Gary Benoit is a current active member of the Edmonton Police Service.
“I had to shoot somebody to save my life, but don’t tell anyone,”
I told my wife, as I crawled into bed and fell fast asleep.
There my wife sat, alone, with my one-and-a-half-year-old son, so many thoughts running through her head. I told her not to tell anyone, but I didn’t consider what it must have been like to hear that kind of news.
After this critical incident, I became angry, disconnected, and distant at home. As a result, we were struggling, stressed, and needed some balance. She was struggling with finding her passion in life and dealing with a chronic illness, which she had been diagnosed with at the age of 15. Things needed to change, but I didn’t recognize that it was so imperative to our family. Then my wife threw me a book on the Five Love Languages and told me to read it — our relationship depended on it.
I was born in Labrador City, Newfoundland, and when I was just a baby, we moved back home to St. Albans, Bay D’Espoir, where my family was from. My dad’s side of the family is First Nations in Canada, Mi’kmaq. When I was four years old, my life drastically changed when my parents picked up and moved us out West, where we settled in Grande Cache, Alberta. I spent two years there, and then we moved again — this time taking up residence in Hinton, Alberta until I was 14. During this time, I enjoyed playing hockey, skiing, seeing the mountains, and riding my dirt bike. There was a rumor that the mine where my father worked was going to shut down, so he was looking for work elsewhere and found employment in Coronach, Saskatchewan. We moved again, this time to southern Saskatchewan, where we stayed until I finished high school. I continued to play hockey and ride my dirt bike, and I learned to golf. I graduated from high school and attended the University of Saskatchewan with the intention of becoming a dentist. This, however, was not my path, so I began to seek out other careers and options that were available. I evaluated my strengths and looked at what I really enjoyed doing. After attending several career fairs, I decided on policing.
I applied to the RCMP and was invited to come to write the entrance exam. After writing, I received a follow-up phone call that included them asking me questions about my appearance. About a week later, I received a letter stating that I was deferred because I didn’t meet the requirements of an Aboriginal Person under the RCMP policy. Yes, I am a full-status First Nations person with red/orange hair. After this experience, I became determined to be hired as a police officer anywhere across Canada. I applied to multiple cities, including Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Estevan, Weyburn, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax. Some agencies got back
to me saying they were not hiring; however, Edmonton invited me to write their entrance exam. I successfully completed the application process and was hired into an Aboriginal program in May 1998. I was officially hired as a police officer in March 1999.
During the first four years of my career, I got married and divorced. I saw my first dead body, a young guy close in age to me. I was in fights, I almost shot my first person and I was involved in a home invasion. I helped save 10 hostages from a robbery at a restaurant. I watched a young lady take her own life by jumping off the high-level bridge right in front of me. I was exposed to fatal collisions that were gruesome in nature, including a male who died by suicide by jumping in front of a semi-truck. There was a lot of pressure to perform at work, and I realized I wasn’t happy with my life — both at work and at home.
I met my wife, Colette, when she was in school to obtain her BPA in criminal justice. We had similar interests and soon started a life together. Her dream was to be a police officer, and she was unique in the way that she loved hearing all of the calls and stories that I was exposed to on a daily basis. Because of this, we had great communication from the beginning. She was always pushing herself to do better and didn’t settle for anything. We started a family, got married, and life was going great! I was still being exposed to the same traumatic events at work, and little did I know that the effects of that trauma were just bubbling under the surface.
In 2007, it was just before Christmas, a normal day at work, when my partner and I were patrolling and came across a stolen vehicle — which ended in an officer-involved shooting to save my life. The following few days were the worst days I experienced in my career. I was treated like the bad guy and felt that I had no support. I was told I couldn’t talk to anybody, and even if I could, I didn’t know anyone who had experienced something like this. My wife and I received no direct support from the service. I had three days of administrative leave and then my regular four days off, and I was back to work up Temporary Acting Sergeant leading a squad. No debriefing, counseling, or programs were offered to me or my family.
I became very angry at the media, as they proceeded to portray the bad guy as a saint and they provided inaccurate information about the call. As time went on, I became more and more distant at home. I would come home from work and zone out to the point that Colette would yell at me to answer our son who had been saying, “Dad, Dad, Dad” about 10 times. If you weren’t wearing a uniform, I wouldn’t talk to you. I only hung out with other police officers. I was negative about life, the service, people, everything. Colette was getting frustrated, but I was unaware anything was wrong. The trauma that had been bubbling under the surface came to a head at this point as well. I was unmotivated to do things, lost the passions I once had and didn’t do anything for myself.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.“
This was the point when Colette told me to read the Five Love Languages book, that our relationship and family depended on it. I don’t really care to read, but I knew I didn’t want a second divorce and I didn’t want to lose my family. So, I picked up the book, and when I finished, I realized I was not speaking her love language. I was intrigued, so I read a few more books she had recommended. We slowly started to make small changes in our life. I started to be more present and help out more around the house. Things started to improve, and although we were doing OK, Colette was always looking for ways to improve. At this time, Colette had started a photography business, which allowed her to get out of the house and pursue a passion she had. It also brought in some extra income, as she was a stay-at-home mom.
