Phil Couvrette and Gary Dimmock (Vancouver Sun) – A 20-year veteran of the RCMP apologized Thursday and provided some emotional testimony at her disciplinary hearing, which was sparked by her off-duty arrest for shoplifting during the Vancouver Olympic Games.
“I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere apology for my behaviour and misconduct,” Staff Sgt. Suzanne Denise Marie Martel said. “I take full responsibility for my action.”
Martel was charged with one count of theft under $5,000 in February 2010. She was relieved of her duties at the Games and sent back to her Ottawa-area office. The criminal charge has been stayed, but she still faces a disgraceful conduct charge under the RCMP Act.
Martel, who cried on several occasions during her testimony, said she never intended to embarrass the Mounties and painted a picture of her frail state of mind and health in the days and weeks before the Feb. 11, 2010 incident, which happened at a Winners store.
The days leading to the incidents were harrowing both at work and away from her 12-hour shifts, she said, listing a series of troubles from dealing with a cold that struck her upon her arrival in Vancouver, to her lack of sleep over several days. Family problems back home also made her experience difficulty, she said, but she insisted she “gave 100 per cent to her work” under the circumstances.
Her Olympic assignment began in late January 2010, and Martel said she first became stressed when she learned she was not sure where she was going to sleep. After finally being assigned to a hotel for the first few days, Martel was told she would have to move to a cruise ship in Vancouver Harbour – an experience made difficult by her fear of water and constricted spaces, she said.
Tight living quarters shared with a colleague who worked opposite shifts, regular switches from night to day shifts every week and noise from parties on the ship made for a harrowing ordeal, she recalled.
In addition, technical difficulties during her work shifts and allegations of harassment by a member of the force, which up until the hearing had been unreported, left her feeling as if she was about to “hit rock bottom,” a place she said she eventually reached.
On the day of the store incident, she recalled a dark state of mind before she made it to the Winners outlet. At one point she came across a highway where she asked herself “what had happened and whether I was dead,” she recalled, briefly considering throwing herself in front of some of the vehicles zipping past. “I wanted to walk until I collapsed, and lie there until somebody picked me up,” she said.
Once at Winners she said she felt numb and outside her body: “I could not feel reality around me,” she said.
During cross-examination she said she could recall little of her time in the store, and that most of the recollection she had was from store video played at her lawyer’s office subsequently.
“In my state of mind I could not think ahead or consider the consequence of my acts,” she said.
A psychologist she consulted in Ottawa after the incident concluded she had suffered from “a major depression with anxiety problems.”
When cross-examined by Helene DesGranges as to why she had not sought help during her time in Vancouver, she said she had lodged noise complaints to security and a complaint department on the ship which had gone unanswered and reached out to a colleague who had not responded to what she considered “a plea for help.”
But she repeatedly suggested that judging by the experience of people she knew, lodging formal complaints at the RCMP could just land her in more trouble.
“I have never complained about harassment though I have suffered from it in the past,” she said. “When we make a harassment complaint we become the problem,” she said in response to queries why she had never before brought up the harassment she said she felt from a member of the force on the ship.
The Vancouver assignment followed a period working with a partner with whom she had many difficulties, she said. Making matters difficult was that her superior was good friends with the work partner, she said, leaving her few opportunities to talk about her stressful environment.
“If I had a problem with my partner, I had no one to turn to,” she said.
When asked why she had not sought assistance dealing with work-related issues before leaving for Vancouver, she said it would only have meant raising the matter internally.
“You then become the problem and suffer from the process,” she said, adding her only recourse would have been to seek assistance outside the RCMP.