A thin blue line between spiritual support and indoctrination

A reported "cover-up" by Calgary Police and its civilian commission exposes questionable practices in mental wellness with Christian undercurrents

A thin blue line between spiritual support and indoctrination
A look inside the chapel at Calgary Police Service headquarters. Video by Sun News posted February 23, 2018.

These opinions link data from news reports with opaque information from official channels. Readers are advised to follow the evidence to validate the questions I raise.

This story might sound off the rails if you haven’t followed the reporting by Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell. Rusnell’s most recent story can be found here.

But if you’re ready to dive in, be ready for emerging evidence that Calgary Police Service introduced potentially harmful PTSD treatment practices to its staff and seemingly worked with CPS Commission to minimize the public fallout through a truncated report. This provided minimal details but suggested that CPS treatment practices lacked religious neutrality. How and whether police seek treatment for PTSD has serious implications for the safety of citizens during police encounters, given the potential for escalating violent responses to perceived dangers. Have corrective measures been put in place, and have those responsible been prevented from causing further harm?

Police officers endure trauma in the line of duty, and many suffer from PTSD, including around a fifth of active officers. There are clear reasons: imagine experiencing up to ten psychologically traumatic exposures in a single day. Most people experience fewer than ten in a lifetime.

The flipside is moral injury. Imagine being ordered to destroy the nylon homes of your poorest neighbours in freezing temperatures. Or to confiscate their precious medicines, simply because they’re deemed illegal drugs. To serve as a cog in these endless cycles, while your leaders disparage obvious solutions.

Imagine learning your work hurt the people you thought it helped. Or that your leaders put you in harm’s way to sustain their broken system.

It’s no wonder some police officers lose themselves in public fits of violence.

It’s no wonder many police officers turn to illegal drugs. Wouldn’t you?

For harm reduction advocates or abolitionists, talking about police can get complicated. But everyone deserves empathy. Every overdose, suicide and unsupported battle with trauma, every human in custody or prison, and every person trapped in a cycle of violence — police officer or civilian — is our collective failure.

Insult to injury: CPS trauma supports were a scam

Last fall, Rusnell and Russell reported that Calgary Police Service hired an alleged scam artist, Robert Perkins, to supply fake trauma counselling degrees, certificates and courses to members of the force.

It remains unclear who contracted Perkins, but it seems to have been advanced through the Wellness and Resiliency Division led by Stacey Ferland. During her time at CPS, Ferland was allegedly provided a fake PhD through Perkins’ unaccredited college and is reported to have completed much of her counselling training at schools with questionable accreditations:

Nunn previously confirmed the review was looking at Ferland’s other educational credentials. It is not known what role, if any, they played in Ferland’s ascension to a top civilian position within the CPS.   Ferland’s LinkedIn account had referenced a master’s degree from the St. James the Elder Theological Seminary in Jacksonville, Florida. It also said she received online counsellor training from the Esoteric Interfaith Seminary and Interfaith Church. In addition to online masters and doctorate degrees, Esoteric offers official ordination as a minister or even a rabbi for a US$150 “donation.”
From “He Trained Calgary Police Long After ‘Scam’ Warnings” by Charles Rusnell in The Tyee, January 23, 2023.

While anxiety swells around police violence, trauma among police has never been more visible. Police killings of civilians in this country have set new records every year since 2020. But rather than using evidence-based practices to reduce harms of police encounters, someone among CPS leadership contracted an alleged fraudster with fake degrees who may have aggravated those harms.

How did CPS and CPS Commission let this happen?

“We don’t support the CISM model”

In a 2019 PTSD Conference presentation, “Dr.” Stacey Ferland describes the CPS Psychological Services Division. Halfway through, she states that the CPS incident debrief process “is not CISM — we don’t support the CISM model.”

