Mounties dial back warnings about dangers of fentanyl exposure for police


The RCMP are reviewing how their members should handle fentanyl following new reports that downplay the risks faced by frontline officers exposed to the drug.

While fentanyl remains a deadly and unpredictable drug for those who take it, new research from within the RCMP suggests that police officers aren’t likely to overdose on the opioid by absorbing it through their skin or inhaling it.

« Exposure to people handling the substance is not as high as we thought it was initially, » Sgt. Luc Chicoine, the RCMP’s national drug program co-ordinator, told CBC News.

That marks a shift in the RCMP’s thinking since just a few years ago, when the police service released a video warning about the dangers fentanyl and other opioids pose to first responders — a line picked up in media reports.

Chicoine, who has been part of the RCMP team dealing with Canada’s opioid crisis since its infancy, said that when the crisis began, police had to act on a « worst-case scenario. »

« At that time, the information available on fentanyl was very, very limited, » he said.

The RCMP’s initial caution, Chicoine said, « created a little bit of a monster and fear within our membership and within the community. » He cited reports warning people to be wary of touching shopping cart handles to avoid accidentally coming into contact with fentanyl.

‘Risk is relatively low’

The force is now reviewing available evidence to help clarify the RCMP’s fentanyl policy. The results of that review likely will be shared with other police organizations.

« We have created a little bit of a fear and that’s what we’re trying to solve by doing the full, ‘Let’s take a step back and take a position for the RCMP,' » said Chicoine.

There have been reports of first responders requiring medical attention following suspected fentanyl exposure. In May 2018, a member of the Seba Beach Patrol Service in Alberta was rushed to hospital after he picked up a vial of powder he found on a road. In 2017, the union for Alberta correctional officers raised alarms after several members came into contact with the drug.

Bruce Christianson, the RCMP’s director of occupational safety, said wearing standard protective gear such as gloves and masks should be enough to protect police officers.

RCMP Cpl. Derek Westwick, left, of the Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement Team, guides a member of the team – wearing a type of protective suit worn when dismantling drug production facilities containing fentanyl – into a news conference at RCMP headquarters in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday, September 3, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

« When you’re actually seizing the drugs, the risk is relatively low, » he said.

« If you take the proper precautions and you do your job as you should, then the chances of being exposed are not as great as, you know, some may have feared early on in this crisis. »

Chicoine said the new findings could affect how officers go about seizing and handling the drug — but the biggest change will be to undercover investigations.

Mounties first began carrying naloxone in October 2016 to treat opioid overdoses. In that first year, Mounties administered the antidote in 286 suspected overdose cases. In that first year, just four officers were given naloxone.

« No follow-up toxicology has been done to confirm if it was, in fact, due to an accidental exposure to fentanyl or if it was other psychosomatic symptoms, » said Chicoine.

According to the latest figures from Health Canada, there were 2,066 apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada between January and June 2018, bringing the national death toll up to 9,000 since the start of 2016.


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Surrey Six Mountie’s misconduct involved boozy affair with a potential witness


A primary RCMP officer assigned to the deadliest gangland shooting in B.C. history had a months-long, alcohol-fuelled sexual affair with a key potential witness in the case, spanning several provinces in hotel rooms paid for by the force.

Then-Sgt. Derek Brassington described it himself when he apologized during a sentencing hearing that revealed details of the relationship earlier this month.

« I treated her like a girlfriend, » the ex-officer said through sobs in B.C. Supreme Court.

Brassington admitted spending several dozen nights with her in hotel rooms paid for by the RCMP, getting drunk and having sex during the affair in 2009. Then 39, the ex-sergeant took the witness to bars and strip clubs during nights together.

He lied to hide their relationship from most colleagues, but told the court others were well aware after a while — and at least once, actively participated in the debauchery.

Brassington is one of three officers sentenced for their misconduct in the investigation this month. Two others admitted they knew about his affair and failed to report it during their own hearings on Wednesday.

The officers — Brassington, former Staff Sgt. David Attew and suspended Cpl. Danny Michaud — were charged with misconduct in 2011. They all pleaded guilty in separate hearings this month.

