OTTAWA – RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says he’s very embarrassed for a New Brunswick Mountie who rankled the national police force by smoking medicinal marijuana in uniform.
Paulson told a House of Commons committee Tuesday it was “awkward and disappointing” to see Cpl. Ron Francis make headlines after the force discouraged him from going public.
Francis attracted widespread attention when the CBC aired a video clip of him puffing away at a joint in full ceremonial dress and insisting he has a right to smoke marijuana in uniform.
The veteran Mountie, assigned to administrative duties, tearfully returned his red serge last week after his regular uniforms were seized by the force. He accuses the government and the RCMP of not doing enough to support members like himself who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Asked about the case by New Brunswick Tory MP Rodney Weston, Paulson called it a “particularly difficult and delicate situation.”
“So it was very, very awkward and disappointing to see how — despite extensive efforts from our commanders in New Brunswick and other staff — that we were unable to dissuade him from going to the media,” Paulson said.
“I’m still trying to figure out what the story was. And I was sad for the member, and I think his colleagues were sad for him. It was all very embarrassing, I think, for not just the force but for Canadians.”
The RCMP says officers with a prescription to smoke pot for medicinal purposes should not be in red serge or regular uniform while taking their medication as it sends the wrong message.
At the committee meeting, Weston said some of his Saint John constituents were confused by the RCMP’s response.
Paulson said RCMP policy dictates how force members deal with the media and present themselves publicly.
“The member in question was spoken to ahead of this incident, asked not to do what he’d done,” he said. “But he’s not in a good place. And so consequently it got away on a bunch of people, and it gained an enormous public aspect that really didn’t do the member, I think, any service.”
It is RCMP policy to avoid putting officers who take mind-altering medications on frontline police duty, Paulson said. In addition, the RCMP’s health services branch works with a member’s doctor to ensure they understand the full range of available treatment options, he added.
Paulson acknowledged that the Francis case prompts thorny questions.
“It did raise, I suppose, some issues with respect to managing members or employees of organizations — particularly those engaged in public safety — who are prescribed medical marijuana.”
The RCMP has come under scrutiny in recent years over how it treats members with psychological injuries sustained on duty.
Paulson said that “members from time to time encounter difficulty and need our support” — a reality that is growing within the force.
The RCMP says it will try to help members suffering from stress-related injuries. But it will not hesitate to medically discharge members who are ultimately unable to return to a useful role within the force.
Ultimately, in the case of Francis, the RCMP acted to make sure he wasn’t exploited by others, Paulson said.
“I feel very embarrassed for the member and hopefully we can help him along.”