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Wellness checks will be part of B.C. Police Act review: MLAs

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Jul 10, 2020 at 12:19 pm PDT

FILE - A screenshot from surveillance footage shows an RCMP officer stepping on a woman's head during a wellness check. (Courtesy Michael Patterson)
Summary

The province has appointed a new committee to review the 45-year-old Police Act

Surrey MLAs say harm reduction and mental health will be a focus of the review

Having mental health workers act as first-responders for wellness checks is a possible consideration

SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Two Surrey MLAs appointed to the B.C. committee reviewing the 45-year-old Police Act agree having mental health workers act as first-responders for wellness checks could be one reform.

Last month, the province agreed to review the Police Act following the death of George Floyd in the U.S. and the protests against racism and police brutality that followed around the world.

The review committee has yet to determine its work plan and what steps it will take.

However, both Surrey MLAs are harm reduction and mental health will be a focus of the review.

Surrey-Guildford MLA Garry Begg, one of the committee members and former RCMP officer for 38 years, said the Police Act needs to catch up to advancements made in recent years.

“In many cases, the police have not kept up with the changes in regards to mental health,” he added.

“I didn’t receive any advanced training on how to deal with people with mental illnesses or who were in psychotic states,” Begg said. “We have to understand these are issues, 45 years ago, were not even contemplated.”

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He said nothing is off the table when it comes to police reforms.

“Perhaps we should be looking at another form of intervention that either involves the police as backup or involves mental health workers as the first responders in those cases.”

Surrey-Green Timbers MLA Rachna Singh, also a committee member and former addictions councillor, said mental health professionals are better equipped to deal with wellness checks.

“I feel that maybe we have burdened the police with too much. It is a very, very complex issue, mental health. We might be looking at asking community organizations to deal with the mental health issues,” she said.

Singh also wants to hear from community members on what they feel needs to change.

“I would really like to know more form the public, and more from the stakeholders, how the police are feeling about it,” she said. “I’m quite optimistic about this committee reviewing it with that lens and looking at the changes that need to be done.”

The committee will provide a final report, including recommendations, to the legislative assembly in spring 2021.

Meanwhile, calls for justice are growing louder as four protests are planned for Saturday and the parents of a University of British Columbia Okanagan student injured during an RCMP wellness check are speaking out. Protests are planned for Kelowna, Richmond, Surrey, and Vancouver, while more than 370,000 people have signed a petition calling for justice.

–with files from Ash Kelly