The tragic death of Letisha Reimer, who died on Tuesday after a random stabbing inside her Abbotsford high school allegedly by a 21-year-old homeless man, has put the spotlight on mental health issues in B.C.
While not much is known about the mental status of suspect Gabriel Brandon Klein, he was admitted to Abbotsford Hospital on Tuesday night and certified by the Mental Health Act following his arrest, sources tell Global News.
On Wednesday, Klein was reportedly decertified by a psychiatrist, but indications show he remained in an unstable condition.
At an expected court appearance on Nov. 2, Klein failed to show. He refused to leave his cell and was not cooperating with police, to the point where they had to restrain him for his own safety, according to sources at the courthouse.
Early in their investigation, police reported Klein had no connection with Reimer or a second victim, now in stable condition. The motive of the random stabbing remains unknown.
With questions now arising about Klein’s mental health, his reported life on the streets, and possible drug use, some could point the finger at the lack of mental health resources in B.C. for letting this man slip through the cracks.
Self-reported data suggests 40 per cent of people who live on the street report dealing with a mental illness, and 53 per cent report addiction issues. Because they’re self-reported, those numbers could be much higher.
With almost 1,850 homeless counted in Vancouver this year, places like the Union Gospel Mission – a safe-haven for those who are homeless, living in poverty, or battling an addiction – can’t handle the growing demand.
“We will refer them to another treatment centre,” said Union Gospel Mission spokesperson Jeremy Hunka.
“Sometimes there’s a place open, but often times they’re waiting up to 90 days.”
Ninety days is a long time for someone with an addiction or a mental illness, and could mean the difference between life and death.
A recent report from B.C.’s auditor general reported the province wasn’t doing enough on the matter to help the estimated 714,000 people in B.C. with mental health or substance use needs.
“The Ministry of Health and health authorities collectively are not doing enough to ensure that people with serious mental health and/or substance use problems and illnesses can access the care they need,” wrote Carol Bellringer, auditor general.
The report also specifically highlighted gaps in the system that leave “patients with histories of extreme violence or current aggression as well as serious mental illness and/or substance use” out in the cold.
Many of those patients have been caught in criminal activity and been deemed not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial due to their mental illness. Those people usually end up in B.C.’s forensic psychiatry system, the report added.
Assessment and treatment is located at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital at Colony Farm in Coquitlam and six clinics across B.C.
But contrary to the detrimental stigma, few of those suffering from mental illness ever show any violent or aggressive behaviour.
In fact, people with mental health issues are more likely to be the victim of violence than a perpetrator, according to the same report.
Unfortunately, it is those rare cases of violence when conversations about improving treatment are sparked.
In 2014, a 27-year-old man was charged with two counts of aggravated assault after he randomly struck two men in the head with a hammer. It was believed mental illness and substance abuse played a role in the attack.
The year before, a 33-year-old was found not criminally responsible due to mental illness after he admitted to a stabbing rampage inside a West End apartment that left six people in hospital.
The B.C. government says it’s well on its way to improving the situation by delivering on promises for new spaces for both mental health and addiction patients.
“It takes time to catch up,” said health minister Terry Lake.
“I would say that in British Columbia we’re doing fairly well compared to the rest of Canada but all jurisdictions are struggling with mental health and substance use issues.”
Lake said the federal government’s contributions to health care funding over the years has fallen, but B.C. still spends a staggering amount on mental health annually: $1.4 billion.
But given the crisis on the streets, some ask, is it enough?
WATCH BELOW: Investigators won’t confirm if mental health played a role in a deadly stabbing at an Abbotsford school. Advocates are calling on the government for better resources, especially in light of a number of high profile incidents. Aaron McArthur reports.
–With files from Aaron McArthur and Rumina Daya