British Columbia

Victoria police board joins union's call for more mental-health services in wake of fatal shooting

The mayors of Victoria and Esquimalt, in their roles as co-chairs of their regional police board, are joining calls for better support services in B.C. for people with complex mental health needs.

Man killed by police in Victoria on Sunday following a standoff near a busy mall

Emergency responders at Douglas Street and Tolmie Avenue in Victoria, where a man was shot and killed by police on Sept. 12. (CHEK News)

The mayors of Victoria and Esquimalt, in their roles as co-chairs of their regional police board, are joining calls for better support services in B.C. for people with complex mental health needs.

It comes after a man was shot and killed by Victoria police following a standoff near a busy shopping mall on Sunday. According to the Victoria City Police Union (VCPU), it was the second time in six months a union member had to discharge a firearm to resolve a violent and dangerous situation.

Both the union and the board want to see more government services provided to people in need to better protect these individuals, the public and police from future violence.

"There are not enough services available for people, nor are there the right kinds of services for those who most need them," said Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins in a joint statement.

"Our officers are being left to pick up the pieces and fill the gaps in what are revolving doors in the criminal justice system and the health system."

Helps condemned recent assaults against officers.

"It's absolutely unacceptable. The police are working in incredibly difficult circumstances in the fourth wave of a global health pandemic that is now 18 months long," she told CBC's On The Island. 

"It's not good working conditions for anyone."

System not working

Bill C-75, which came into effect nationally in 2019, legislated a "principle of restraint" that requires police to release an accused person at the earliest possible opportunity after considering the risk they pose to public safety and the likelihood they will attend court.

The mayors say it is "clearly not working" to release people back into the community with high mental health needs and it can put both them and police in harm's way.

A statement from the union says it is concerned with several other recent occurrences in which officers and members of the public have been assaulted, including the random attack of a five-year-old boy and the hospitalization of two officers after they were assaulted by a man with possible mental health issues.

'We need police reform'

Kash Heed, a former B.C. solicitor general and municipal police chief, says police in this province are too often relied upon to navigate complex mental health situations and that policy makers need to make changes now.

"They need to understand what needs to be done and we need more of a grassroots approach," said Heed, speaking to host Gregor Craigie of CBC's On The Island

"We need police reform." 

He said people in crisis are often more hostile to uniformed officers than someone thoroughly trained to deal with people experiencing mental health issues.

Southern Vancouver Island has an Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team, made up of mental health workers and plain-clothes officers, that can respond to people in crisis.

While this is a step in the right direction, Heed says, policymakers need to be continually evaluating these programs to see how they are faring and how they can be improved.

He said because policing protocols in B.C. are dictated by the provincial Police Act, it is the province that needs to spearhead necessary policy changes.

A special committee of the B.C. legislature was appointed in July 2020 to review the Police Act with plans to modernize how forces respond to mental-health and substance-use calls. That results of the review were expected in May 2021, but their release has been pushed back to April 28, 2022.

With files from On The Island

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