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B.C. mental health group hopes police will change how wellness checks are conducted

Last Updated Jun 24, 2020 at 9:40 pm PDT

(Source: iStock)

Canadian Mental Health Association of BC CEO wants to see police change the way they handle wellness checks

CEO says it's not right that underfunding of health programs leads to police becoming a catch-all for those situations

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — One of Canada’s largest mental health groups wants police to change how they deal with wellness checks.

Johnny Morris is the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association of B.C., and he says police shouldn’t resort to killing those they are supposed to be checking in on.

He says when it comes to responding to wellness checks, there needs to be a health response – not calls to the police.

“We’ve become overly reliant on the police force to provide mental health and social care, and the balance needs to shift back to a health response to people experiencing a mental health or a substance use crisis,” Morris says.

The association has several recommendations for improving emergency crisis responses in B.C.

Recommendations include investing in community based mental health programs and re-evaluating de-escalation training for police officers.

Morris says that responding to a mental health issue requires a more medical response than a de-escalation.

“If we’re thinking about the topic of wellness checks, we should be thinking about responses where it might be skilled and highly trained mental health workers alongside highly trained and skilled paramedics as a first response. That would be really key.”

He also says it’s a shame the system has produced a scenario where police become the be-all-end-all for many different calls.

“Officers who are responding to situations sometimes go in knowingly – they know what’s coming at them, and sometimes go in unknowingly – they don’t have the information.”

A heavy spotlight has been on police forces’ practices around the world for a full month now since the death of George Floyd in the U.S. last month.

– With files from Tarnjit Parmar