A petty officer who tried to hide his depression and substance abuse by falsifying medical documents to explain absences from work has received a severe reprimand and a $3,000 fine.
On Friday, Petty Officer Second Class Mathieu Isabelle pleaded guilty under the National Defence Act to forging Canadian Forces Health Services sick-leave records between Aug. 21, 2018, and Feb. 8, 2019 at CFB Esquimalt and to using those forged chits between Nov. 1, 2018 and Feb. 8, 2019.
At Friday’s court martial, the court heard that Isabelle used the forged documents 12 times.
Presiding Judge Sandra Sukstorf heard that Isabelle, 35, enrolled in the forces on May 22, 2003, and has served 17 years in the reserve and the regular forces, which he transferred to in October 2017.
When his actions were discovered, Isabelle admitted what he had done and immediately got help. He has been substance-free for more than a year, the judge noted.
Sukstorf referred to testimony from Isabelle’s commanding officer about the difficulties Isabelle faced when he transferred from the reserve to the regular force. There were gaps in his training and knowledge in the new environment.
Isabelle was also dealing with the breakup of his marriage and coping with substance abuse, which meant he didn’t always show up for work and forged the chits.
Sukstorf agreed that it was not unusual for members to have training gaps and deficiencies when they transfer to the regular force because they have not been serving full time. She recognized that Isabelle is now contributing in a very effective way and has a promising career in the armed forces.
The judge found the frequency of the forgeries to be an aggravating factor in the case.
“This didn’t happen on one or two occasions, it happened on 12 occasions and fortunately you had a prudent supervisor who noticed something was going wrong and that was the catalyst for you to get help. So I think we have to be very grateful that there was some intervention,” said Sukstorf, who found the guilty pleas to be a mitigating factor.
“You displayed courage by stepping forward to publicly accept responsibility before peers, supervisors and the court. I gave you an opportunity to speak and you apologized,” she said. “The matter before the court dates back 18 months, but in the intervening time, you didn’t stand still. You immediately sought professional help and by the time you came before the court today, you have been free of any drugs or alcohol for more than a year. You show a great effort and progress.”
Sukstorf noted that Isabelle’s commanding officer testified that he believes Isabelle is well placed to help others with mental-health issues because of what he has gone through.
“Quite often that’s a therapeutic way to help ourselves by helping others by giving back,” said Sukstorf.
“But be careful. Addiction is a life sentence. It’s something you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life.”
Isabelle must pay monthly instalments of $300 beginning June 15.