Colette had also been introduced to Young Living Essential Oils to make us healthier as a family. She attended one of the conventions, and when she returned home, she was ecstatic about something called Oola. She began to explain how these two guys were absolutely amazing, and they had written a book that we needed to read, Oola: Find Balance in an Unbalanced World. She mentioned how she would love to do what they do. When the book came in the mail, we both read it and we started implementing Oola into our lives. Oola is when your life is balanced and growing in seven key areas: fitness, finance, family, field, faith, friends, and fun. During this time, Colette realized she wasn’t happy anymore being a photographer. She still loved taking photos but not as a business. She had invested so much into the company that she felt guilty about quitting, but a short while later, she saw on social media that the Oola guys hosted an event called OolaPalooza, and she knew she had to go. She made the decision that if she sold all of her photography equipment, we would fly to Dallas, Texas, for this event. And if you know Colette, when she says she is going to do something, she does. She sold her equipment, and we were off to Texas.
We attended the OolaPalooza, and it set us on the path of transformation. We learned how to set goals, and what blockers were stopping us from achieving those goals. We used what we learned and continued to work on our relationship and remove stressors in our lives. Things started to change, and life got incredible. Taking the time to work on ourselves has really changed our lives. We continue to attend the yearly OolaPaloozas, which allow us to step outside of our busy lives and work on ourselves.
As a family, we reflected on our progress and how much better we were feeling and doing from reducing stress, working on ourselves, dreaming again, and setting goals to live a life with more passion and with a purpose. We realized others could benefit from this as well. We knew we were not the only ones on the front line feeling this way, and with suicide rates and mental illness on the rise, we knew we needed to do something to help other families in similar situations. In 2018, we decided to start Benoit Wellness Consulting and launch the Front-Line Resiliency Project to share what we have gone through and what has worked for us, in hopes that it will help others in similar situations.
During a discussion recently, Colette asked me, “How are you living a life you love after 21 years on the job, after all, you have seen. How are you OK?”
That question really got me thinking, “How am I OK after 21 years of seeing what I have seen? How can I have gone through what I went through and come out better on the other side?” I think it is a combination of many things, including the open communication that we have always had. Colette always listened without trying to fix things or offer suggestions, and one of the biggest things was that she was aware when I started to change, become negative and distant. She had the courage to bring it up, even by throwing a book at me.
In addition to that, I wanted to read the book, not because she told me to, but because I didn’t want to lose my family. I didn’t like where I was, I didn’t like where my marriage was heading and I knew that I needed to make changes. Nobody else could do it for me. I have always been in tune with my feelings and the side of me that felt the need to share those feelings.
I also had faith that I did not even realize I had in a higher power. One of the things that I remember vividly from my humble beginnings with the police was the opportunity to participate in a sweat lodge. For those who are unaware of what that is, it is a traditional Indigenous ceremony used
to give thanks, heal, and purify the mind, body, and soul. During this sweat, things changed for me. I have always held the belief that there was an angel looking out for me. I had by accident developed faith in something bigger and greater.
So, to answer the question, “How am I OK after my time?” I had inadvertently developed pre-trauma resiliency (PTR) by having faith in something bigger than just me, understanding the feeling I was having and sharing those same feelings, and forcing myself to communicate with those closest to me even if the conversation was hard or emotionally charged. I did all of this, not on purpose consciously, but on purpose subconsciously. Now that I have awareness around this subject, I can help others develop this pre-trauma resiliency by putting in place a few simple strategies that make building it consciously purposeful.
If I had known then what I know now — and was living Oola prior to my shooting, I would have done a lot of things differently. I would have been able to notice sooner that I was starting to spiral downward. I would have been able to have the awareness that I needed help through that moment in time. I would have kept my faith instead of losing it. I also would have taken more than three shifts off after the event, and I would have taken that time for my family to discuss how it made Colette feel and what things she was also dealing with.
With all of this being said, I am so very grateful for every experience that I have been through, especially the hard ones because without those, I would not have had the opportunity to rediscover my faith, strengthen my relationships, and better myself in the process. I am most grateful for my shooting, as it was the catalyst that has put me on this path to be able to help others who are going through similar situations and build up others who are about to embark on the path of civil service by protecting their communities. I want to share this idea of pre-trauma resilience with the world because everyone can be affected by traumatic events. It’s not if; it’s when. If we have a solid foundation built prior, we are better equipped to deal with stressful situations when they happen. Setting goals and having a direction for your life allows you to have a focal point to come back to during difficult times.
Gary is originally from Newfoundland and spent his early childhood in Alberta before moving to Saskatchewan where he lived until 1998. At this time, he found himself back on Alberta soil and has been a Police Officer serving the community for 22 years. He is a Licensed Agent in the Financial Services Industry and Peer Support Facilitator for OSI-CAN Edmonton. Gary is also an author in the International Best-Selling Book, bLU Talks, Business, Life, and Universe.
Together with his wife, they own Benoit Wellness Consulting and Founded the Front-Line Resiliency Project. They provide education, tools, and guidance to support Front-Line Workers and their families to help meet their emotional and mental health needs through individual and group coaching, events and workshops, and through organizational consulting and program development. They have been together in the front line for over 18 years, they have seen many trying things and been involved in very difficult situations, including navigating the ups and downs of an officer-involved shooting. This incident was the breaking point of years of cumulative stress and trauma. Through the years they have come to realize the importance of having a strong foundation, a resilient mind, a positive support system of people around you, and a balance that reduces daily stress. Now they are on a mission to make a difference in the lives of front-line members and their families