Brigitte Cleroux’s latest fraud fell apart on Aug. 11, 2021, when a nurse at an Ottawa medical clinic decided she couldn’t take any more of the impostor’s unprofessional behaviour.
Cleroux, using the alias Melanie Smith, had made a patient so uncomfortable that she was shaking and sobbing, pleading for someone else to help with her intravenous medication, according to an agreed statement of facts prepared for the Ontario Court of Justice.
It was just two weeks into “Melanie’s” time at the clinic, but the patient’s reaction wasn’t surprising to the other nurses in the room.
“She had an intimidating presence. It was difficult to be around her — she demanded attention,” one of those nurses told CBC News. She can’t be named because of a publication ban on her identity.
“It honestly came down to … bedside manner. There was a lack of professional behaviour. Personality characteristics that you think of as a nurse, they weren’t really there with her.”
The whistleblower said she and a colleague decided to file a complaint against “Melanie” after she stormed out of the clinic when she was confronted about her treatment of the distressed patient.
But when they started looking into her registration, they quickly discovered she wasn’t registered to practise in Ontario. After a bit more Googling, the whistleblower learned that “Melanie” was really Cleroux, a fraud artist with a criminal record that spanned three decades and stretched across North America.
“I literally was so stunned, I basically dropped my laptop and immediately picked up my phone and called police,” the whistleblower said.
The whistleblower is speaking publicly for the first time since she uncovered Cleroux’s true identity. It’s because of this nurse’s actions that Cleroux currently sits in prison, serving a seven-year sentence for posing as a nurse at two Ottawa clinics in the summer of 2021.
These new revelations come as Cleroux is set to appear in a Vancouver courtroom Thursday morning, facing 17 charges, including that she assaulted 10 patients while posing as a perioperative nurse at B.C. Women’s Hospital from June 2020 to June 2021.
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At least 67 criminal convictions
A review of legal documents and interviews with those who’ve had run-ins with Cleroux over the years paint a portrait of a flamboyant character who is impossible to ignore or forget, but still manages to fool hiring managers, landlords and business partners.
She’s impersonated a teacher in Alberta and Quebec, forged prescriptions in Florida, and been convicted or accused of pretending to be a nurse in Colorado, Ontario, Alberta and B.C., according to court records and a review of police files.
In all, the 50-year-old from the Ottawa area has amassed at least 67 criminal convictions as an adult, while leaving a trail of troubled patients and victims behind her.
“It makes me not trust most things, to be honest,” said Aine McDonnell, who received pain medication from Cleroux before and after surgery at B.C. Women’s Hospital in 2020.
“I’m probably going to record every doctor’s appointment that I go to for the rest of my life just to keep my receipts. It’s removed a lot of trust that I had in getting care.”
On the run from U.S. law enforcement
Cleroux headed south to the U.S. shortly after serving her first adult jail sentence in Quebec at just 19 years old — a one-month term for forgery and impersonation. At some point, she enrolled in an American nursing school, but never completed her education, according to a recent sentencing decision.
Today, she’s still wanted in Colorado, accused of pretending to be a nurse in Colorado Springs. A 2001 affidavit in support of the arrest warrant says Cleroux applied for work as a critical care nurse using forged documents, including a registration number stolen from a real nurse.
There are also two active warrants for her arrest in Broward County, Fla.
A 2002 affidavit alleges Cleroux had stolen a wallet from a woman in a Colorado hospital, and was using her ID to work at a doctor’s office in the Florida city of Coral Springs. It also says Cleroux swiped a blank prescription pad from the doctor and was forging Oxycontin prescriptions.
Florida police say that when they arrived at Cleroux’s home to arrest her, she locked herself in a closet and they had to force their way in, according to the affidavit.
‘You could tell she wasn’t professional’
Cleroux fled north before she could stand trial in either U.S. state, and it’s not clear exactly where she landed, but she was back behind bars in Ontario by 2006 for impersonating a nurse in a small city hospital. Not long after her release, she appeared at Philemon Wright High School in Gatineau, Que., where she was known as Madame Marier, the new French teacher, the 2006-2007 yearbook shows.