CISM, or Critical Incident Stress Management, is a set of pseudo-scientific approaches to PTSD that includes the Critical Incident Stress Debrief (CSID) techniques taught to CPS staff by Robert Perkins. A 2003 scientific review concluded “at best, CISM has no effect on preventing psychiatric sequelae following a traumatic event… [while] several studies report possible paradoxical worsening of stress-related symptoms in patients and personnel receiving CISM.”

From “He Trained Calgary Police Long After ‘Scam’ Warnings” by Charles Rusnell in The Tyee, January 23, 2023.

An opaque report raises new questions

On January 25, 2023, one day after Rusnell’s third story on the topic, CPS Commission and CPS leadership privately discussed the internal report on Robert Perkins. Rusnell’s reporting tells us Ferland resigned from CPS at least a week prior.

The full report is not public, ostensibly for employee confidentiality, but Rusnell followed with a piece on the alleged CPS cover-up of these events abetted by CPS Commission through what we can generously describe as insufficient transparency.

CPS Commission did provide carefully curated key findings in a summary entitled “Review of Service Relationship with Unaccredited College.” It raises some tough questions for CPS and CPS Commission.

First, did Stacey Ferland contract Robert Perkins? If so, did this precipitate her resignation from CPS?

Next, the summary released by CPS Commission mentions that “practitioners must have at least a master’s degree… the qualifications of all internal practitioners that currently provide mental health treatment were reviewed by the service this month and meet that standard.” According to reporting by Rusnell, Ferland obtained her Master’s from St. James the Elder Theological Seminary. Is this an accredited program by CPS standards, and have the accreditations of all externally referred professionals been reviewed?

Third, Ferland’s CPCA profile lists Master Practitioner in Clinical Counselling (MPCC). According to the MPCC application, this accreditation requires active clinical practice in five of the last eight years with 1,250 hours of clinical practice. It must be co-signed by a “supervisor, mentor, peer or employer with direct knowledge of the member’s clinical experience.” Did Ferland complete MPCC requirements while at CPS, and did someone at CPS endorse Ferland’s substantiation documents for her accreditation?

Fourth, the summary assures that an “independent medical professional has been hired to conduct a review of the Service’s wellness supports to ensure no methods taught by the college have inappropriately influenced or been incorporated into these programs.” However, in the June 2022 Calgary Police Commission meeting, Staff Sergeant Huskins presents on the Organizational Wellness Unit overseen by Ferland. Huskins cites Critical Incident Stress Debriefing as a “Preventative Measure” integrated within the unit’s programming. Was CISD used in mental health programming for CPS staff or their families?

Finally, CPS Commission’s concern about “ensuring that the care being provided is religiously neutral” seems to hint at undisclosed findings in the CPS review on how mental health programming at CPS is conducted. As a secular institution, any perceived religious indoctrination of CPS staff, particularly during periods of vulnerability in trauma care, would be a serious concern for the public. How can we be sure that psychological and other supports for CPS members are religiously neutral? Can this be measured by counting the number of Christian chaplains on staff against support staff for other belief systems? This was brought up in 2020 by then-Councillor George Chahal in a City Council meeting with CPS (starts at 4:24:50).

Where Are You Now? Stacey Ferland edition

Since resigning from CPS, Ferland was hired by Edgewood Health Network as Clinical Manager for Clinical Programming across Western Canada. Edgewood runs the publicly funded, privately run Red Deer Therapeutic Community recently covered by CBC Calgary’s Judy Aldous in a one-on-one with Danielle Smith’s chief of staff, Marshall Smith.

I’ve discussed connections between provincial substance use care and policing in the province, such as forced abstinence through expanded police powers. I’ve also discussed the ways Christianity is baked into Alberta’s residential substance use care. Ferland’s seamless transition from CPS to Edgewood leaves me wondering: Did Ferland compete for this high-ranking position at Edgewood Health Network following her resignation from CPS?

We’ll never know the direct impacts of mishandled CPS trauma care on police officers or people hurt by them, but we can demand transparency in the Commission reviews.

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