A body is loaded into a van following a multiple homicide in Surrey, B.C., on Oct. 21, 2007. Five people have been convicted in connection with the Surrey Six murders. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The details of the behaviour were a mystery for the better part of a decade, but details were revealed during their hearings. Those proceedings were initially protected by a publication ban, but portions of that ban were rescinded Wednesday afternoon after a challenge from CBC News and Global News.

The Surrey Six investigation continued and resulted in five murder convictions despite the officers’ conduct, but court heard the individual officers’ credibility as investigators was tarnished, and hours of police work needed to be redone.

During the hearings, the men also touched on what they were thinking at the time. Two said they weren’t thinking clearly at all, crippled by the punishing stress and trauma of their jobs as principal investigators on high-profile cases to a point beyond reason.

In short, as Brassington would tell the court through tears: « I sold my soul for this. »

Colossal investigation of 6 killings

Brassington, Attew and Michaud worked with the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) — a speciality homicide unit made up of officers from the RCMP and municipal police.

They were working on the Surrey Six file, a colossal investigation launched after six men were shot to death at a Surrey highrise on Oct. 19, 2007.

Attew and Brassington were principal investigators assigned to witness management, with Attew as Brassington’s superior. Michaud worked in exhibits. 

Brassington pleaded guilty to breach of trust and compromising the integrity and safety of a witness involved in the mass-murder investigation on Jan. 18.

He did so, in short, by dating her for about six months.

Brassington speaks to journalists on Dec. 11, 2013. (CBC)

« I treated her like a girlfriend, » Brassington told the court through sobs after his sentencing. « I didn’t mean to fall in love with her. »

Brassington met the witness on June 6, 2009. She agreed to co-operate as a witness the next month.

Brassington, a brawny man described by colleagues as an « all-star » investigator, wrote a report explaining how crucial the witness would be to the investigation and was assigned to manage her in the witness protection program.

In order to keep the witnesses on board and keep them out of gang life, the Crown explained, it was necessary for RCMP officers to stay in touch as the civilians established themselves in their new, secret homes — which sometimes meant flying to visit them in pairs.

At first, Brassington would sneak the witness back to his hotel room after his partner went to bed during those trips. They’d spend the night together before he snuck back to his own room by morning, undetected.

Then they got bold, and the public outings to bars and strip clubs began. 

Brassington also admitted to sexual activity with a third witness on one occasion.

Officer’s relationship with suspect’s girlfriend

Brassington and Attew were also assigned to manage another witness, identified in court documents as Person X.

Person X had confessed to his girlfriend that he was involved in the Surrey Six shootings. She encouraged him to turn himself in to police, and they both were recruited to the witness protection program.

It was Attew’s job to ensure their continued co-operation, mainly by securing the girlfriend’s trust. 

RCMP officers search property on Oct. 24, 2007 surrounding the apartment building where six people were killed. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

In April 2009, Brassington and Attew visited Person X’s girlfriend at her new home. They got drunk at a bar and stayed until closing.

Later, Attew went to the girlfriend’s hotel room alone. They ended up kissing, with Attew touching her over her clothes, but she rejected him when he tried to go further.

Court heard Person X nearly turned on police after he found out what Attew had done, risking his role as another key witness. He would ultimately continue to co-operate with the investigation.

Once, Brassington and Attew took Brassington’s clandestine girlfriend to the bar where Person X’s girlfriend worked. They spent $800 on alcohol that night, with Brassington’s witness sitting on his lap in front of his superior officer.

Attew, whose marriage ended largely over the scandal, pleaded guilty to failing to maintain law and order in B.C., contrary to the RCMP Act, on Tuesday. He was sentenced to six months house arrest with conditions.

RCMP under enormous scrutiny

Another revelation from the sentencing hearings was that both Brassington and Attew were working on the Dziekanski investigation as well as the massive Surrey Six case.

Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant to Canada, died after he was Tasered by RCMP officers at Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007 — five days before the Surrey murders.

The Dziekanski investigation brought the force under enormous scrutiny, and Brassington told the court he saw the murder case as a chance at redemption.

