In November of 2013, the month’s top-trending video shocked many Canadians. It contained the digital, yet blurry, image of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer, in his red serge. We seldom see the RCMP do much in their red dress other than show off their marching skills, saluting the queen, or in a circle on the back of the old fifty dollar bill. Here was Corporal Ron Francis of J Division, enthusiastically smoking a healthy joint during his lunch break.
Across the entire country, the usual media suspects went wild. Before anyone knew the slightest details, news agencies scrambled to report on the taboo video uploaded to the net. They simply reported; Canada had a pot smoking Mountie.
Yes, with twenty-one years of service and many accreditation, this cop was defending his right to use cannabis. This was his current, physician-monitored, therapy, just like any other person with a chronic illness who needs to medicate. Shockingly, even on the job, yes, but that was not his actual focus. Cpl. Francis was a resident of Kingsclear First Nation, who not only suffered from PTSD, but also from the harassment that naturally comes from being a cop in the community. Goodness knows; he didn’t need the stigma of being a medical pot user as well. Yet, Francis bravely sacrificed his health care anonymity in order to bring the issue of Canadian officers and their family members suffering from PTSD to light.
In response to the question of where his PTSD stemmed, “I had to shovel a childhood friend into a body bag” said Francis in a television interview. “In twenty years I haven’t relaxed and neither do the (RCMP) members that work on the front lines because the RCMP studies themselves show that their systems are never at rest, just because of the nature of the shift work… I started to self-medicate with alcohol. And I said no, this is not me. Why am I doing this? And I was going through treatment for PTSD at the time, and the RCMP did provide treatment, and I thank the RCMP for that.” Then he began researching alternative therapies, switched doctors and got a license for cannabis. Pot was giving the officer great relief. He often found find he needed less than the physician recommended dose of three grams a day.
Francis, himself, said he knew the laws on cannabis and driving were vague. He felt like he was articulate, able to recite policy, and since his job was limited to desk duty without a weapon, he could do his job well. He said one joint was fine, but five were too many. Francis knew his limits, like alcohol, and would never drive intoxicated. Luckily for all medical patients, cannabis does not make you delusional about one’s intoxication levels, unlike alcohol. “It just calms you down totally,” said the officer.
The C. O. of J Division, Roger Brown, was advised of two things. Francis had a Health Canada issued Authorization to Possess Marihuana (Medical Cannabis License) on November 4th by a physician. He wanted issues addressed regarding PTSD.
It seems Ron Francis was concerned about an RCMP family member who had begged the Mounties for help with dozens of letters while her husband was alive and got none what so ever. In fact, Linda Perlachuk said she feels the RCMP are most concerned about their image of power and control.
After serving six years with the RCMP, Perchaluk’s husband, Constable Adrian Gulay, was called to a Christmas house party and came into contact with hepatitis C infected blood. Soon after he became controlling and withdrawn. Perchaluk said, “He could never get the image out of his head that he was covered in blood all the time. He was always scared of going to another call.”
Gulay began drinking heavily, using prescription pills, tried to commit suicide twice while seeing a doctor. Even though Perchaluk still loved him, their marriage fell apart. Constable Gulay killed himself in August of 2013 and Linda says people try to blame her.
Perchaluk and Cpl. Ron Francis both wanted an RCMP department dedicated to helping families cope with living with stress of living with a member. They began their campaign in early that year but felt they didn’t come out looking very well in the media.
Francis was very upfront with his commissioner about his intentions. He had a meeting with J division media team. He advised the commissioner to talk to Perchaluk and himself about the issue at hand. He informed the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper and his political opponent Justin Trudeau, of their concerns and intentions as well. Although, Francis mentioned he didn’t have much faith in the system. ”The organization as a whole is broken. The management is broken. The structure is broken,” he said. “
It was clear all levels of government wanted Francis out of the media. Francis felt that they don’t make the laws only enforce them and hiding from the public was inappropriate. He also felt the commissioner had no business in politics that that was for the Prime Minister.
“Definitely a member that has been prescribed medicinal marijuana should not be in red serge taking his medication,” said RCMP assistant commissioner Gilles Moreau. “It would not be advisable for that member, it would not portray the right message to the general public, it’s definitely not something we would support or condone.”
“There’s no policy in the RCMP that prevents me from smoking marijuana. There’s no policy in the RCMP that says I cannot smoke in public. I have the right to smoke it in my red serge.” Francis said he felt his career with the Mounties may end because of his outspokenness, and he would surely sue if fired.
Commissioner Moreau stated, “Because this is relatively new for active members of the RCMP, we are looking at the internal policies to see, how do we set it up? To say, OK, if somebody is prescribed medical marijuana and they have to take it two or three times a day and have to take it at work, where is this going to take place? If it takes place outside, it has to respect the individual but also their co-workers, and it has to respect the Canadian population at large by taking it in a respectful way.” Again, furthering Perchaluk’s accusation of their concern about their image.
