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Canada's largest mental health hospital calls for removal of police from front lines |BCI CANADA


Canada's largest psychiatric facility is throwing its support behind mounting calls to remove officers from the front lines for people in mental health emergencies.

"It's clear we need a new way forward," the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto said Tuesday.

The move follows a string of deaths involving people in crisis, including Ejaz Choudry — a 62-year-old father of four with schizophrenia killed by police in Mississauga, Ont., after his family called a non-emergency line.

Choudry was the third Canadian in crisis to be killed by police over the past month. On June 4, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.


Eight days later, Rodney Levi, 48, was fatally shot by the RCMP in New Brunswick. The chief of his First Nation community later described him as troubled but not violent.

D'Andre Campbell, 26, was fatally shot in April in Brampton, Ont., after his family says he called 911 for help.

"For too long, the health-care system has relied on police to respond to mental health crises in the community," CAMH said in its statement.

"Mental Health is health. This means that people experiencing a mental health crisis need health care.

"Police should not be first responders. Police are not trained in crisis care and should not be expected to lead this important work."

Racism compounds crisis interactions, giving rise to the "tragic outcomes" Canada has seen recently, CAMH added.

In Toronto, mobile mental health teams consist of a registered nurse and police officer, but are mandated only to provide secondary responses. Police officers alone remain the first responders, particularly for calls involving a weapon.

That was the case in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year old Black woman who fell to her death in Toronto after police were called to her home for reports of an assault involving a knife.

In the days afterward, police chief Mark Saunders said: "There's no way I would send a nurse into a knife fight."

Nearby Peel Region has a similar model: the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, launched in January, deploys from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. every day. But whether the teams serve as first responders or take a secondary role depends on the nature of the call, the force told CBC News. 

John Sewell, former Toronto mayor and now the co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, says his organization has called on the Toronto Police Services Board to have a mental health nurse paired with a plainclothes officer respond to calls for people in crisis.

At every turn, he says, he's been met with resistance.


'The result is that people get killed'


"The board has consistently refused and said we've got to send the armed, uniformed officers first," he told CBC News. "Well, the result is that people get killed."

As for the argument that armed officers are needed because a situation might be violent, Sewell says trained mental health professionals handle such situations regularly and are trained in de-escalation — something that police aren't primarily trained to do.