Toronto

Peel council passes motion to reduce police involvement in mental health calls

Peel Regional Council has passed a motion that aims to reduce the role of police in mental health calls in some situations.

Full implementation would require changes to provincial legislation

Peel Regional Council has passed a motion to change the way police and mental health professionals respond to calls for people in crisis. (Peel Regional Police)

Peel Regional Council has passed a motion that aims to reduce the role of police in mental health calls in some situations.

But the motion, which also asks for a plan to increase the number of the region's Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams (MCRRT), would need provincial cooperation to see widespread implementation.

Coun. Dipika Damerla, who moved the motion, called it a "fundamental shift" in the way officials would respond to mental health calls.

"It's something I've been very interested in for some time," she told CBC News, adding that the fatal shooting of Ejaz Choudhry by Peel police just brought the issue back to the forefront. Choudhry's family called a non-emergency line last month when the 62-year-old was in a mental health crisis, but in the end, he was killed.

The province's police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit, is examining the circumstances of his death.

"What this motion really does is to change the status quo and say if there is a crisis, we don't want police to be the only first responder," she said.

Crisis teams that pair police with mental health professionals do exist in other cities, like the COAST team in Hamilton and CAHOOTS in Oregon.

But on top of increasing the number of MCRRT teams in the region, the motion in Peel requests a delivery model where a mental health worker is either the lead or equal partner on calls with police, rather than a secondary option. Damerla did note that there would still be times when "the police have to take the lead, no question."

The motion also requests that the province open up the Mental Health Act and give workers other than police officers the power to apprehend people in a mental health crisis.

Damerla said she believes Peel is the first region in Ontario to ask for this sort of reform.

"I do hope the Ford government will be receptive to this. This is almost to me elementary," she said.

"I think there is an appetite for reform all around."

CBC News reached out to the province to ask about that possibility, but spokesperson Stephen Warner did not answer the question.

Instead, he responded in an email saying the province recognizes the "nature of policing and community safety has changed, especially when it comes to those with complex mental health needs."

Warner then went on to list investments the Ford government has made into mental health initiatives, including mobile crisis teams.

"We remain fully committed to working with our partners across government, the mental health and addictions sector, as well as our policing and public safety partners, to ensure that every Ontarian feels safe and secure in their communities, and have access to high-quality services, where and when they need them."

About the Author

Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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