Policing the Mentally Ill

Their lives end with a banner headline. A person believed to be mentally disturbed, shot dead by police. It is happening enough in this country that some police forces are changing how they interact with those suffering mental illness. Today, we're examining how police training and police practice is trying to adjust to recognize mental illness on the beat.



Three of The Current

Policing the Mentally Ill

Last Friday morning in Toronto, police were called to an east-end neighbourhood after residents reported seeing a man acting aggressively and appearing disoriented. He was wearing socks and a hospital gown -- and carrying two pairs of scissors. A nearby school activated its hold-and-secure protocol. Then, several minutes after police arrived, the man was fatally shot. We aired a clip of how eyewitnesses described it to CBC News.

The man has been identified as 29-year-old Michael Eligon. Ontario's Special Investigations Unit is called whenever a member of the public is injured by police. It is now investigating, and so far few details have been released. There is no evidence of any police misconduct.

But some observers say the case is just the latest example of police called to a complex and confusing scene that goes far beyond a straightforward theft or assault. They say Canadian police need better training to deal with situations where suspects behave erratically and exhibit signs of mental illness.

While exact numbers are hard to come by, a 2011 study by the Mental Health Commission of Canada found that the mentally ill are over-represented in "police shootings, stun gun incidents and fatalities."

Fatalities and inquests and recommendations... Yet there continue to be incidents as we did last week in Toronto. Today we were joined by people working to improve police training on dealing with people with mental illness. Anita Szegeti is a mental health law lawyer in Toronto. And Terry Coleman is the Retired Chief of Police in Moose Jaw,  Saskatchewan. He's now a city councillor there and is on the Mental Health and the Law Advisory Committee for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. He was in Regina. And Nicole Akers is a Constable with the Edmonton City Police assigned to the Inner City Police and Crisis Team, known as PACT.

This half-hour was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino and Liz Hoath.

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Last Word - Canadian Great War song

Before we go .... a real milestone passed this past weekend. The world's last known veteran of World War One died. Florence Green of England never saw combat, but she wore the uniform of the Woman's Royal Air Force during the war's last months. She was 110 years old. Canada's last Great War veteran was John Babcock, who died nearly two years ago.

It's been nearly one hundred years since the Guns of August set off the most violent century. But with the success of dramas like War Horse and Downtown Abbey, the Great War has slipped back into the public consciousness. Canada was a very young country in 1914-- not much time to develop a unique popular culture. But there's at least one specifically Canadian Great War song. On today's Last Word, a strangely optimistic tune about a very dark time .


Other segments from today's show:

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