‘Nothing has changed’: Ex-Mounties take aim at RCMP during inquest

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Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre was a 28-year veteran of the RCMP when he took his own life. Former Mounties who've fought their own battles with the force say they will be watching as the inquest into his death unfurls – Nov 25, 2018

Honest; steady; a kind man whom you could always count on to do what’s right.

That’s how former Mounties who left the force as result of their own bullying and harassment cases spoke about Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre. Lemaitre, their friend, colleague and the force’s spokesperson in the days following the high-profile death of Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport, took his own life on July 29, 2013.

READ MORE: Mountie’s widow testifies how high-profile Tasering at Vancouver airport ruined his life

A coroner’s inquest into his suicide is underway in Burnaby, B.C.

Ex-Mounties like Catherine Galliford and Atoya Montague testified Tuesday in stark contrast to that of the psychologist who has treated Mounties like Lemaitre for 26 years and the retired Mountie who handled a human resources investigation into an inappropriate dismissal of Lemaitre from one of his media relations positions in 2003.

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While the psychologist, Georgia Nemetz, told the inquest the “just suck it up… this is your job” mentality is starting to change and retired Mountie Bill Dingwall said the RCMP has “come a long way” in helping its members cope with the stress of the job, Galliford and Montague were less than appeased by changes — or lack thereof — in the force.

“Nothing has changed except words on paper,” Galliford told reporters after testifying.

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“Hopefully, this inquest will encourage the RCMP members to seek help… and seek help without it destroying their careers, which is what seems to be happening to date.”

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Galliford, her voice soft but steady, testified about how she collaborated with Lemaitre on public relations projects for the RCMP in the early 2000s. She said at one point, she requested him on a project deliberately to serve as a buffer for the harassment she was experiencing from another officer. Galliford was at the forefront of the spate of sexual harassment allegations rocking the force in recent years. She formally retired in May 2016.

READ MORE: Number of RCMP sexual harassment, discrimination claims rises to 2,400 women

Galliford, who suffers extreme agoraphobia, was expected to testify via video link but made the flight into Vancouver “for Pierre.”

After, she told reporters she felt tired.

“Quite frankly, I’m surprised that there was actually an inquest,” she said. “I’m relieved that it’s over.”

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Galliford said she hopes the inquiry will bring closure to Lemaitre’s wife and children. If nothing else, she said, it at least serves as vindication for Lemaitre, who was vilified as an RCMP spin doctor after the Dziekanski Tasering and forbidden by senior brass from correcting the record.

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“The command and control structure of the RCMP dictates that once a boss makes a decision, that’s it,” testified Atoya Montague, a civilian Mountie who served as a public relations specialist and worked alongside Lemaitre.

READ MORE: Female RCMP employee files civil suit alleging sexual harassment from co-workers

Montague, who testified via video link and has also levelled sexual harassment claims against the RCMP, spoke about the 2003 incident that saw Lemaitre forcibly shuffled out of the media relations division after filing a report about his direct superior, who a journalist alleged to Lemaitre had sexually harassed her.

“It was a retaliation measure to have him removed from the unit,” said Montague. In the front row, Sheila nodded her head.

Dingwall, who received the report on the handling of that incident and had Lemaitre moved to another job, apologized for how the incident unfolded.

“What took place to him shouldn’t have happened,” he testified.

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Understandably, Montague said, when Lemaitre was presented the opportunity to get back into public relations with the Mounties a few years later, he had reservations.

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“This is a unit that had a lot of attention, everything you do is under a microscope,” she said. “He’d been burned by the unit once before.”

Still, she said, he took the job.

And then, in October 2007, Dziekanski arrived at the Vancouver airport, was Tasered repeatedly, and died.

Montague spoke emotionally about the aftermath, frequently stopping to take a deep breath, look off screen, and wipe tears from her eyes.

“He was in agony,” she said. Every time he turned on the news, there would be a story about the latest Dziekanski development and on the split screen, there would be Lemaitre, often with a caption saying something like, “Mountie lies to protect RCMP.”

READ MORE: ‘I don’t want to die’: 5 years on, inquest into Mountie’s suicide to begin

The coroner had to remind jurors that their job is to find the facts, not find fault. But Montague didn’t mince words.

“It was the single biggest institutional betrayal I witnessed in 15 years and I went through my own personal hell.”

On Monday, the RCMP declined to speak specifically to Lemaitre’s case, noting it is “most appropriate to allow all relevant evidence to be brought forward in the proper forum.” A spokesperson for the B.C. Coroner’s Office said the RCMP is not formally participating in the inquest.

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The inquest continues Wednesday.

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