TORONTO (Canadian OH&S News)
It’s been seven years since Staff-Sgt. Eddie Adamson committed suicide after an unsuccessful attempt to save his fellow officer led to a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder — but his family’s bid to have his name included on the Toronto Police Service’s memorial wall has been blocked by those who keep it.
His daughter Julie Adamson, herself a 19-year veteran of the neighbouring York Regional Police force, has pushed to have his name included on the TPS memorial wall — a roster typically reserved for those officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty — even going as far as to appeal to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
“The reason I wanted to have my dad’s name included on the wall is because he died from post-traumatic stress disorder, and because he received the injury of PTSD from work,” Adamson explained. “I felt he was just as worthy as any officer who was killed in the line of duty — that’s how they describe it — from physical injury, as opposed to mental injury.”
On Mar. 14, 1980, Const. Michael Sweet was on patrol and responded to a robbery, explained Meaghan Gray, Toronto police spokesperson. After other officers, including Staff-Sgt. Adamson, arrived at the scene, they discovered that Sweet had been shot and was being held hostage by the robbers.
Refused medical treatment, Const. Sweet had lost too much blood by the time police stormed the restaurant 90 minutes later and he died in hospital. Haunted by the memory, Staff-Sgt. Adamson took his own life in 2005. A subsequent investigation from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board ruled that his death was the result of work-related injury, specifically PTSD.
However, the Toronto Police Association (TPA), which collaborates with the Toronto Police Service (TPS) to determine whose names should be etched in the municipal memorial wall, have just about finalized their plans to honour fallen officers who succumbed to work-related injuries in another way.
“That’s what we’re fleshing out right now. There was a committee struck to specifically deal with that. So with the onset of PTSD and other work-related illnesses, there has never been a criteria that has been established that has anticipated these types of things,” said Mike McCormack, president of the association, which collaborates with TPS to determine whose names should be etched in the wall.
Separate wall for mental illness fatalities unaccceptable treatment, family says
Though he said that the committee’s results would be officially announced in about a month’s time, initial reports have made mention of a plaque or separate wall. For Adamson’s counsel David Levangie, that in and of itself adds fuel to the fire.
“We don’t have details of the specific plaque or the criteria or the manner in which it’s presented — whether it’s equal to the memorial wall or subordinate to the memorial wall. Suffice it to say, differential treatment is obviously unequal treatment,” he said, adding that “if there’s a separate wall for people who have died as a result of mental illness, that’s not acceptable in any way.”
Since PTSD and other mental health disorders are becoming increasingly common amongst their rank and file, McCormack said that they need to establish a solution that spans past just one family.
“This is not about the Adamson family, this is a broader issue that impacts all police officers,” he said. “We’re not here to advance the interest of an individual, we’re here to take care of all of our entire membership and to recognize the sacrifice or complications of all our members. So this isn’t about Eddie Adamson, this is about how we recognize how people succumb to work-related injuries.”
As of yet, no hearing date has been set at the provincial human rights commission.