« Instead of restoring public trust and faith in the RCMP, I killed it, » he told the court through sobs during an apology.

« I am sorry to everybody in this country that looks to the police to do what’s right. »

​Brassington’s affair only ended for good when someone told RCMP what was happening in the winter of 2009. He and his wife would later divorce, and he left the family home he shared with their children. 

« As a dad I shouldn’t have done this. As a father I shouldn’t have done this. As a cop I shouldn’t have done this, » Brassington told the court.

The force asked the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate in February 2010. Michaud, the third officer ultimately charged, pleaded guilty to lying when he was asked if he knew about the affair.

He was sentenced to three months house arrest on the same offence as Attew on Tuesday. 

Brassington was sentenced to two years less a day house arrest under conditions. 

Five people have been convicted in connection with the Surrey Six murders.


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Edson’s hockey community bands together to support Mounties’ son killed in crash – Edmonton


A deadly crash in central Alberta last week that killed the six-year-old son of two RCMP officers has the hockey community in Edson pulling together support for the parents.

Cooper Dwight Pennoyer died on Friday afternoon after police said a truck he was travelling in hit the back of a snowplow that was stopped on the side of Highway 16, about 30 kilometres east of Edson. The person driving the truck was taken to hospital with minor injuries. The driver of the snowplow was not hurt.

READ MORE: 6-year-old boy dies in collision west of Edmonton, RCMP investigating

The Edson Aeros Junior A Hockey Club is now planning a pre-game tribute for Cooper ahead of their hockey game against the Cold Lake Wings this Friday night.

“We are planning a tribute to Cooper as he was a huge Aeros fan and also a player in the Edson minor hockey system,” the team’s president, Axel Axmann, said in an email to Global News. “We understand that Cooper’s mom, who is also an RCMP member, will be in attendance.”

“She was very supportive of it,” Axmann said of Sarah Pennoyer’s response to the tribute plans.

Axmann said the pre-game ceremony will include a moment of silence. Edson minor hockey players are encouraged to attend the game free of charge if they wear their Edson minor hockey team jerseys.

“As we learned from the tragedy in Humboldt, the hockey family is a small family and it’s a very tight-knit group,” Axmann said. “Cooper was a member of the Edson Minor Hockey Association here… We thought one of the best ways to honour him was to have a game in his memory… and show support to his family.

“Lots of tears, lots of grieving will happen and it’s OK, because it’s something that we need to do in order to deal with the process.”

Cooper’s obituary highlights his love for school, especially gym class, and “having new ‘harder’ things to learn.” It also says he played hockey with the Edson Sabres and was also a passionate fan of the sport, cheering for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks. Axmann said the Aeros’ assistant coach told him Cooper also enjoyed cheering on their team at games.

“Although young in years and old in soul, Cooper’s zest for life shone everyday through his infectious smile and big brown eyes that lit up when he talked about everything he loved,” his obituary reads. “When Cooper smiled it was with his whole face and you couldn’t help but smile with him.

“He shared his passion of hockey, Lego and everything outdoors with his dad, spending countless hours talking, constructing, discussing cows and quadding.”

Cooper’s obituary also mentions he had expressed a desire to follow in the footsteps of his parents, Sarah and Jason Pennoyer, and to eventually pursue a career in law enforcement.

“He was so proud when he put on his mom’s RCMP hat or his dad’s RCMP Stetson and got to play with their vests,” the obituary reads. “The detachment ladies had their ‘coop’ entertainment almost every morning and afternoon while he was waiting to go to school or home, target practice with elastics — taping them to their chairs and drawing them pictures on whatever scrap paper they had on their desks.”

In lieu of flowers, Cooper’s family has set up a trust fund for his sister Taylor to which people can donate. Axmann said he hopes people attending Friday’s game will donate to the trust fund.

“A portion of the funds will be donated in his name to Ecole Westhaven School and the Edson Minor Hockey Association.”

There will also be a celebration of Cooper’s life in Edson on Thursday.

“The RCMP members are a big part of our community and they’re very much involved with us and they do great things for us,” Axmann said. “To have this happen is tragic and it’s sad and we all feel for them and the family.

