The mayor of the District of Saanich is trying to push the B.C. government into making changes on how mental health calls are handled.
Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes and Coun. Susan Brice both want the provincial government to provide the district with proper funding, a new policy and legal frameworks to support a new system of addressing calls for those experiencing a mental health crisis — all of which would be administered through the Ministry of Health.
“The aim here is to say let’s look again at how were dispatching the support services for those going into a mental health crisis,” said Haynes.
On Monday night, Saanich Council voted unanimously on a motion that would see the district send a letter to the province formally outlining their request for additional support and funding.
Saanich currently has mental health teams who help police attend the calls, but not on a full-time basis.
“Right now in Saanich we have a holistic team, which includes medical practitioners, nurses, child and youth counsellors that go out during certain times of the day when there’s a mental health call crisis, the problem is outside the hours those teams are available it all falls on the police,” Haynes said.
Const. Markus Anastasiades, media relations officer with the Saanich Police Department told CHEK in a statement that by default, police agencies have been required to fill the void created by funding cuts in social and medical welfare systems, which often places police officers in an untenable position.
“For example, the defunding of mental health services by governments over the years means that the police are often the only ones available to call to situations where a social worker or mental health professional would have been more appropriate,” he said.
Currently, mental health calls go through 911, or the information line known as 811. However, Coun. Brice, who previously served as B.C.’s Minister of State for Mental Health and Addiction Services says neither of those are sufficient solutions.
“Often times, both family or the individual themselves have a need for assistance and neither 911 or 811 meet those particular needs. The 911 is scoured with action, emergency response obviously, and 811 is health-related but more of an information piece.” Brice said.
Last July, the province put together a committee of MLA’s to review B.C.’s current police act, and on Monday the committee opened up the consultation process for all British Columbians to give their input until April 30.
“This is a fantastic opportunity, it’s a once-in-generation opportunity and I encourage everyone to consider putting in their inputs,” said Haynes.