Hamilton police officer Paul Manning — who feared for his life during an undercover job, became suicidal and is suing the service — has filed a grievance saying police services board members referred to him as “crazy,” “nuts” and “delusional” in an effort to paint his lawsuit as “fictional.”
Manning’s grievance, filed earlier this month by the Hamilton Police Association, alleges Hamilton city councillor and former board chair Lloyd Ferguson and others on the board made the comments “on numerous occasions” between 2015 and 2018.
The comments were “a co-ordinated effort to persuade the Police Services Board that Mr. Manning’s lawsuit was fictional” and that his medical condition “made him incapable of telling the truth,” the officer said in his grievance, alleging he is the victim of a human rights violation.
In his grievance, Manning is seeking apologies from Ferguson and the board.
Manning is backed by former board member Wlodzimierz (Walt) Juchniewicz, who said in a statement that Ferguson, Chief Eric Girt and the service’s lawyer repeatedly used the derogatory terms to describe Manning at in-camera meetings.
“They would constantly tell the board (Manning) was ‘delusional’ when issues of Mr. Manning’s lawsuit were discussed,” Juchniewicz wrote in a statement dated April 29. “I was shocked to hear the chief of police call one of his own officers who was serving undercover ‘crazy.’ ”
In the statement, Juchniewicz said he was “disturbed” especially in light of the number of officer suicides across Canada — including one by a Hamilton officer that happened during his time on the board.
Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s chief coroner, announced in January that an expert panel is conducting a review of nine police suicides in the province in 2018. The OPP is also doing a review of its own, after three officers killed themselves.
In his lawsuit, Manning and his wife are seeking $ 6.75 million in damages — $ 4.5 million from the Hamilton police services board and another $ 2.25 million from the Ontario Provincial Police.
In a 2015 statement of claim, Manning alleges he was nearly killed after his cover was blown during a botched undercover operation in 2006. He alleges his identity was revealed to a crime family by a high-ranking Hamilton officer, and says the service essentially betrayed him.
He said he was diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic distress disorder in 2013 and said he is still unable to work.
Manning told the Star he remembers putting his service handgun in his mouth sometime after 2007, when he was still working, and considered pulling the trigger. He said he also remembers purposely smashing his cruiser into a utility pole. He said his peers knew of his mental state, yet he was not taken off the street.
In his lawsuit, Manning cites a memo from 2005 — a year before his cover was blown — in which a supervisor called him “one of the best” undercover officers in the service.
Manning also alleges explosive cases of corruption within the service and beyond, as detailed in a 2016 piece by the Toronto Star and Hamilton Spectator.
In their statements of defence, the Hamilton board and the OPP deny many of the allegations made by Manning. None have been proven in court.
In March, a Superior Court judge ordered the city to pay Manning $ 20,000 in costs in what the Hamilton Spectator reported was a penalty for slow disclosure of documents in the civil suit case.
Juchniewicz said in his statement he once heard Ferguson describe Manning as “crazy and delirious” in a conversation.
In a telephone interview, Juchniewicz said he took that to mean Manning was in “an advanced disturbed state of mind” — but that was not what he personally found.
After he met Manning, Juchniewicz said it was apparent the officer was suffering from a mental health issue and was telling the truth about what happened.
Over six months, he said he came to the conclusion that Manning was being ostracized by the service and board.
“This is a community member, and he should be treated with respect and dignity for what he’s done,” Juchniewicz said. “I find him to be a good husband, a good father … a good neighbour, a well-intended person, a police asset that is being wasted on a daily basis.”
Juchniewicz said he has also found himself the victim of unfair treatment by the board.
He was suspended from the board in July 2018 over a public complaint that he had made anti-Muslim comments, a charge he vehemently denies and said was “manufactured to get him off the board.”
The Ontario Civilian Police Commission had been investigating the charge against Juchniewicz. He had hoped the probe would give him a chance to clear his name, but it was rendered moot after he lost his spot on the board.
The use of words like “crazy, mental case, nut case, delusional,” are “precisely what makes it so, so difficult for police officers to come forward, and to admit that they’re having struggles,” said Jonathan Douglas, a clinical psychologist based in Barrie who works with first responders but has never met Manning.
“The cost of promoting that kind of stigmatizing environment is absolutely huge,” he said.
Douglas is on the board of directors of Badge of Life Canada, an organization that offers support to first responders experiencing operational stress, including weekend retreats where they can connect with others experiencing the same thing and learn coping strategies that enable them to stay on the job or return to work.
It’s important for employers to try to provide an atmosphere where people feel not only heard, but also that their experience is also validated.
Negative comments made behind the injured officer’s back produce a sense that “These people don’t get me. They don’t understand me. They don’t trust me,” he said.
“And that’s the kind of thing that keeps officers suffering in silence and that silence is really what leads to the development of operational stress injuries, and, ultimately, to suicide.”
If you require help with mental illness, there is help out there. The Government of Canada provides a list of resources on its website. For first responders and correctional officers, the charity Badge of Life Canada offers help as well.
Jim Rankin is a reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @Jleerankin