British Columbia

Okanagan's top Mountie wants a nurse to join police on every mental health call

Interior Health, however, said it is not looking to expand the program that pairs a psychiatric nurse with a dedicated RCMP officer. An official with the health authority said she wants to explore alternative models.

Brad Haugli says he is deeply sorry for what happened to UBCO student Mona Wang during a wellness check

Still from a surveillance video shows Const. Lacy Browning stepping on student Mona Wang's head after a wellness check by the RCMP on January 20. (Submitted by Bridge Law Corporation)

The Okanagan's top Mountie says a mental health nurse should join police officers for every mental health call.

Brad Haugli, chief commander of the B.C. RCMP's southeast district, made the comments at a news conference Thursday to answer questions about an incident where a University of B.C. Okanagan student was dragged and stepped on by an RCMP officer during a wellness check on the Kelowna campus earlier this year. 

"My vision would be that there would be a nurse accompanying every police officer to every mental health call," Haugli said.

"It is a high goal to achieve … we need to start working on that."

Brad Haugli, chief commander of the B.C. RCMP's southeast district, offered an apology to Mona Wang Thursday. (CBC)

The Jan. 20 incident was caught on apartment surveillance video and showed Const. Lacy Browning dragging student Mona Wang, 20, down a hallway and later stepping on her as she lay on the ground. 

Haugli said he is deeply sorry for what happened to Wang.

"High public confidence is what we strive for and when we become aware of concerning behaviour, we need to assure the public that we are taking the necessary steps to gather all the facts," said Haugli.

"If that was my family member or friend, I would have deep concerns and want answers as well."

Haugli says Abbotsford police will investigate and issue a report to Crown counsel and the RCMP civil review complaints commission by mid-July. They'll decide what charges, if any, will be laid. 

Browning has been placed on administrative duties.

Mona Wang is pictured in Burnaby, British Columbia on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Allegations of excessive force

Wang — who has said she has a history of anxiety and was having a panic attack on the day of the incident — had been in contact with her boyfriend in Vancouver, but when she stopped responding to his texts, he got worried and called emergency responders to check up on her.

In court documents, Wang alleges the officer used excessive force during the check, at one point punching Wang and leaving her with bruises on her face, while shouting at her "to stop being so dramatic." 

Browning will also face a code of conduct investigation.

"A part of the code of conduct process is to assess duty status of the subject member, and in this case, we made the decision as guided by policy to immediately remove the member from operational work and place into an administrative duty role," Haugli said.

In a written statement, Haugli pointed out that the RCMP has seen a substantial increase in the number of calls related to mental health concerns since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2016, the number of wellness checks conducted by RCMP has increased by more than 3,000 to more than 15,000 calls in 2019, according to the statement.

"My goal is to greatly expand [crisis team programs] at existing locations as it is not always available, and introduce it into as many of our communities as possible," Haugli said.

Interior Health not looking to expand program

But Karen Bloemink, vice-president of clinical operations for Interior Health, said the health authority is not looking to expand the PACT (Police and Community Team) model, which pairs a psychiatric nurse with a dedicated RCMP officer.

"This is a highly resourced service that sees few responses," Bloemink said.

Bloemink said the current partnership is only yielding three to four client referrals per shift and an alternative model might be a better use of "scarce" mental health resources.

Apology accepted, justice sought

Wang, speaking Thursday, hopes the Abbotsford police investigation into Kelowna RCMP will be fair and lead to justice.

She said she accepts Haugli's apology but wants to see reform of how police handle wellness checks.

Mona Wang, speaking Thursday, said she wanted the RCMP officer involved in her wellness check held accountable for her actions. (Harman/CBC)

"I think that's a lot more valuable to me than an apology," Wang said. "I hope that something happens but I wouldn't be surprised if nothing comes out of it. Which is really upsetting and sad to say."

More mental health nurses would be a step in the right direction, she added, but she wants police officers held accountable for their actions.

With files from Jodi Muzylowski, Liam Britten, Meera Bains and Tom Popyk