News / Toronto

Suicides to be eligible for Toronto police memorial wall

In 2015, the Ontario Human Rights Commission made the rare move of filing a claim to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, alleging the practice was discriminatory.

Toronto police officers who die by suicide will soon be eligible for inclusion on the force's memorial wall following a settlement with Ontario’s Human Rights Commission.

Staff / Torstar News Service Order this photo

Toronto police officers who die by suicide will soon be eligible for inclusion on the force's memorial wall following a settlement with Ontario’s Human Rights Commission.

Toronto police officers who die by suicide will soon be eligible to be named on the force’s memorial wall “if they meet specific criteria” following a settlement with Ontario’s Human Rights Commission.

“Today’s agreement creates an opportunity for the Service to respectfully recognize those who have died, regardless of cause of death, by appropriately commemorating those who, through their actions, demonstrated the noble qualities of policing and inspired those who continue to serve,” said Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray in a news release Thursday.

Until now, officers who committed suicide after incurring a job-related mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, were not eligible to be named on either on the memorial wall at the Toronto Police College or on the honour roll wall at Toronto police headquarters.

In 2015, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) made the rare move of filing a claim to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, alleging the practice was discriminatory.

According to a statement from the OHRC Wednesday, Toronto police will develop criteria for inclusion on the memorial wall by Oct. 31 “to ensure that members who die from mental health injuries sustained in the line of duty have the same opportunity to be included on the memorial wall.”

That procedure will be developed with the help of an expert approved by the OHRC, who must have expertise in first responders with PTSD. Once in place, the procedure will be retroactive, meaning recent or historic deaths could qualify for inclusion on the memorial wall.

“Policing is a challenging, and sometimes traumatic, profession,” said OHRC chief commissioner Renu Mandhane said in a written statement.

“Yet, police officers who sustain mental health injuries as a result of their work still face a great deal of stigma. Beyond ensuring that all members who lose their lives in the line of duty are treated with the same degree of recognition and respect, this settlement should signal to current members that they can seek support for mental health issues without being labeled as weak or unsuited to policing.”

The OHRC’s claim stems from the 2005 suicide of Toronto police Staff Sgt. Edward Adamson. The son of former Toronto police chief Harold Adamson witnessed the 1980 shooting death of fellow officer Const. Michael Sweet during a botched robbery and hostage-taking.

As a sergeant with the emergency task force, Adamson responded to the hostage-taking, which was inside a Toronto restaurant, but was ordered by a senior officer to stand down. While he and his team waited outside, Adamson could hear the severely injured officer calling for help.

Sweet lay bleeding for more than an hour before Adamson decided — “at great risk to himself,” according to the claim — to storm the building and rescue Sweet. But the young officer died in hospital, leaving a wife and three daughters.

Adamson developed PTSD as a result and never recovered. In 2005, he walked into a motel room, surrounded himself with news clippings about Sweet’s death, then committed suicide.

Adamson’s widow and daughter successfully fought to have his death recognized by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board as “on duty” because it resulted from his PTSD.

But they were not successful in getting Toronto police to add Adamson’s name to the memorial wall. Former police chief Bill Blair did strike an advisory committee to determine criteria for inclusion on the wall, but none were approved, according to OHRC’s claim.

With files from Star staff

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