An adjudicator has upheld the dismissal of a New Brunswick
corrections officer who was found with a marijuana-growing operation and
weapons in his home.
Harold Peterson was a correctional officer
at the Atlantic Institution in Renous, N.B. (AIR), a maximum-security
institution operated by Corrections Canada (CSC). He first became a
correctional officer in 1999 at a provincial youth centre in Miramichi,
N.B. Over 12 years there, he was never disciplined but was exposed to
assaults, inmates who harmed themselves, hangings, and a fire.
left the provincial system to work for CSC in 2011, first working at
another facility before moving to AIR after a use-of-force incident that
caused anxiety and sleeplessness.
He didn’t seek medical
treatment for his issues, but started calling in sick from his
depression, anxiety and a back injury he suffered in a car accident.
was told to bring in doctors’ notes for all his absences and was
referred to the employee assistance program, but he didn’t go. He did
some Internet research and concluded he had post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD), but a doctor he consulted didn’t believe that was true.
also began trying marijuana to alleviate his symptoms, against his
doctor’s advice. He found it helped so he bought seeds and planted them
on a neighbour’s property, without informing the neighbour.
Feb. 24, 2014, Miramichi police executed a search warrant of Peterson’s
house. They found dried marijuana throughout the house totalling 4.22
kilograms. They also found grow-op equipment and potting soil, along
with strings to support the plants hanging from the basement ceiling.
also found several large hockey bags, a common method of transporting
marijuana. There were also unsecured weapons located.
uncooperative with police and refused to reveal how many firearms he
had in the house. He admitted to smoking marijuana but had no
prescription for it. He was arrested and released with conditions.
arrest was covered in the local newspaper, which stated Peterson was a
corrections officer and included photos of seized marijuana in buckets
with AIR labels.
AIR’s assistant warden was informed by police of
Peterson’s arrest — Peterson never told CSC himself — and informed the
acting warden. They put Peterson on paid leave and then suspended him
without pay on March 7, 2014, while a disciplinary investigation was
CSC’s investigation included interviews of the
arresting officers, Peterson, and some of his co-workers. Peterson was
told several times the investigation was separate from any criminal
investigation, but Peterson said little on his lawyer’s advice.
said he suffered from PTSD and chronic back pain, but provided no
information other than saying he had seen a psychiatrist. CSC didn’t
search for more information as it felt Peterson was obligated to provide
it to support his claims.
When the investigation was completed,
Peterson was given a draft copy but refused to acknowledge it. His
criminal trial was dragging on and CSC was finding it harder to stay in
touch with Peterson, so it decided to terminate his employment on Jan.
The termination letter stated the investigation
determined Peterson’s actions were inconsistent with his role as a peace
officer. His admitted drug use, improperly stored firearms, and
dishonesty violated CSC’s standards of professional conduct, the value
and ethics code for the public sector, and the standards of conduct
outlined in the collective agreement between the Treasury Board and the
Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
It also said CSC couldn’t trust him working with firearms or working
with inmates with similar offences who were aware of the arrest, and the
trial damaged CSC’s reputation and public trust.
the dismissal, claiming his PTSD and other mental issues weren’t given
consideration in CSC’s decision to terminate. He also pointed to his
clean disciplinary record and said CSC should have looked at possible
positions where he could work without needing a firearm or direct
contact with inmates.
Adjudicator notes lengthy career
Margaret Shannon noted that while Peterson had a “lengthy career in the
world of corrections,” he had been an employee of CSC for less than
four years. Peterson’s arrest was a serious matter, particularly since
the nature of the charges — drugs and firearms — related directly to his
correctional officer duties, where he dealt with individuals with
similar charges and which required a high level of trust and
Shannon found CSC’s investigation was a proper one
and involved interviews with all pertinent people such as the police
and co-workers. If the investigation didn’t cover all the bases, it was
because of Peterson’s refusal to co-operate.
While it was his
right to not answer questions because of the separate criminal matter —
as his lawyer advised him — it gave CSC less to work with when making
its disciplinary decision, she said.
Shannon also found that CSC
was unaware of any medical issues, as Peterson only briefly mentioned
mental health issues but didn’t provide any further information — and he
hadn’t actually been diagnosed with PTSD.
In addition, Peterson
was fully aware that cultivating marijuana was illegal and his job would
be at risk if he was caught. The fact he tried to hide what he was
doing by secretly planting marijuana on a neighbour’s property
demonstrated he knew the deal, said Shannon.
Peterson also hadn’t
shown any remorse and took no steps to acquire marijuana legally — which
he could have if he needed it for medical purposes, she said.
with the negative media spotlight it brought on CSC, it was serious
enough that demotion or discipline wouldn’t do the trick. CSC had just
cause for dismissal.
“Through his actions, (Peterson) made himself
unsuitable to be a (correctional officer)… (He) was well aware of the
implications of his illegal activities if they were discovered,” said
“His attempts to disguise them is proof of this and
brings not only his suitability to be a (correctional officer) into
question but clearly indicates that the employer’s trust in him was not
warranted, which renders the continued employment relationship
For more information see:
• Peterson v. Deputy Head (Correctional Service of Canada), 2017 CarswellNat 1730 (Can. Pub. Service Lab. Rel. Bd.).
Jeffrey Smith is the editor of Canadian Employment Law Today. For more information, visit www.employmentlawtoday.com.