RCMP commander retires after tragic and emotional post in N.B.
FREDERICTON -- The last three years of his career have been more challenging and emotionally draining than anyone could have predicted, but the commanding officer of the RCMP in New Brunswick says he'll walk away with no regrets.
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown will retire Saturday after a 36-year career that has taken him from his hometown in Newfoundland to on ventures from coast to coast.
"I worked in uniform, I worked in plain clothes, I was teaching at Depot, worked in VIP travel, and had the opportunity to work with prime ministers, the Queen of England, and worked all across Canada, stationed in different provinces," he said in an interview.
Brown first requested a post in New Brunswick when he joined the force more than three decades ago. When he finally got his wish, it proved to be a tumultuous posting that included the event he describes as the low point of his career.
Saturday marks the second anniversary of the day a gunman in Moncton shot and killed three RCMP constables and wounded two others, leading police on a tense 30-hour manhunt that paralyzed the city.
"In policing it's part of the job that is always there, but you are always hopeful that you're never put in a position where you lose a member," said Brown in an interview. "That night I lost three and it could have been more."
Brown was the public face of the force during and after the ordeal, holding news conferences broadcast live across the country, and giving an emotional speech during the funeral -- tears streaming down his face.
Brown said his open displays of emotion during the events in Moncton raised some eyebrows, but he couldn't react any other way.
"From my perspective, in a situation like that we have to be allowed to be who we are. For me, it was emotionally draining, seeing three families whose lives changed forever. It hurt. It still does," he said.
"There were a lot of members hurting as much as I was, and I think that gave them a licence or permission to grieve in the exact same way. When you keep your emotions all inside, that's not good either."
Brown says he's normally a happy, upbeat person, but he was tested by three years in New Brunswick that were marked by other tragic, high-profile events.
In the first few months after he arrived, an escaped python killed two young boys in Campbellton. Then a series of shale gas protests culminated in a violent demonstration in Rexton during which 40 people were arrested and six police vehicles burned.
"I had a front row seat to an awful lot of stuff," said Brown.
He also presided over the case of Cpl. Ron Francis, an RCMP officer who took his own life in 2014 following a struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the debate over using marijuana for treatment.
"That was a period where it allowed for us to focus internally on the whole notion of mental health and PTSD. It wasn't a marijuana issue, it was a mental health issue," Brown said.
Prior to coming to New Brunswick, Brown was the commanding officer at the RCMP training Depot in Regina.
He said the high point of his career was to see bright, young Mounties heading out to their first posts. He had the opportunity to present one of his two sons with a badge 12 years ago.
Although the last three years have been difficult, Brown says they have bonded him to the province and its people. He plans to build a new home and retire in New Brunswick.
Raised in Joe Batt's Arm, N.L., Brown's original choice for a vocation was that of a sea captain. Now, heading into retirement at age 57, he has bought a boat and said he looks forward to being onboard with people he enjoys being with, and going wherever he wants.
He also has one grandchild and another on the way that he wants to spend time with.
"I'm going to take the time to try to get myself back to a health perspective where I'd like to be. I don't think there's any shame in saying I'm tired. I need a bit of a break and I need to do a few things differently," he said.
"I don't have any regrets. It has just been incredible."