Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Risk Issue

Parents retrieve their kids after a gunman entered D. Roy Kennedy Public School on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013. Darren Brown / Sun Media
"It's a very serious offence going into a school with a gun. We're talking about hysterical parents arriving not knowing about what is going on."
"I'm not sure that in terms of managing the risk to the community in such an odd set of circumstances that a period of whatever he got -- probation, conditional sentence, jail -- was going to address the risk issue going forward."
Crown prosecutor Dave Roberts

"He said something about a brain condition, chemicals from the school. As he spoke he had tears in his eyes."
"[Once we had him in handcuffs he spoke:] I just want to get the children out. I don't want them to get hurt."
Sgt. Aasim Ansari, Ottawa Police

"Every time he was at the school he started feeling dizzy, disoriented. He actually told me he felt like he was getting poisoned."
"It's scary because sometimes I feel like I'm living with an 80-year-old, not a 53-year-old man."
Sheryl Bertrand, Lanark County, Ontario
The beginning of the conclusion of Gary Bertrand's ordeal -- former school custodian for D.Roy Kennedy Public School -- took place as an emergency when police were called in to the school because there was an intruder on the property, and he was armed. Three officers responded to the alarm and when they entered the office area there was a man sitting at a desk, a black revolver on the desk before him. A man who ignored repeated demands to stand away from the gun.

A Taser was fired, and the man stood, and was placed in handcuffs. And the man informed the three police officers he wanted to ensure that all the children in the school were removed from the premises which was "an unsafe environment". He also confided to the officers that he was dying, there was no help for him, he would have been better off if they'd shot him. They took him to hospital. "The hospital seemed like a better spot for him to be straightaway than a jail cell", explained Const. Derek Van Zutphen to a jury.

To the officers, the man appeared dazed and confused. As a matter of fact, it was the man himself, a former custodian at the school -- since retired due to serious health problems -- who had dialled 911 to request a police presence and to report that he held a gun. When they arrived, he was still holding the telephone receiver and was unresponsive when they ordered him to put the receiver down and rise from the desk where the gun was sitting.

Mr. Bertrand spent twelve days in a psychiatric ward. Over a period of five years, his wife Sheryl Bertrand recounted, her husband slowly deteriorated, his health shattered after his 19 years of work as the night custodian at the school. Between 2007 and 2008 he took time off on eight occasions because he was ill. His equilibrium was affected, causing him to trip down stairs. He felt drunk and disoriented, and began drooling. It seemed to his wife that he was in a trance.

Raw, ulcerated sores appeared on his feet. Once he stopped work, the condition cleared up. Each time he took time from work his condition would improve, and then return once more when he returned to work. Finally, in 2008 he went on long-term disability, and three years later received a referral to an occupational-health doctor who diagnosed him with a condition called chronic toxic encephalopathy (CTE).

A degenerative neurological disorder that exposure to toxic substances over extended time periods causes with symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, altered mental state, and vision problems. Memory loss and dementia-like state can also occur. A condition for which no cure exists; only the symptoms can be treated. His application for workmen's compensation had been rejected, since claims for CTE can be difficult to prove. Symptoms of the condition manifest years after exposure to causative chemicals.

The husband and wife knew what had caused his illness. And knowing that, they became worried about the welfare of the children who attended the school, that they too would become ill with symptoms similar to those that afflicted Mr. Bertrand. Mr. Bertrand became highly susceptible to depression, led by his condition. A situation that wasn't helped after he retired when his dog, his sister and a close friend died. And just before he invaded the school with a gun, his brother died.

The District School Board has replaced the use of toxic cleaning chemicals with newer "green" cleaning compounds, since 2010. And it claims that it has no records of workers' illnesses caused by the old chemical cleaners. According to psychiatrist Dr. Reghuvaran Kunjukrishnan, who examined Mr. Bertrand, the decision to appear at the school with a gun represented the behaviour of a man acting involuntarily, resulting from his untreated depression and irreversible cognitive damage.

Mr. Bertrand has been ordered to remain under the supervision of the Ontario Review Board, a panel of judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, psychologists and citizens monitoring the status of people found not criminally responsible for their actions. Though the board concluded that Mr. Bertrand continues to present a significant risk to the community, his mood is stable and he sees a psychiatrist and takes his medication. He is permitted to live at home under the condition that he not possess weapons, use drugs or alcohol or return to the school.

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