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Cpl. Francis medicinal marijuana smoking - a communications fail for the RCMP

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A benefit of a solid communications policy is that it creates in the public mind the image you want people to have of your organization. And as you might expect, the higher profile the stories, the stronger the image that is created. Usually these aren't one-of things, they are the product of the accumulation of stories that mold an impression of an organization, for better or worse.

Which brings us to the RCMP, and the story of Cpl. Ron Francis tearfully turning over his uniform to the force.

It was an emotional scene both at his home when fellow RCMP officers arrived to demand his working uniform, a scene caught by family on video and shared with the media, and the next day when he arrived at J Division to surrender his ceremonial red serge, again an emotional scene and again, it's caught by reporters.

All of this prompted by Cpl. Francis being seen, in his red serge, smoking a joint he was legally entitled to smoke, because he has a medicinal prescription for marijuana, prescribed to treat his PTSD.

So here's a guy with severe psychological issues, brought on by a stressful job that included attending at an accident scene where a childhood friend died and having to work with his dead body, having to arrest both his brother and at another time sister, and allegedly having to deal with a death plot against him. Plus all the other stresses that go with his line of work.

He developed PTSD.

While this is obviously an issue for him it is also an issue for the RCMP. Cpl. Francis says he smoked his legal joint in public, and in uniform, to draw attention to the fact the force isn't responding to the needs of members with PTSD.

No question he has received attention, but the way the RCMP handled it has led to it receiving attention too, and not necessarily in a good way.

The force does have programs to treat members with PTSD but whether they are adequate is subjective. So maybe his protest was over the top – and I can certainly see where the visual of the Cpl. having a hooter while in his red serge could make the RCMP brass see red beyond the colour of the tunic.

But the way they responded probably did more to hurt than help the reputation of a force that has not recovered from the reputational hit it took over the Robert Dziekanski tasering incident in the Vancouver airport and the subsequent attempt to cover it up. Then there were the allegations of sexual harassment from a parade of female members. With each scandal the respect for the force diminishes, because they are never handled well, and by “well” I mean in a way that re-establishes public trust.

So now there is this new issue. Obviously the RCMP can't have members smoking dope in public, in uniform, even when it is a prescribed medication.

But given that this is a member with more than 20 years of apparently exemplary service, who is now hurting, the RCMP's reaction of sending officers to his home to collect his uniform smells of knee-jerk revenge for embarrassing them, rather than the kind of more compassionate response that you would think should be afforded a member.

Realize again this is an officer who arrested members of his own family, on the native reserve where he grew up and still lives. If that doesn't show dedication to the uniform I don't know what would.

You would think the RCMP, sensitive to its image, would want to show not only the public but also other officers that it cares about the welfare of members who serve and then because of that service, develop work-related mental health issues. But even the media comments by RCMP officials focused on policy and procedures with no hint of compassion.

Maybe there is more to it. Maybe Cpl. Francis had become unreasonable and a pain in the ass, but that's not the point. The point is that the force, in the ham-fisted way it has handled this, has come across to many as petty and vengeful, a far cry from the respect with which Canadians used to hold the RCMP, which now seems such a very long time ago.

Members, the vast majority of whom are working hard to live up to the ideal, deserve better from their superiors.

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