Speaking notes for
President and CEO
Mental Health Commission of Canada
For delivery at the
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
February 14, 2017
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Algonquin people who are the traditional custodians of this territory. I would also like to pay respect to their elders, past and present, and recognize the strength, resilience and capacity of Aboriginal people in this land.
Good morning everyone. Thank you so much for inviting the Mental Health Commission of Canada to partner with you once again.
I was reflecting back three years ago, when the Commission first partnered with Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, to host a conference to improve interactions between police and people living with mental health problems and illnesses.
When asked to support those efforts, we jumped at the chance. Clearly, the CACP was embracing a positive and progressive approach to address a growing challenge across the country.
As an invited speaker, I strongly suggested that we consider those interactions as one side of the coin, and the mental wellness of personnel as the other…
Not surprisingly, this was met with some hesitation. Stigma was even more rampant three years ago than it is today. Broaching the topic of officers’ mental health within an organizational culture grounded in values like being tough – invincible even – wasn’t an easy sell.
But it was a tremendously important step.
Police officers wear two equally important hats: your primary role is to keep our communities safe. But your other sacred responsibility is that of a role model.
Police officers are modern day heroes. By acknowledging your own capacity to be touched by mental health problems, you are opening the door for so many others to do the same.
Today, you aren’t just modeling courage and strength. You are also showing us what resiliency and recovery look like.
Take Retired Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. His response to the tragic events in Moncton raised the bar for all of us when we consider what compassionate leadership looks like.
In a way, it’s not surprising that police agencies are stepping up to the plate and putting the mental health of officers at the top of the agenda.
You are, by nature, strategic and tactical problem solvers. You don’t shy away from something because it’s difficult or unpleasant.
And in embracing the realities of operational stress injuries, which go beyond PTSD, and include everything from anxiety and depression to substance use issues, you are showing ALL of us a better way forward.
By addressing mental health at work, you are putting mental wellness at the heart of your everyday social interactions. You remind us that police offices and your cars are not only essential services – they are workplaces.
Today, you are going to hear about how implementing programs like the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace is a decision as pragmatic as it is compassionate.
In 2014, the RCMP launched a five-year mental health strategy that aligns to the Standard. And we are also beginning to hear from police champions, like Chief Neil Dubord, of the Delta Police, who has been working with his management team and police board to ensure that psychological health and safety is incorporated into the organization’s core framework.
And you will hear more about the Standard from our colleague Maureen Shaw, who Chairs Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board’s HR Committee. Maureen also sat on the MHCC’s former psychological health and safety advancement committee, which oversaw the development of the Standard.
As police services, boards and municipalities across the country grapple with increasing police costs, the MHCC’s work has demonstrated that by investing in mental health, we can reap savings in both the human and financial costs of unaddressed psychological illness.
Equally important, if police personnel can come forward with their mental health concerns, without fear of job limitation or loss of employment, that sets an example for workers right across the country.
I can say, without hesitation, that the health care sector could take a page from your book. Stigma is perhaps more rampant in hospitals and healthcare settings than anywhere else. As ironic as this may seem, it’s something I’ve observed first-hand.
And so when I see police organizations bravely marching forward to face down stigma, it fills me with an awesome sense of pride…but also gratitude.
Today you are going to hear from organizations that are pioneering a new normal, addressing the mental health of those they encounter internally as well as externally – in a bid to make every interaction more positive.
Improving the mental wellness of police personnel while they are at work will undoubtedly lead to healthier communities. Because you are showing everyone in this country that police personnel are human and police agencies sensitive to employee needs.
In sharing this humanity, we can see ourselves reflected in your struggles and challenges.
But, more importantly, when we celebrate your triumph and recovery, you bring hope to all of us.
I’m not naïve. I know that we haven’t solved this complex problem in the span of three short years.
But I also know that with your resolve, creativity and courage, we can keep police services on the right side of progress.
However, it’s important that this progress be reflected not only in well-equipped urban police agencies, but also in rural and remote regions – and Indigenous communities – whose budgets and resources often translate to a different reality.
A rural police commander shouldn’t have to choose between purchasing updated protective gear or providing mental health and awareness training. It shouldn’t have to be a “Sophie’s Choice!” – pitting physical safety against psychological wellness.
Mental health cannot be a have/have-not proposition.
As colleagues and compatriots, you have a duty to share best practices and mentor one another.
I encourage you to embrace this challenge, and work collectively to improve the health and well-being of all police personnel in Canada, regardless of where they live or work.
I know I’m asking a lot of you. But as some of the most resourceful and skilled problem-solvers in the country, I also know you are up to the task.
Year over year, this conference has developed themes and sessions that demonstrate a willingness to push the envelope.
I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.