A former Penticton RCMP officer who pleaded guilty to harassing the wife of another Mountie with whom she had an affair was operating in “a fog” as a result of work-related trauma, her lawyer said Monday.
Rachelle Leanne Blanchard, 35, was handed a conditional discharge with one year probation, conditions of which include no contact with the victim and 50 hours’ community service. The conviction will be wiped from her record in three years.
“This crime was not impulsive nor spontaneous,” said provincial court Judge Richard Miller, noting the harassment had an “intended and devastating impact” on the victim.
The judge dismissed the claim Blanchard was acting on autopilot, citing the “complex actions” required for the offence, but found the former constable did not use her position as a police officer to carry out the crime.
Blanchard admitted to harassing Gail McDiarmid between Sept. 15, 2016, and Aug. 4, 2017, according to an agreed statement of facts.
At the time, McDiarmid was married to RCMP Const. Martin Degen, with whom Blanchard, whose own marriage has since ended, began an affair in 2013.
Degen broke off the affair in 2016, and Blanchard then began the harassment in an attempt “to promote the breakdown” of Degen’s marriage, said Crown counsel Don Montrichard, who argued for the conditional sentence.
According to the agreed statement of facts, the harassment consisted of Blanchard having personal lubrication and lingerie delivered to McDiarmid; sending anonymous text messages to Degen suggesting McDiarmid was cheating on him; sending children’s books on the subject of divorce to McDiarmid; signing up McDiarmid on a dating website and sending a suitor to her home; and filing a false complaint about McDiarmid with her employer.
As a result of McDiarmid’s complaints to police, both Blanchard and Degen were suspended by the force in August 2017, when the investigation began.
Degen, who is still on administrative leave, was interviewed first and denied knowledge of who was behind the harassment, according to Montrichard, who said there was an “insufficiency of evidence” to charge Degen, even though it now appears Degen “may have obstructed the investigation.”
Defence counsel Ian McAndrews was more critical in his assessment of Degen.
“In his statement, (Degen) essentially produces one lie after another to the investigating police officer,” said McAndrews, “and it defies logic that Martin Degen didn’t understand who was doing the harassing.”
McAndrews said Degen also encouraged Blanchard to give a statement to make the investigation “go away,” but Blanchard instead gave a full confession, without which the Crown “wouldn’t have had a case.”
Blanchard, her lawyer continued, was medically discharged by the force in 2018 after she was diagnosed with severe depression and severe post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the cumulative effects of her police work.
That included responding to several drownings, investigating sexual abuse of children, taking into custody a father whose teenage son committed suicide by stepping in front of a truck, and trying unsuccessfully to save the life of a gunshot victim.
Her work-related stress was compounded by institutionalized sexual harassment within the RCMP, continued McAndrews, noting his client has already settled with the force through a class-action lawsuit.
“She felt like she was living in a fog during all this time,” said McAndrews, who argued for an absolute discharge with no probation.
In addition to psychological reports, McAndrews also filed on Blanchard’s behalf numerous positive performance reviews from her 11-year career with the force, along with letters from a handful of retired and current Mounties attesting to her good character.
Blanchard apologized for her actions when given a chance to address the court.
“Honestly, the last few years and before that is just a big blur and a big spiral. What you heard about my medical struggles and everything is just a piece of it,” she said.
McDiarmid suggested outside court that Blanchard took the fall for Degen, who she alleged was able to call in “favours” to avoid being charged.
“I feel bad for her,” said McDiarmid.
McDiarmid is suing both Blanchard and Degen in a separate civil case.