Supreme Court Justice Gascon attributes disappearance to depression, anxiety

Supreme Court Justice Clément Gascon says that his sudden disappearance last week, which triggered a police search, was the result of a long battle with depression and anxiety and a recent change in medication.

“For over twenty years, I have been dealing with a sometimes insidious illness: depression and anxiety disorders,” Gascon said in a statement Tuesday.

“This is an illness that can be treated and controlled, some days better than others. 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.

“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. This health issue has been taken care of and treated with the necessary medical support.

“I confirm that I am in good health, and am fully capable of performing my duties as a judge.”

Last week, Ottawa Police issued a bulletin asking the public for help in finding Gascon, 59, after he went missing from the 300 block of Wellington Street in Ottawa shortly after 1 p.m. He was found unharmed later that evening.

Gascon, who was appointed to Canada’s top court in 2014, announced his plans to retire officially from his position on Sept. 15 for personal and family reasons. For an additional six months after his retirement, he’ll be allowed to participate in decisions on cases he heard while sitting on the top court.

“Justice Gascon has made a significant contribution to Canada and to Canadian jurisprudence during his judicial career,” said Chief Justice Richard Wagner in a statement at the time.

“His thoughtful, rigorous and collegial approach has always helped us get to the heart of the most complex issues. He has served Canadians with integrity and wisdom. All of his colleagues will miss his commitment and friendship.”

Gascon offered his appreciation to those who have helped him through “this trying time” and said his thoughts are focused on his future.

“Although I know that I cannot erase what happened, I wish to put it behind me and look ahead. I have learned important lessons from it and will continue to do so over time, and with the necessary patience and assistance on which I know I can count.”

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould praised Gascon for his openness in discussing his mental health.

Born in Montreal in 1960, Gascon was called to the bar in 1982 and went on to practise law for 21 years at Heenan Blaikie, the now-defunct Montreal law firm that also employed former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Pierre Trudeau.

Gascon taught business, labour and construction law at the Université du Québec and McGill University and for the Quebec bar.

He was appointed to the Quebec Court of Appeal in 2012 after having served on the bench of the Quebec Superior Court from 2002.