are heroes,’ OPP association says in letter to members after officer takes his own life
Published Thursday, March 21, 2019 6:03PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, March 21, 2019 7:11PM EDT
After learning that an officer took his own life on Wednesday, the President of the Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA) released a letter to its members urging them to seek help, saying that a comprehensive mental health plan is on its way.
Ontario’s chief corner confirmed to CTV News Toronto that this was the first death by suicide within the force this year.
“We feel quite sad that this has happened again,” Rob Jamieson, president of the OPPA, told CTV News Toronto on Thursday.
Jamieson sent a letter to members later in the day on Wednesday after learning that Ottawa-area Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Constable Roch Durivage took his own life. In the letter, he says that the job “claimed another hero” and urged others to seek out help if they need it.
“There can be no denying the mental health crisis in law enforcement and the broader first responder community,” the letter reads. “We are asked, on a regular basis, to willingly subject ourselves to traumatic events. We sacrifice ourselves, piece by piece, in the name of keeping our communities safe. For that, you are heroes, in every sense of the word; however, the burden you carry cannot and should not be shouldered alone.”
“You may think you are alone in your journey. Please know that you most certainly are not. The stigma that still exists may make that first step to reach out to a friend, a colleague or your Association the most frightening thing you have ever done, but we will have your back at every step.”
Durivage has been described by a close friend as a “good man who fought for what he believed in.” His partner, Tina Vandenburg, works as an OPP dispatcher and told CTV News Toronto that she had to deal with the deaths of her colleagues this past year. Now another officer is “gone far too soon,” she said.
Eight active officers and one retired officer took their own lives in 2018, including three officers within the OPP who died within a three-week time span.
The deaths prompted a number of internal reviews into mental health strategies – including one by the OPP and another by the chief coroner.
The OPP announced their review in August of 2018, saying they will look at member suicides and attempted suicides to attempt to identify any links or commonalities between the cases. The organization also said it will organize roundtable discussions with officers, family members and mental health experts.
According to OPP records, 24 active OPP members and nine retired members have died by suicide in the past 30 years.
“We are optimistic that the internal review will shed further light on how the OPP can best support our people,” Interim OPP Commissioner Gary Couture said in a statement. “The review is expected to be completed by spring 2019.”
In early January, the chief coroner launched its own expert panel review into the police suicides that took place over the last year.
Dr. Dirk Huyer said at the time that prior to 2018, no more than five officers had taken their own lives in any of the previous years.
“There’s been a lot of efforts to enhance and to work on those wellness strategies across Ontario police services,” Huyer said. “Despite that, officers are dying.”
Jamieson told CTV News Toronto on Thursday that while these internal reviews have been taking place, the OPPA has been working on a “comprehensive mental health plan.” Jamieson said the details of the plan will be released in the upcoming weeks.
“We want to have the proper supports in a comprehensive way that’s integrated and you call a number and you’re taken care of from point A to Z, to make sure that you, your spouse, your children … are receiving the support that they need.”
“I think supports exist now to a certain extent. I think there are issues with silos,” Jamieson says of the current support offered to officers. “I think there are people trying to do the right things. More can always be done and should be done and that’s the plan we are undertaking right now.”
The plan would be operated by the association itself and would be separate from the support offered through the OPP.
Badge of Life, a peer-led charitable organization that offers support to active and retired officers, said there is a mental health crisis in law enforcement that needs to be dealt with.
“It’s a definite time for action. The time for talking about it is kind of over,” said Badge of Life President Bill Rusk. “I can tell you right now, there’s more than a dozen officers across the country right now that are contemplating suicide and they shouldn’t have to do that alone.
The OPP says it has internal resources available through the OPP intranet and on the OPPA website. There is also an external helpline available through the Employee and Family Assistance Program at 1-800-387-4765 or at workhealthlife.com. The phone number for the OPP Wellness Unit is 705-329-6704 and a 24-hour peer-support line is available at 1-844-880-9142.
Anyone suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts should reach out to one of Ontario’s distress centres or call 911. The phone number for the Toronto Distress Centre is 416-408-4357.
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Tracy Tong and the Canadian Press.