Aug 28 2014
Blair has been asked to report to police board chair Alok Mukherjee about recent officer suicides, but the information gleaned may never be made public.
The chair of the Toronto Police Services Board is demanding answers from Police Chief Bill Blair, after the suicides of two Toronto cops in less than four months.
Early last week, board chair Alok Mukherjee wrote to the chief asking for a full report into the hanging deaths of Const. Clinton Cibulis, 34, and Sgt. Richard “Buck” Rogers, 45, by Friday.
“The suicides of [Const.] Cibulis and Sgt. Rogers certainly disturbed me and raised questions about any further measures that we should or could take to do our best to prevent such tragedies,” Mukherjee told the Star. “However, in order to be able to answer these questions, it was necessary to first learn the facts.”
The chief’s report will be “comprehensive” in its examination of police suicides over five years, Mukherjee said.
“I have asked for further information — not only about the two recent suicides, but about the history of suicides that may have occurred.”
Yet the report itself may remain secret.
“At this time, I do not intend the report to be made public. There may be information [in] it that pertains to individuals,” Mukherjee said, citing employee confidentiality rules.
“Certainly, it is my intention that any recommendation I may have for the board’s consideration will be dealt with in public,” he added.
On July 7, Rogers became the latest Toronto police officer to die by suicide. In a note he left on his computer, the 24-year veteran wrote “I blame the Toronto police for putting me in this state,” according to his widow, Heidi Rogers, and daughter, Lorianne Rogers.
It’s a damning claim from a man who, his family says, complained openly about suffering from severe depression, anxiety and bullying at work, especially in the final year of his life.
On Sunday, March 16, Cibulis was found dead inside his home after he was suspended from work for allegedly harassing a female officer two days prior.
More than five months since the investigation into his death began, his mother, Lynda Cibulis, has still not seen her son’s suicide note, which was taken from the scene by police and later became the subject of a coroner’s warrant.
“Now maybe his death won’t be in vain and he can help other people,” Lynda said of the chief’s report.
Mukherjee told the Star that, as police board chair, he is “quite serious” about protecting police officers who are struggling psychologically.
“Mental health is an issue for us both in our dealings with the public, as well as within our own organization, and we are quite alert to that,” Mukherjee said.
Citing a lack of confidence in the looming report, the Rogers family is prepared to ask for a provincial inquiry into their husband and father’s death, once the coroner completes his death investigation in the coming weeks, Heidi said.
“The police department has still made no attempt to contact us whatsoever about our side of things,” Heidi said. “They need to at least talk to the families. Without that, how can they even get an accurate idea of what really went on?”
The police service’s own psychiatric assessment of Rogers in April 2013 found the officer was struggling with “panic disorder,” “anxiety disorder” and “occupational problems” as far back as 2002.
He was prescribed weekly visits with a psychiatrist for cognitive behavioural and exposure therapy. That psychiatrist predicted Rogers would improve significantly within 12 weeks, with the likelihood of making a full recovery “very good,” according to documents obtained by the Star.
But just over a year later, Rogers checked himself in for emergency psychiatric care at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, according to his wife.
“He wanted them to keep him,” Heidi said. “He wanted help.”
Emergency room physician Dr. Ryan Todd diagnosed Rogers with “signs and symptoms in keeping with major depressive disorder, as well as social anxiety disorder,” according to a post-assessment letter sent to the Toronto police.
“This is consistent with a previous psychiatric assessment that he has had at CAMH,” Dr. Todd wrote on June 14. “He is currently distressed with returning to work and from my assessment would benefit from additional time off of work, as well as connection to psychiatric resources offered by the Toronto Police Service to deal with these disorders.”
Rogers was scheduled to return to work on Wednesday, July 9. He was found dead two days before.
Citing privacy reasons, Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash would not comment on Rogers’ case, but said the Toronto Police Service makes every effort to encourage those who may be suffering with depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress to get help.
“This is a condition that we learn more about almost every day, and so we’re always looking to see how we can improve,” Pugash said.
In the case of Cibulis’ death, police say they have cooperated fully with the July 23 coroner’s warrant, surrendering the officer’s suicide note and personal belongings to Dr. James Edwards for investigation.
Still, more than a month since the warrant for the note’s release was issued, Cibulis is still no closer to the truth about her son’s suicide than on the day he killed himself.
“I asked them for it immediately, before the funeral,” Cibulis said. “That’s one of the first things you want to see.”
Dr. Edwards told the Star last week that he could describe to Cibulis what the note is about generally, but still could not reveal its exact contents.
On Wednesday, the coroner’s office said it would no longer comment directly on the Cibulis case, citing privacy reasons.
In all cases of suicide where a note is left, the Toronto police seize and store the note indefinitely, including electronic copies in cases where the note is left on a computer.
If a family member wants to see the note, they must request it from the coroner, who in turn asks police for a summary of the note’s contents and decides whether it is appropriate to obtain the full document or not, according to Edwards.
“Unless there is some specific reason why we can’t — like if there was an ongoing criminal investigation or something like that, we couldn’t — but in most cases we share the note with the family, if they want to see it,” Edwards said.
Karen Letofsky is the executive director of Toronto Distress Centres, a regional network dedicated to helping those left behind by suicides and homicides.
Letofsky said that while closure is forever elusive in most suicides, if a note is left behind it should always be read.
“When you don’t see it, your imagination can cause you way more distress about what may be in there and may not be in there,” Letofsky said. “No matter how complex and challenging notes are, it’s better to know what’s in it than be left with just a legacy of ever-expanding questions and no answers.”
If access to a loved one’s last communication is denied or otherwise delayed, the cycle of grief can seem endless, she said.
“It’s almost like a secondary victimization.”
But with most suicides, there is no note.
“They’re only left in a minority of cases,” Edwards said.
From that minority, most of the notes that police find before a friend or family member does are never sought after by the family.
“Not all families want to see the suicide note,” Edwards added. “As a matter of fact, most don’t.”
Ontario’s privacy commissioner told the Star last week he would expect any parent with the desire to see their child’s last written words would be allowed to do so “in a timely manner.”
“It is hard to imagine who would have a greater right to a suicide note than a parent of the deceased,” said Brian Beamish, the acting Information and Privacy Commissioner. “However, there may be rare and compelling circumstances where such a note should be withheld, in whole or in part.”
The commissioner noted in his statement that both the coroner and the police service are subject to Ontario’s access-to-information laws, which give citizens access to records held in those offices.
“The legislation specifically contemplates the disclosure of personal information about deceased individuals to close relatives in circumstances where disclosure is desirable for compassionate reasons,” Beamish said.