B.C. police watchdog clears officers after Nanaimo woman injured during mental health call

B.C. police watchdog clears officers after Nanaimo woman injured during mental health call
WatchB.C. police watchdog report says use of force by Nanaimo RCMP officers "justified" during mental health call in Nanaimo last May.

Last June Shanna Blanchard described a frightening encounter with Nanaimo RCMP during a mental health call that left her seriously injured.

After an argument, Blanchard’s 21-year-old son called 911 because he was worried she would harm herself. After arriving an officer told Blanchard she was being apprehended under the Mental Health Act.

“And I stood up immediately and said no you’re not, and he punched me so hard,” Blanchard told CHEK News at the time.

READ MORE: ‘I was going to die there’: Nanaimo woman injured during RCMP wellness check

But a report by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) of B.C. says Blanchard was “actively fighting against and attempting to harm the officers”, concluding that a single, measured strike to the face was “justified, necessary and proportionate”.

The report has concluded with the officers cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

The incident ended with Blanchard in a spit hood, screaming, as she was seen on surveillance video being escorted to a police cruiser. That’s when she says she couldn’t breathe because blood from her face was pooling in the hood.

“I was going to die there, that was it, I couldn’t breathe,” a tearful Blanchard said at the time.

“While the IIO report admits “the use of a spit hood in this case was contrary to police policy”, it adds that “in the circumstances, it made sense and was at most a technical breach of policy”.

While the IIO may not have found an offense was committed, some say it’s yet another example that we need a better system for mental health calls.

“There’s a difference between no wrongdoing and doing things the best way we can to support people,” said Kendra Milne, executive director of Vancouver-based Health Justice.

“It really is about making sure that when people are in need of health supports, they’re getting a health response, it’s not the time we need guns and we need force, we need folks that are really adequately trained and are specialists in how to respond to crisis,” Milne said.

Shanna Blanchard says she plans to request a review of the IIO’s decision and a meeting with the director. She has also filed a civil claim against the officers involved.

In a statement, her lawyer says “we disagree with the Director’s conclusion that no offence was committed by an officer against Ms. Blanchard.”

It goes on to say “it is incomprehensible that five officers could not safely control Ms. Blanchard and caused her substantial injuries, including the loss of teeth, a broken nose, broken facial bones, bruising and psychological trauma.”

“Ms. Blanchard will continue to pursue her legal rights and remedies in the civil courts.”

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April LawrenceApril Lawrence

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