REGINA — The Saskatchewan Police Commission has released its final report on the Estevan Police Service.
The report, released Thursday, follows the turmoil that rocked the Estevan Police Department and saw the resignation of former police chief Paul Ladouceur.
The investigation was triggered by a request from a family member of Constable Jay Pierson, who died in March 2021. Pierson had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to an injury work-related psychological injury and had engaged in a long benefits dispute with the police, which was ultimately settled by the Court of Queen’s Bench, which ruled in favor of his rights to accident benefits from the work.
The report states that “Pierson died of natural causes. Some people have openly expressed opinions that his long dispute with the EPS and WCB over PTSD benefits contributed to his death. His passing has become a flashpoint within the EPS and the town of Estevan.
Corey Zaharuk, executive director of the Saskatchewan Police Commission, said at Thursday’s news conference that Sask. The Police Commission had received “multiple requests to intervene in a significant conflict that was occurring within the Estevan Police Department and spreading through the community.”
In addition to Pierson’s family’s request, a letter was written to Corrections, Policing 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 members of the Estevan Police Association had encountered working with Police Chief Paul Ladouceur and Deputy Chief Murray Cowan since 2016.
According to the report, it cited “continued bullying and harassment as well as concerns over media coverage that highlighted the Estevan Police Chief’s response to Cst. Pierson’s efforts to obtain benefits through the CAT.
The SFPO also noted that Pierson’s death “would have jeopardized the well-being of the organization and deeply affected other EPA members who were unwilling to come forward for fear of similar treatment.”
The report also notes that on April 9, 2021, Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig also wrote a letter to Tell requesting a special investigation.
The mayor had cited a “significant environment of discontent between EPA members and the EPS Chief and Deputy Chief following the recent death of Cst. Pierson. Ludwig had also pointed to major organizational upheavals, including Chief Ladouceur’s decision to resign and the Deputy Chief having to take time off work.
The report also notes that the Pierson case “has become the focal point of the Association’s and some civilian employees’ dissatisfaction with Chief and Council. There was a sense that their mental health wellbeing was not a priority or frankly a concern at all. The situation escalated considerably when Cst. Pierson died. Although he died of natural causes, the impression that was left with the public was that mental health issues and the battle he faced with the WCB contributed to his death.
Tell attorney named Aaron Fox on June 30, 2021 to investigate. Zaharuk told reporters the commission asked Fox to examine workplace culture, assess the resources, skills and willingness within the police department to recognize, respond to and support health and the well-being of its members. He was further asked to objectively determine the state of relations between the police department and its personnel, to provide information on the state of police governance and how the Board of Police Commissioners and the Chief of police demonstrated the rules and responsibilities. The commission also asked Fox to provide information on how all of these factors affect the quality of policing in the town of Estevan.
Fox completed its investigation on September 23, 2021. In its report, Fox reported that the Estevan Police Department “lacks a respectful and professional work culture with appropriate conflict resolution practices.”
Fox added that he could not comment specifically on 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, job performance will be affected. We know that there have been absences from work due to stress and that at least two members have left the police service to work elsewhere.
Fox also noted that the board did not have a “clear understanding” of its role and responsibilities.
His final recommendations included those aimed at restoring a positive work culture, and he also suggested policies and procedures for providing resources and skills to ensure the health and well-being of its members. Its recommendations included access to mental health services or a wellness program, a critical incident response procedure, a reintegration program to help members return to work, a peer counseling program and formal channels for dialogue between employees and management.
Fox also made numerous recommendations about the role of the police commission. These include expanding the board of directors, putting in place a policy outlining its role, and considering retaining an outside third party in the collective bargaining process.
Zaharuk also noted that while Fox was conducting its investigation, the Estevan Board of Police Commissioners hired a new chief and said it was important that the new chief meet the needs of the organization.
In early 2022, the commission gave the board an opportunity to demonstrate how it had already responded to Fox’s findings and recommendations. The final report indicated that there had been some improvements.
“The council and the police chief have demonstrated, according to the report, that they prioritize an organizational focus on improving workplace well-being, organizational communication, mental health support and services. for police personnel and council governance,” Zaharuk said. .
“Today, the Saskatchewan Police Commission believes that the Estevan Police Service and its Board of Police Commissioners provide efficient and professional service in Estevan. They have made significant progress in improving processes and morale within the department. There has been a very noticeable collective effort among all stakeholders to improve workplace culture and build the trust and respect required for effective policing. The police service now demonstrates that it provides a respectful and professional work environment and that it listens to the community it serves. It has the capacity and sincere desire to recognize, respond to and support the health and well-being of its members.
Zaharuk also said Sask. The Police Commission plans to conduct an audit in 2023 to ensure progress made during the investigation continues.
On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Estevan Ludwig released this statement on the report’s findings:
“I am disappointed that the Saskatchewan Police Commission did not release the results of the investigation sooner. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the report does not reflect the whole truth, but having said that, we have worked and will continue to work with the management team, the association and the provincial council to improve the culture at the Police Service of Estevan. We continue to recognize the importance of employee orientation and recognition in our workplace. Our support goes out to the members of the Estevan Police Department, as well as the leadership team, past and present.