Ex-Surrey Mountie who has PTSD related to child porn cases wins a court fight

Federal and provincial governments tried to have lawsuit dismissed; Judge decides it should go to trial

A former Surrey Mountie who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to his “overwhelming” exposure to child pornography while working on the Child Abuse and Sexual Offence Unit has won a court battle against the federal and provincial governments.

Michael Wardrope, the plaintiff, became a constable with the Surrey detachment in 2007, and worked on general duty patrol until he joined CASO in March 2009. He transferred from that unit to the Youth Services unit in 2011.

The case was hearing in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, with Justice Heather MacNaughton presiding. The defendants, Minister of Justice for the Province of British Columbia and Attorney General of Canada, tried unsuccessfully to have Wardrope’s lawsuit dismissed, arguing his claim for damages is statute-barred.

Wardrope claims damages on the basis that the defendants had a duty to ensure that his health was protected and he was free from harassment in his employment as an RCMP officer.

“He alleges that, due to the negligence of his former RCMP supervisors in CASO, he suffered mental and physical ailments and disabilities,” MacNaughton noted in her reasons for judgment, delivered March 27.

“He also alleges that, during his recruitment to CASO, misrepresentations were made to him about the amount of overtime he would be expected to work and the extent of the child pornography that he would be required to review.”

The judge noted these issues were important to Wardrope, “as he was a father of young children and he was concerned about the impacts of accepting a CASO position on him and his family.”

Wardrope commenced his lawsuit on Dec. 7, 2016, almost four years after his PTSD diagnosis related to his work in the CASO unit.

The defendants filed a response to his claim on Oct. 13, 2017, arguing the former Mountie had brought his action against them two years after his right to do so had expired.

Wardrope told the court that despite assurances he was given, the workload was heavy and his exposure to child pornography was “overwhelming.” He claimed that before accepting his transfer to the CASO unit, he was told the amount of child pornography “would be minimal and overtime was uncommon,” MacNaughton noted. The court heard he began to “experience emotional and physical symptoms and became increasingly socially withdrawn.”

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In the fall of 2010, Wardrope told his supervisor he was “falling apart” and on “the verge of a nervous breakdown.” The court heard he was told he’d be transferred out of the unit, but this didn’t happen for another 10 months, during which time, he says, his emotional and physical health further deteriorated.

Wardrope claims he was never debriefed while with CASO, contrary to RCMP Trauma Debriefing policy.

In August 2011 he was transferred to a school liaison officer position and assumed his health would cover, seeing as he was no longer dealing with graphic child pornography and heavy workload, MacNaughton said.

“The assumption proved incorrect,” the judge said, “and matters deteriorated in the fall of 2012 when he was contacted by the Crown with respect to one of his CASO files. He broke down as a result.”

The court heard Wardrope was diagnosed with PTSD and was put on medical leave on Dec. 17, 2012, the date the defendants relied on as the beginning of his two-year limitation under the Act. He then Applied for a PTSD pension with Veteran Affairs Canada and was approved. Wardrope says the goal was to stabilize his condition through treatment toward having him return to the RCMP. On March 29, 2018 he was medically discharged from the RCMP, but did not leave voluntarily.

“He says that, in the past, there were times when he was suicidal,” MacNaughton noted. “The loss of his RCMP career has been devastating. A vocational rehabilitation assessment prepared for the litigation has concluded that Mr. Wardrope is completely unemployable.”

The judge denied the defendants’ application to have the lawsuit dismissed, reasoning that “in the particular circumstances of this case” as the issue of when the limitation period began and if it was postponed “is so factually entwined with complexities of Mr. Wardrope’s membership in the RCMP that the limitation should be determined at trial.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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