Airport death of immigrant set off health change for RCMP officer, inquest hears

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Airport death of immigrant set off health change for RCMP officer, inquest hears
Hundreds of passengers wait in a lineup at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., on Saturday April 1, 2017. A J.D. Power survey says Canada's three largest airports scored above the North American average by passengers. Vancouver International led, scoring 781 on a 1,000-point scale that measured satisfaction with check-in; food, beverage and retail; accessibility; terminal facilities and baggage claim.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

BURNABY, B.C. The death of a man at Vancouver International Airport added to the mental health problems of an RCMP officer who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychologist says.

Georgia Nemetz told a coroner’s inquest Tuesday that Pierre Lemaitre was haunted by horrifying on-the-job stressors including the murder of a young woman who had screamed for help. But she said the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski after a confrontation with Mounties in October 2007 fuelled his depression and anxiety.

Nemetz said she began treating Lemaitre in 2009 but the “incredibly private, incredibly proud man” initially didn’t seem to trust her and was concerned she could disclose what he told her to the RCMP.

She said Lemaitre believed he could lose his job for telling her he’d physically abused his wife.

Sheila Lemaitre has testified her husband, a 28-year veteran and former media spokesman, became violent and had a “rage in his head, burning his brain” after trying unsuccessfully to get the RCMP to correct misinformation he’d provided to the public about what happened to Dziekanski at the airport.

Nemetz, who last saw Lemaitre three days before his death by suicide on July 29, 2013, does critical incident debriefings for the RCMP.

She said more debriefings are being provided for members since the former sergeant’s death but still more needs to be done for officers.

“I don’t believe everything that is being done is being done equally at every division, and every detachment is different,” she said.

“It’s not a normal job and people going in should not expect to have a normal life and they should not expect that their normal coping skills will protect them.”

She recommended the RCMP put more emphasis on resiliency training, including for supervisors.

Lemaitre’s family doctor told the inquest his patient was prescribed antidepressants and anxiety medication but he was not suicidal.

Dr. Cameron Smith said Lemaitre was also dealing with stress at home and expressed concerns about caring for his disabled wife, saying she had indicated thoughts of suicide.

He described Lemaitre as a stoic man whose mental health issues began improving, only to worsen after Dziekanski’s death.

Coroner’s inquests do not assign blame, but review the circumstances of a death and explore whether deaths in similar circumstances can be prevented.