Supreme Court Justice Clement Gascon says he suffered a panic attack last week before he briefly went missing Wednesday night.
Gascon, who has already announced plans to retire in September, said in a statement Tuesday that he has long dealt with depression and anxiety, an “insidious illness” he has generally been able to manage, but led him to a crisis last week.
“On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8, affected both by the recent announcement of a difficult and heart-rending career decision and by a change in medication, I conducted myself in an unprecedented and unaccustomed manner by going out without warning and remaining out of touch for several hours,” Gascon said. “I can neither explain nor justify what I understand to have been a panic attack, and I wish to apologize most profusely to all those who suffered as a result.”
Ottawa police sent a missing-person alert last Wednesday evening, saying the judge had been seen in early afternoon heading away from the courthouse near Parliament and his family was concerned for his safety. A short time later, the police said Gascon had been found safe and sound.
Until Tuesday, neither the police nor the Supreme Court would explain the incident, though the court’s executive legal officer – a top aide to Chief Justice Richard Wagner – said it wouldn’t affect his ability to continue on the bench.
“This health issue has been taken care of and treated with the necessary medical support,” Gascon said in his statement. “I confirm that I am in good health, and am fully capable of performing my duties as a judge.”
He can’t “erase what happened,” he said, but intends to put it behind him.
Gascon, 58, is a specialist in business law and has been on the Supreme Court for five years, having been appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper after 12 years as a judge in Quebec.
He announced his impending retirement in mid-April, citing personal and family reasons for quitting the top court at an age younger than many justices are when they join it.
Last year, the family of late justice Gerald Le Dain went public with the story of his departure from the Supreme Court in 1988, saying then-chief justice Brian Dickson forced Le Dain out after he was hospitalized with depression.
A former top aide to Dickson had previously written that the decision was made because the Supreme Court had a heavy load at the time and could not handle being short a judge; Le Dain’s family told the CBC he would have returned after a short time off to recuperate and called the court’s actions “unconscionable.”
Just after Gascon’s statement was released Tuesday, Independent MP and former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould thanked Gascon for sharing his struggle with depression and anxiety.
“Pleased to hear you are in good health and continuing to perform your duties as a judge,” she wrote on Twitter.