REGINA — The Saskatchewan Police Commission has released their final report into the Estevan Police Service.
The report, released Thursday, came in the wake of turmoil enveloping the Estevan Police Service that saw the former Police Chief Paul Ladouceur resign.
The inquiry was prompted following a request by a family member of Constable Jay Pierson, who died in March 2021. Pierson had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to a work-related psychological injury, and had engaged in a lengthy benefits dispute with the police force, which ultimately was decided in Queen’s Bench Court, which ruled in favour of his entitlements to worker's compensation benefits.
The report states “Pierson died of natural causes. Some people outwardly expressed views that his lengthy dispute for PTSD benefits with the EPS and the WCB contributed to his death. His passing became a flashpoint within the EPS and the city of Estevan.”
Corey Zaharuk, executive director of the Saskatchewan Police Commission, said at Thursday’s news conference that the Sask. Police Commission had received “multiple requests to intervene in a significant conflict that was occurring within the Estevan Police Service and spreading into the community.”
In addition to the request from Pierson’s family, a letter was written to Corrections, Police and Public Safety Minister Christine Tell by Casey Ward, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers. According to the report, Sgt. Ward had cited challenges that members of the Estevan Police Association had experienced in working with Police Chief Paul Ladouceur and Deputy Chief Murray Cowan since 2016.
According to the report he cited “ongoing bullying and harassment as well as concerns with media coverage that highlighted how the Estevan chief of police responded to Cst. Pierson’s efforts to obtain benefits through the WCB.”
The SFPO also noted the death of Pierson “had reportedly compromised the organizational well-being and deeply affected other EPA members who did not want to come forward due to concern of similar treatment.”
The report also noted that on April 9, 2021, Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig also wrote a letter to Tell requesting a special inquiry.
The mayor had cited a “significant environment of discontent between members of the EPA and the EPS chief and deputy chief after the recent death of Cst. Pierson.” Ludwig had also pointed to significant organizational turmoil, including Chief Ladouceur’s decision to resign, and the deputy chief requiring time away from work.
The report also noted that the Pierson case “became a focal point of the dissatisfaction of the Association and some of the civilian employees with the Chief and the board. There was a feeling that their mental health wellbeing was not a priority or frankly a concern at all. The situation became significantly exacerbated when Cst. Pierson passed away. Although he died of natural causes the impression that was left with the public was that the mental health issues and the battle he faced with the WCB contributed to his death.”
Tell appointed lawyer Aaron Fox on June 30, 2021 to conduct the inquiry. Zaharuk told reporters the commission asked Fox to examine workplace culture, assessing resources, competencies and willingness within the police service to recognize, respond to and support the health and well-being of its members. He was further asked to objectively determine the state of the relationship between the police service and its personnel, provide information on the state of police governance and how the board of police commissioners and the police chief demonstrated the rules and responsibilities. The commission also asked Fox to provide information on how all these factors affect the quality of policing in the city of Estevan.
Fox completed his investigation Sept. 23, 2021. In his report Fox reported that the Estevan Police Service “does not have a respectful and professional workplace culture with appropriate conflict resolution practices.”
Fox added he could not comment with precision as to the impact on the quality of policing. But it is “not too difficult to conclude that where there is a lack of trust and respect work performance will be impacted. We do know that there have been work absences because of stress and at least two members left the police service to work elsewhere.”
Fox also noted the Board did not have a "clear understanding" of their role and responsibilities.
His final recommendations included ones directed towards restoring a positive workplace culture, and he also suggested policies and procedures to provide resources and competencies to address the health and well-being of its members. His recommendations included access to mental health services or a wellness program, a critical incident response procedure, a reintegration program to assist members returning to work, establishment of a peer-to-peer counselling program and formal avenues for dialogue between employees and the leadership.
Fox also made numerous recommendations on the role of the police board. Those include expanding the board, putting a policy in place spelling out their role, and consider retaining an outside third party in the collective bargaining process.
Zaharuk also noted that during the time Fox conducted his investigation, the Estevan Board of Police Commissioners hired a new chief, and said it was important for the new chief to respond to the needs of the organization.
In early 2022 the commission gave the board the opportunity to demonstrate how they have already responded to Fox’s findings and recommendations. The final report indicated there were some improvements.
“The board and the police chief demonstrated, according to the report, that they prioritized an organizational focus on making improvements in the areas of workplace well-being, organizational communication, mental health support and services for police personnel and board governance,” said Zaharuk.
“Today, the Saskatchewan Police Commission believes that the Estevan Police Service and its Board of Police Commissioners are providing effective and professional service in Estevan. They have made significant progress in improving process and morale within the service. There has been a very notable collective effort amongst all stakeholders to improve the workplace culture and establish the trust and respect required for an effective police service. The police service is now demonstrating that it has a respectful and professional workplace and is responsive to the community it serves. It has the ability and genuine willingness to recognize and respond to and support the health and well-being of its members.”
Zaharuk also said the Sask. Police Commission plans to conduct an audit in 2023 to ensure the progress made during the inquiry continues.
Thursday afternoon, Estevan Mayor Ludwig has issued this statement on the report’s findings:
“I am disappointed in the Saskatchewan Police Commission for not releasing the inquiry results sooner. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the report is not reflective of the complete truth, but having said that we have been and will continue to work with the management team, the association and the provincial board to improve the culture at Estevan Police Service. We continue to recognize the importance of guidance and employee recognition in our workplace. Our support goes out to the Estevan Police Service members, along with the management team, both past and present.”