Dozens of police with assault rifles took over the corner of Pandora Avenue and Vancouver Street Sunday night.
At the centre of the standoff was an Indigenous woman allegedly seen holding a knife and stabbing the ground, making what Victoria Police called “concerning comments” to people walking by.
“She was sitting, but she looked 5’4″, maybe 120 pounds,” said Lacey Jones, an outreach worker and director of QomQem Coastal Connections which offers Indigenous harm reduction and health services.
Jones is one of roughly 12 Indigenous outreach workers in Victoria which make up the grassroots Indigenous Outreach Worker (IOW) Network.
Meet the Indigenous Outreach Workers (IOW) Network. We are made up of Indigenous Outreach Workers who come from different organizations such as: PHS, Pacifica, @ourplacesociety, Umbrella Society @umbrellavictoria, VIHA Indig outreach team, Peers, and ACEH.
(Cont in 2nd image) pic.twitter.com/6yu5jxksqE
— Peers Victoria (@PeersVictoria) November 17, 2021
Jones says she was alerted to the woman in crisis last night by other service providers who learned the woman was Indigenous and suggested she come to help with de-escalation.
Jones says she identified herself to Victoria Police. She says officers told her that because she didn’t know the woman personally, she wouldn’t be allowed to help.
“We were denied just to be able to go in to offer support. Police told me to go down the road in the park,” said Jones.
Instead, for seven hours, a range of police officers from the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team to crisis negotiators appeared to wait the woman out.
“Officers began to work to build trust with the person to help resolve the incident safely…At one point officers delivered food to the person in crisis…It took many tools and skills to resolve this situation safely, not only for the person in crisis but for those nearby as well,” said Bowen Osoko, Victoria Police spokesperson.
Jones says she’s discouraged that her cultural knowledge and help was overlooked.
“I have to say I’m really disappointed,” said Jones.”Being denied so quickly, I think that last night shows that there is a long way to go for police to really be working in an efficient way to be able to offer support to people that are experiencing these issues. ”
While outreach workers were not allowed to help in this case, response to calls for people in crisis will look different in a few months.
By October, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says it will have its new peer-led crisis response teams (PACT) ready to respond to situations similar to Sunday’s.
“In light of yesterday, arguably a co-response or a mental health worker with police so you can pivot backward and forwards would be the best fit,” said Jonny Morris of CMHA.
“We don’t anticipate a 24/7 service from the outset with this current funding envelope, but aiming for coverage that complements and aligns existing service.”
Victoria Police says when weapons are involved they’ll always respond, but are looking forward to people in crisis having more resources.
“VicPD is a very strong supporter of PACT…We’re partners who have been part of the process since the beginning,” said Osoko.
And although there was a peaceful resolution to this woman in crisis, Jones hopes the response framework will look different moving forward.
“There are other responses out there,” said Jones. “Indigenous folks we know what each other needs, and it’s tough to think we’re again being denied our own agency and ability to hold one another up.”
Victoria Police sent an updated statement to CHEK News Tuesday saying “Indigenous perspectives are not being overlooked in responses to mental health crisis – they’re very much a part of the PACT partnership.”