Gregory John Matters was born on April 12, 1972, in Prince George, B.C., and grew up on a 160-acre farm in nearby Pineview, where his parents, George and Lorraine, raised cattle and other animals. Greg and his older siblings, Trevor and Tracey, helped tend to pigs, chickens and goats.
The Matters children didn’t have many toys, and spent all their spare time outdoors. Greg was an accomplished tree climber, and would fish for trout with a homemade rod and worms from the garden. As they got older, Greg, a rugby player at Prince George Senior Secondary School, “had all the girls swooning,” Tracey says; but he was bashful and didn’t like attracting attention to himself.
After graduating in 1990, Greg travelled to Australia, where Tracey had joined the civil service. As he was cycling near Tracey’s neighbourhood in Canberra, a kangaroo jumped in front of him, causing him to flip over the bike’s handlebars and break his collarbone. Greg underwent surgery, but his left arm never completely recovered; he never regained a full range of motion.
He returned to Canada to work on the farm, and, at 20, he decided he wanted to become a Canadian Forces peacekeeper. He was a “valiant and proud Canadian” and “wanted to make a big impact on the world,” says Tracey. But the Forces turned him down because of his bad arm. Greg was disappointed, but didn’t give up. After another surgery and a year of physiotherapy, he reapplied, and in October 1994, he joined the 4th Air Defence Regiment at CFB Gagetown, in New Brunswick.
In 2001, Greg was deployed on a seven-month mission to Bosnia, where peacekeepers were upholding the peace agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995. Greg was part of a NATO-led mission in Velika Kladuša, near the Croatian border; there, he witnessed rapes and murders. When he returned to Canada, his family noticed he was increasingly angry and withdrawn, but he refused to discuss what he’d seen. Gone was the “happy-go-lucky guy I had grown up with,” Tracey says.
Greg struggled with depression, and was posted to Gagetown until 2009, when the Canadian Forces deemed him “unsuitable for further service.” He moved back to his parents’ farm in Prince George, and in 2011, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Who committed the genocide? It was your neighbours, the military, the people in power, the militia,” says Dr. Greg Passey, his psychiatrist at the British Columbia Operational Stress Injury Clinic. In addition to the atrocities Greg had witnessed, it emerged that he had been bullied and assaulted by fellow soldiers. Greg’s experience in Bosnia, says Passey, “cemented his fear of authority figures.”
But under Passey’s care, Greg thrived. Soon he became “an even better version of his old self,” says Tracey. He re-established friendships and spent time with his grandmother. When his mother was hospitalized with pneumonia, Greg stayed by her bedside through the night and bought chocolates for her nurses. Last Christmas, Greg went all out, covering the Matters farmhouse with tinsel and decorations. The family built an eight-foot snowman. Greg added the finishing touch—his own scarf. “Greg would have normally sat inside and smiled from the inside of the house,” says Tracey. But this time, “he was right out there with us.”
In September, Greg enrolled at Thompson Rivers University, in Kamloops, and studied psychology. “He wanted to become a psychologist or counsellor to help other veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Tracey says. He set up a study in a cabin on his grandparents’ property, a quiet place where he completed his coursework.
He was planning to visit Tracey in Australia over Christmas, and had started buying gifts in July—he was close to his nephew and nieces. He told his sister he was hoping to get married and settle down. He’d even agreed to let Tracey give him a makeover and a new haircut. Finally, he seemed to have moved past the trauma that had haunted him since Bosnia.
On Sept. 9, the RCMP was dispatched to the Matters farm after an incident between Greg and his brother, Trevor. Greg, who was unarmed, was refusing to come out of the cabin. On Sept. 10, after a 30-hour stakeout, Greg was fatally shot by police. He was 40 years old. His death is under investigation by B.C.’s Independent Investigations Office.