“It’s a small community and they’re such a big part of it.”

The RCMP said the cause of Friday’s crash remains under investigation.

Edson is located about 200 kilometres west of Edmonton.

–With files from Global News’ Albert Delitala

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Inquest into Mountie’s death calls for more mental health services in RCMP


A coroner’s jury tasked with reviewing the suicide of a former RCMP spokesman is recommending increased mental health resources for Mounties.

The jury delivered five recommendations Thursday after spending three days reviewing the circumstances surrounding the July 2013 death of Pierre Lemaitre.

Among the recommendations is the implementation of a plan to include mental health assessments as part of a three-year mandatory physical assessment for police officers.

The jury also wants classes for family members at the time that new recruits are initially hired in order to « provide an overview of potential mental health issues that can arise over the years. »

‘Hung out to dry’ 

Lemaitre’s friends and family testified that he developed post traumatic stress disorder as a front-line police officer dealing with events that included the brutal slayings of young women who reminded him of his own daughters.

But he also felt betrayed by the RCMP in relation to the force’s handling of the death of Robert Dziekanski, who was tasered by officers at YVR in 2007 on the day he arrived in Canada to live with his mother.

The 2007 death of Robert Dziekanski after he was tasered by RCMP turned out to be a turning point for Pierre Lemaitre who wanted to correct the public record about misinformation in relation to the incident. (Paul Pritchard/Canadian Press)

Lemaitre wanted to correct misinformation that he gave to the public, but was forbidden to do so by his supervisors. He was then transferred to traffic services, in a move that his friends said made him feel « hung out to dry. »

His wife said he became depressed as he saw himself portrayed as a liar and a spin doctor in repeated coverage in the following years.

He then overheard a supervisor in the traffic unit call him « redundant » and went on medical leave.

The coroner’s jury called on the RCMP to « offer a variety of learning methods for mental health education for all members of the RCMP » and to make funding available for their recommendations.

Crucially, they also called for the development of « measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the RCMP mental health strategy. »

‘Not a normal job’

The RCMP’s chief psychologist testified at the inquest about the measures that the force has taken to cut through the stigma of mental illness and to encourage members to seek help when they need it.

Roxane Marois claimed the force has helped to develop a series of peer-to-peer programs and tried to make it easier for members to obtain external psychological counselling without having to go through their supervisors.

But in her testimony, Marois admitted they haven’t implemented any « performance indicators » to see how many members are actually making use of mental health services.

A psychologist who counselled Lemaitre called for more services during her testimony.

Georgia Nemetz told the jury that the inherent dangers of policing mean that officers are constantly exposed to events that have the possibility of causing trauma.

« It is not a normal job, and recruits going in should not expect to have a normal life, » she told the jury.

« They should not expect that their usual coping skills will be sufficient to protect them. »


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Video showing Burnaby Mounties facing torrent of abuse makes social media splash – BC


A Facebook video showing a verbal altercation between a group of young men and police officers is causing a stir on social media.

The video shows Burnaby RCMP on Halloween night responding to a call dealing with fireworks.

In the video, the officers stand by as they are subjected to a tirade of profanity and insults.

Shocking verbal tirade against Vancouver police officer posted online

By Sunday evening, the video had been viewed 35,000 times, shared 280 times and attracted hundreds of comments.

Some are critical of police, but most praise the restraint shown by the officers and condemn the actions and language of the men heard in the video.

WATCH: Another explosive tirade against Vancouver police officer

The video was posted by one of the organizers of Wake Up Surrey, a grassroots movement that has been bringing attention to violence in the city.

“There’s an increase in the lack of respect with a segment of our youth toward authorities,” said Sukhi Sandhu, another organizer with the group.

“Whether it’s teachers, their own parents, whether it’s police — it’s a lack of respect.”

WATCH: B.C. Transit Police verbally abused after pulling over driver for speeding

Delta’s retired police chief Jim Cessford has also viewed the video and said the officers showed significant restraint.

“Better the police deal with that attitude than for somebody in the public have to put up with that kind of nonsense from someone,” he said.

Global News has requested comment from the Burnaby RCMP.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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