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Ron Francis's lawyer makes plea for PTSD help after Mountie's suicide

10/07/2014 10:37 EDT | Updated 12/07/2014 05:59 EST
Cpl. Ron Francis's lifelong friend and lawyer is making a plea for help for police officers and other first responders who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, in the wake of the suicide of the RCMP veteran, known for his stand on smoking medicinal marijuana while in uniform.

Francis, a 21-year Mountie veteran who was on medical leave from J Division in New Brunswick, died around 4 p.m. Monday.

"He ended up unfortunately falling ill to the post-traumatic stress, and the treatment that he should have received just wasn't there for him at the end," said T.J. Burke.

Burke is calling on the provincial and federal governments to develop something to help first responders "receive actual treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder."

Marijuana a 'red herring'

Francis made national headlines in late 2013 when he went public with his belief he should be allowed to smoke medical marijuana while in uniform to help him cope with PTSD. 

In recent months, Burke has also represented a Fredericton city police officer and an ex-member of the Canadian military who have been charged with crimes while Burke says they were dealing with PTSD.

​"We`re seeing people, first responders — EMTs, police officers, soldiers, firefighters — coming forward saying they have post-traumatic stress disorder," said Burke.

"What's happening is it's manifesting in such a way because they are not receiving treatment, they are committing what society calls criminal acts. We're seeing them in court cases."

While Francis gained national notoriety in his quest to be allowed to smoke prescribed marijuana while on the job, Burke says that was never the major issue at play.

"Ronnie's whole goal was never smoking marijuana," said Burke. "It was about bringing to light that the RCMP was not providing adequate services to its officers that suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The marijuana was always a red herring," he said. "It was always the issue concerning post-traumatic stress disorder.

"For 21 years, he served as a proud member of the RCMP," Bourque. "He had no disciplinary issues.

"What the public saw was a man who was very sick in his last year of life and that is the unfortunate thing," said Burke.

"He was more than a person who smoked marijuana in uniform."

Francis was on medical leave from his posting with J Division in New Brunswick.

In September, Francis was set to stand trial on six counts arising from incidents in December 2013 and January 2014 when he changed his plea to guilty on three of the charges.

Francis pleaded guilty to two counts of assaulting fellow officers and once count of breaching an undertaking to not possess or consume alcohol and non-prescription drugs.

The three other charges were withdrawn.

A sentencing hearing had been scheduled for Nov. 3.

Stripped of uniform

The charges came out of a confrontation with fellow RCMP officers and Fredericton police on Dec. 6, 2013, when Francis was arrested on a mental-health warning.

The incident came one week after Francis turned in his ceremonial red serge to the RCMP after making national news with his assertion he should be allowed to smoke prescribed medicinal marijuana to deal with his PTSD.

The RCMP stripped Francis of his uniform and placed him on medical leave in November 2013.

Francis said the national police force needs to change its policies and provide more resources to officers.

In January 2013, the RCMP offered to pay for Francis to attend a treatment facility in Powell River, B.C. for three months. Francis left the facility after three days, saying he couldn't get settled and felt like he was being watched.

Francis was Maliseet and a member of Kingsclear First Nation, near Fredericton. In his most recent court appearance, and when he turned in his red serge to the RCMP, he carried with him an eagle feather

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