Superintendent Peter Lennox has released his decision in the disciplinary case against Greater Sudbury Police Officer, Const. Melisa Rancourt.
After hearings to determine what punishment the officer should face under the Police Services Act for her refusal to show proof of vaccination at a children’s hockey game, as well as subsequent social media posts, Lennox determined Rancourt will be demoted from first-class constable to third-class constable for a period of one year, followed by one year in the rank of second-class constable, conditional on satisfactory performance of duty by the officer and the concurrence of her unit commander.
She will also be required to perform 40 hours of volunteer work through the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies. Rancourt worked with the organization during her administrative leave in order to better understand her use of the word ‘nazi’ after Rancourt was arrested for resisting a peace officer and trespassing after refusing to show proof of vaccination at the Espanola Rec. Centre on Sept. 26 of 2021.
The decision came down on Nov. 18, after the disciplinary hearing in October. You can read Sudbury.com’s coverage of the disciplinary hearing here.
Though she categorically denied it in her interviews with police, Rancourt admitted in court to using the word ‘nazi’, after several witnesses attested to it in the statement of fact hearing that took place Oct. 13 and 14.
Rancourt was arrested and charged with resisting a peace officer, and entering a premises when entry has been prohibited, contrary to the Trespass to Property Act (TPA). She paid her $750 fine, and had her charges withdrawn under the Direct Accountability program from the John Howard Society, in which she was required to take responsibility for her actions.
Count one of the discreditable conduct charges applies to the arrest at the arena.
Count two of discreditable conduct is specific to social media posts Rancourt made between September 2021 and January of this year. These posts include her commenting on a post featuring the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that “It used to mean something, but now I might as well wipe my ass with it.” Lennox stated this was “particularly disturbing.”
They also include a statement posted to Facebook on Sept. 25, prior to Rancourt attending the arena with her wife, which states, “I will be going to the complex tomorrow, walking in to take my kids. Our private medical information will not be disclosed. If anyone wants to join, PM (private message) me.” In his decision, Lennox notes this is “not even remotely acceptable for one who has a duty as a police officer not only to obey the law, but to uphold it.”
Lennox notes he was also “compelled” by the prosecutor's submission that “though Const. Rancourt claimed to believe that she was exempt from the requirements as she was there for the ‘health and safety’ of her children, she did not engage with staff on entry to the complex to explain that exemption, but rather defied the requirement to show evidence of having been vaccinated.”
Of the interactions at the arena, as well as the almost five months of social media posts submitted, Lennox states he accepts the position of the prosecution that these activities “constitute not a short-term lack of judgment, but rather a long period of premeditated misconduct. This factor is substantially aggravating to penalty.”
Also aggravating to punishment, he states, is the public nature of the occurrence and the media coverage it spurred. Sudbury.com’s coverage of the arrest was submitted as evidence in the hearing.
The demotion, called a “gradation in rank,” also comes with a reduction in pay for Rancourt. As a first class constable, she is listed on the Sunshine List as making $107,000 in 2020. As a result of the gradation, moving her to third-class, Rancourt’s annual salary could drop approximately $20,000- $30,000.
Rancourt’s attorney, David Butts, and opposing counsel, Joël Dubois both made submissions on penalty.
Dubois suggested a gradation in rank from first-class to fourth-class constable,
with one year spent at the ranks of fourth-, third- and second-class constable. Defence counsel recommended that the respondent forfeit between 24 and 40 hours off, to be served concurrently for both counts, and that Lennox impose a period of 40-60 hours of mandatory volunteer work at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies.
“I find that her efforts after February 1, 2022, were an honest attempt to acknowledge the seriousness of her actions, to take responsibility for them, and to make amends,” states Lennnox. “However, her activities, demeanour, and substantial denial of what she had done and the seriousness of her activities between September 2021 and January 2022 must also be considered, and given as much or more weight than her subsequent positive efforts.”
Lennox states that had Rancourt recognized the seriousness of what she was doing, she would have ceased the activities that violated GSPS procedures.
“I find that during the period of September 25, 2021 and February 1, 2022, a period of more than 18 weeks, Const. Rancourt provided ongoing evidence that she did not recognize the seriousness of her actions,” he states. “In addition, her defensive tone and denial of both wrongdoing and of significant facts in her compelled interviews are indicative of a lack of recognition of the seriousness of what she was doing, and what she had done.”
Lennox states that, in particular, he considered her denial that she made references to nazis, which was contradicted by “several credible witnesses.”
Lennox stated he accepts the version of events given by OPP Sgt. Lowell Baker, a witness at the hearing and the arresting officer, and though he notes the submission of the defence regarding Rancourt’s apologies, both verbal and written, he does not agree with defence counsel that they show a “recognition of her wrongdoing and of her character.”
“She does not apologize for her behaviour in the October 1 letter, other than acknowledging that she has the Parents’ Code of Conduct and the Parents’ Pledge,” Lennox said, referencing her letter to the Espanola Minor Hockey Association. “This detracts substantially from her remedial attempts after Feb. 1, and I find that her lack of recognition of the seriousness of the matter over more than four months to be substantially aggravating to penalty.”
The decision details the full breadth of interactions between Rancourt, her wife, the OPP officers and Espanola Arena staff. You can find the decision here.
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com. She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized, including the Black, Indigenous, newcomer and Francophone communities, as well as 2SLGBTQ+ and issues of the downtown core.