Francis researched many alternative treatments, just as any of us with a chronic condition would. He explains, “When I explored it as a treatment for my PTSD, I had to really make a moral decision about it. Because the RCMP and law enforcement, they seem so anti-marijuana, and that’s a hard thing to overcome, so I had to make that decision for my own health. It wasn’t based on my career or anything… It was for my own health. In doing that I realized that I have to come first. The organization doesn’t come first, Ron Francis comes first. For my own health. And I’m glad I did that,” he said. “So, how they’re going to play this out, I don’t know. If they plan to fire me, I will sue them. There’s no doubt about that.”
Later that month, in November, Francis was called and ordered not to speak to the media and told two officers will appear at his door to retrieve his uniforms. Francis immediately did an interview with CBC’s, As it Happens. After the interview, during the retrieval, Francis broke down in tears and his sister had to assist the Mounties. He was a dedicated officer with many years of service he was very proud of. This news simply broke his heart.
Not all Mounties agreed. Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown said he felt too much attention was being placed on the wrong topic. He believed the focus should on creating support for people with PTSD and how to remove the stigma surrounding it. “I’ve taken some criticism from some people, I mean, outside, saying, ‘You know what, its part of their job, grow a skin, suck it up,'” Brown told CBC Information Morning Fredericton. “No, I will stand up and say that members, anyone in the general public that needs some assistance with respect to those suffering from PTSD … and we need to break that culture and I will do my part to do it,” he said.
Brown said Mounties with PTSD should not be embarrassed to ask for help. “One of the things Ron said himself, which I found to be very telling, he said, ‘It is not a weakness to stand up and ask for help, and in fact, it’s a strength.'”
In a tearful video released by The Canadian Press on November 29th, 2013, we see the pain Francis suffered. With a cracking voice, he cried, pinning on award that was not stripped of him, still holding a ceremonial feather, “This is my medal. I earned this. Earned with my blood, my sweat, my tears. With twenty years of exemplary service and not one flaw in my service record.”
Unfortunately, the media was not kind to Francis. A few editorial cartoon slags later, including a cocaine trafficking Mountie and the story of Mr. Francis had become somewhat of a public joke. The media simply refused to pay attention to the PTSD issue and would not let go of the pot topic. These insults, on top of all else, probably didn’t help in the matter that led to an assault charge being placed on Francis on December 6th, 2013. The headlines read, “Pot Smoking Mountie charged with assault.”
The New Brunswick Public Safety Department made a public statement the following December 10th. “A Mountie who publicly complained about not being able to smoke medicinal marijuana while on the job was subdued with a stun gun and charged with assaulting another RCMP officer.” Alycia Morehouse, a spokeswoman for the RCMP department, continued, “Cpl. Ron Francis was undergoing a psychiatric assessment at the Restigouche Hospital Centre in northern New Brunswick after he was arrested last week… Officers were concerned about Francis’s well-being when they found him Friday on a street in downtown Fredericton… The RCMP called Fredericton police for help because the city is not within RCMP jurisdiction.”
After this event, Francis had been ordered to undergo a thirty-day psychiatric assessment at the Restigouche Hospital Center in Campbellton, New Brunswick to ascertain if he can be held accountable for the charges held against him. He was also ordered to return to court January 6th to plea on the charges.
What The RCMP spokeswoman didn’t tell us is the Mounties were searching for him on Friday. Oddly enough there was no public request or missing person report. They were apparently trying to conduct a “wellness check,” due to concerns about his medical condition. Whose concerns, we are not sure. When officers were not able to locate him, they asked Fredericton cops to help. RCMP said they had a legal right to detain him under the Mental Health Act for up to 72 hours.
Canadians, especially member of THC Club in Halifax, NS, immediately became suspicious and assumed the Francis was likely defending his right to self-medicate and lost the argument, unfortunately, to a fellow officer.
In an attempt to further Francis’ suffering, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who appeared before the Senate National Security and Defense Committee in Ottawa, Monday, June 3, 2013 said he’s very embarrassed for a New Brunswick Mountie, who breached policy by smoking medicinal marijuana in uniform.
Conversely, Chief Gabriel Atwin from Kingsclear, said he was “stunned” regarding the matter of Francis being tasered, arrested, and charged Fredericton. Atwin, a former U.S. Marine, said he is very familiar with PTSD and problems it causes. “I just hope that the RCMP understands that with people that are suffering this illness, that they find a way to treat these guys, not just, `I don’t know. Not just, “Lock them up,’ or whatever,” he said. “I am not sure, kinda lost for words with the process…[That’s] completely uncharacteristic of Ron,” said Atwin. “He’s a law-abiding citizen and a great guy.”
Francis was scheduled to be back in court on Jan. 6 following his 30-day psychiatric assessment. As a result of Francis accusing the RCMP of forcing him to quit, the organization attempted to disprove that fact by sending him for treatment for three months. Francis was shipped off to the Sunshine Coast Health Centre, in Powell River, B.C. Francis did not stay the entire time stating he felt unsafe there.
