City moves forward to curb High Level Bridge suicides

The City of Edmonton has moved a closer to putting in steps to prevent suicides from the High Level Bridge.
The city says 14 people killed themselves on or near the High Level Bridge in 2012. Administration have been asked to look at ways to address the problem. (CBC)

The City of Edmonton has moved a closer to taking steps to prevent suicides from the High Level Bridge.

At Tuesday’s Community Services Committee, councillors directed administration to research the cost of putting up more barriers on the iconic bridge to prevent people from jumping off, as well as the installation of a telephone with a direct line to the Edmonton Distress Line.

According to the city’s medical examiner, there were 14 suicide deaths on or near the bridge in 2012.

Nancy McCalder, executive director of The Support Network, which operates the Distress Line, argued that money should also be spent helping people before they make the decision to attempt suicide.

"By partnering, we can make more effective use of our resources," McCalder told the committee.

The eventual motion, made by Coun. Ben Henderson, also calls on administration to look at the cost of "proactive prevention strategies."

Barriers not enough: experts

There are high, chain-link barriers on the High Level Bridge, but only above River Valley Road and Fortway Drive, on the north shore of the North Saskatchewan River.

This barrier installed on Toronto's Bloor Viaduct in 2003 had no effect on overall suicide numbers in that city. (Lori Slater)
In 2003, barriers were installed on the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto, which dropped the average suicide rate from 10 to zero on the bridge. However, the overall suicide rate in that city was virtually unchanged.

McCalder said, for this reason, connecting suicidal people to a distress line, instead of the city’s initial suggestion of connecting them to emergency services, is a better move. She also called on the city to spend more money on the Distress Line.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta’s suicide rate is among the highest in Canada. In 2011, an estimated 500 people took their own lives in the province.

Coun. Henderson asked for the report to be completed by this fall, so prevention measures can be included in next year’s budget.