Cameron Mousseau was a high school senior in the spring of 2007, and said he remembers her well.
“She was off-putting from the start. Like, she wasn’t a teacher — you could tell she wasn’t professional,” he said. “There was barely any French going on in class.”
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Mousseau remembers the classes often featured “Mme. Marier’s” pontifications on sexual education, as well as borderline pornographic videos. She was also a bully, he said, singling him out as one of the unpopular kids and making cracks about his weight.
“It traumatized me enough to where I remembered her name out of high school, and that led to me searching for her name and finding her mug shots,” he said.
Cleroux headed west after her time in Gatineau.
In August 2009, Bruce Peters agreed to rent his Airdrie, Alta. property to her, her husband Mario Marier, and her young daughter. According to media reports, she’d had a child with a man she’d met in Colorado. She and Marier have since divorced, and a person answering the phone at his home in Rockland, Ont., said he had no interest in speaking with a reporter.
She told Peters she was running a hair salon in Calgary, he said. The tenancy didn’t last last long. The December rent cheque bounced, and then a second one did as well. Peters said he tried to track down his tenants, but when they didn’t answer the phone or the door, he posted an eviction notice.
Then, not long before Christmas, Peters got a call from Cleroux’s business partner.
“[She was] basically telling us that she was being defrauded by Brigitte and she was cashing fraudulent checks through the business, and there was apparently an arrest warrant pending in Calgary,” Peters said.
It took months before police tracked Cleroux down in Ontario, and sent her back to Alberta to stand trial for a series of fraud-related crimes in the Calgary area, including impersonating a nurse at two medical clinics in 2007 and 2008 and pretending to be a biology teacher at a French school in 2009 — at the same time she was running the hair salon, according to court records.
“She was very, very good at what she did. She was an absolute master of manipulation and deception,” Peters said. “She’s probably manipulating and deceiving people right now.”
A ‘pervasive pattern of grandiosity’
Cleroux’s most recent jail term began on Aug. 23, 2021, when she was arrested after working in Ottawa for less than a month.
One Ottawa patient, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, said it’s been surreal learning the truth about the woman who gave her intravenous pain medication during a medical procedure last summer.
“I felt like I was in a movie or something,” she said. “Then I found out she had given me fentanyl and I was like, ‘oh, my God, that is so dangerous.'”
The patient has one big question for Cleroux: Why?
Dr. Cynthia Baxter, a forensic psychiatrist based in Calgary, said it’s rare to see someone persist in impersonating professionals for so long, despite numerous arrests and convictions.
“What’s often going on in situations like this is that people have this pervasive pattern of grandiosity and this need for admiration, combined with a lack of empathy, where they feel like they could just take on a variety of roles because they’re so self-important,” she said.
“Things like having to do education or go into a regulatory body — all that is for regular people.”
The psychiatrist who examined Cleroux after her arrest in Ottawa diagnosed her with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder, often known as sociopathy in popular culture, according to a sentencing decision.
The psychiatrist’s report also noted that Cleroux has said “she would engage in fraud to soothe her feelings rather than experience emotional discomfort” and that she had a “desire to present a façade that showed she was successful based solely on the items she owned.”
In Vancouver, police say they’ve interviewed more than 40 patients from B.C. Women’s Hospital, and more charges are possible.
Patient Aine McDonnell wants to know whether anyone will be held accountable for hiring Cleroux and keeping her employed for a full year.
“You’re not even Googling who’s working for you? She didn’t have a registered nurse’s number,” she said.
“My boss Googled me before he hired me, and I work from home on a computer. It’s not like I’m dealing with anyone’s safety — or life.”
The hospital is operated by the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), which has a statement on its website describing Cleroux’s time in B.C. as “an unfortunate reminder that individuals with criminal intent exist in our world and can be motivated to bring harm to both people and organizations.”
A proposed class action lawsuit accuses the PHSA of negligence for employing Cleroux. The health authority’s response denies any negligence and says administrators took all reasonable steps to confirm Cleroux was a nurse.
She’s scheduled to make her next appearance in Vancouver provincial court on Thursday morning.