Regardless, Francis passed his psychiatric assessment. He was found fit to stand trial. The case was adjourned until February 4th once T.J. Burke, Francis’ defense lawyer asked for the period of time to assess the disclosure ahead of entering any plea. Outside court his lawyer, Burke said, “My client has instructed us, regardless of what’s in the disclosure, to enter a plea of not guilty.”
“The Mounties knew he was going to be released today and yet they have no action plan put in place for treatment for Ron Francis,” Burke said. “That in itself speaks volumes about the RCMP.”
In February, on to two counts of assaulting an officer and one count of resisting arrest, stemming from the alleged confrontation in Fredericton on Dec. 6Th, 2013 Francis plead not guilty. A three-day trial was scheduled for Sept. 3.
Raising further suspicion of harassment, Cpl Ron Francis make the headlines again, “Pot-smoking Mountie Ron Francis faces three more charges.“ It seems he was arrested again at his home, and the exact details are withheld from the Canadian public again and this time Francis swears he will sue for damages. This new court date was set for July. Francis Lawyer seemed determined leaving the courthouse and eager to get back in the courtroom “and get right down to the bottom of why Mr. Francis is facing three charges.”
Then, surprisingly, Cpl Ron Francis goes to court and pleads guilty to all charges that were not dropped by the crown on both instances. Cpl Francis plead guilty to breaching a judge’s order not to consume or possess alcohol or non-prescription illicit drugs as well.
Afterward, outside, he stated Cpl Francis said he remained hopeful about raising awareness to the issue of PTSD. “Soldiers, police, people who do this kind of work, over time it’s going to affect them,” said Francis, on leave from the Mounties. “I want to help other members.”
The facts were read in court: – RCMP said Francis called them and said “things were not going well for him. RCMP assumed Francis was under the influence and went to Francis’ home. He was arrested for breaching the judge’s order not to consume or possess alcohol. – RCMP took Francis department in Oromocto where a disagreement started. Francis was said to have pushed an officer and grabbed another by the shirt and pushed him. Both the crown and the defense agreed those statements were factual. Nov. 3Rd, 2014, was the date Judge William McCarroll set for sentencing. Francis seemed defeated.
On October 3rd, 2014, less than a month away from his sentencing, Canadians received their third and final shock in the stunning Ron Francis case. Cpl Ron Francis, a proud First Nations member, a well decorated RCMP officer, a man deeply loved by his family, had died around 4 o’clock Monday afternoon, in his home.
Later that Monday, his lawyer remembered Francis as “more than a client.” Burke mourned, “He was a childhood friend. I am saddened by his death.”
“The investigation is ongoing, but at this point, it appears no one else was involved in his death,” Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown said morning.
Kingsclear First Nation Chief Gabriel Atwin appeared greatly shaken by the news. “It’s a tragic, tragic event, tragic loss to our community. Ron was not only a good friend of mine, and a great community member, but also a family member of mine. It’s a tragic event… Most importantly, to the youth in our community, Ron was a role model. He proved that it was not impossible to rise above the challenges and roadblocks that face our youth,” Atwin said.
“It’s unfortunate the incidents that became very public, by his own doing — that was a very small snippet of who he was,” Brown said. “This is a person who struggled with a very real mental health issue…but unfortunately we did not reach the goal we had all hoped for.” Perhaps a little too late, Commissioner Brown notes, “One of the things Ron said himself, which I found to be very telling, he said, ‘It is not a weakness to stand up and ask for help, and in fact, it’s a strength.'”
On November 3rd, the date that was destined for Francis sentencing Judge McCarroll stopped the court proceedings to make a statement. “Of the many cases, he has dealt with in the criminal court system, “few, if any, have impacted me the way that this one has. I think what bothers me most, other than the tragic passing of a fine police officer, is that Cpl. Francis was not a person who should have been in a criminal court,” said McCarroll. “He was ill. And it was his illness that ultimately led to where we are today.” McCarroll continued, “The uncharacteristic actions, that resulted in his appearance before the court, were in my opinion… A cry for help from someone desperately trying to deal with the ravages of post-traumatic stress syndrome. If Cpl. Francis were here with us today to be sentenced, he would have walked out of this courtroom with my respect, and with no conviction having been recorded and no criminal record. There should be no shadow cast over the fine reputation he attained as a fine member of the RCMP.”
Let’s not forget Cpl. Ron Francis was a witness to several murders and fatal collisions, “People are dying, they’re committing suicide because there’s no proper backup,” he said. Unfortunately, adults often live lives that are almost impossible to rise above. Cpl. Ron Francis attempted to stand up for many adults seeking help in this aspect. Perhaps in the end his vices or his illness got the better of him. Many feel it’s more likely, illness, vices, or not, he was disparaged by his fellow brothers in blue and his countrymen. He was pushed, beyond extreme limits, to the most unfortunate point, which no man could withstand. The best we can hope for is to relay his message to those in need so we may be able to others like Francis in the future.