Mental health court planned for fall, say Edmonton judges

Assistant Chief Judge Larry Anderson speaks to the media at Edmonton City Hall Thursday, June 22, 2017. Global News

A new form of court is expected to be in place this fall, that deals specifically with individuals who have mental health issues.

Plans were unveiled Thursday to the Edmonton Police Commission.

“The idea will be then to make the court a funnel of knowledge as it relates to the needs and potential responses and best responses to that mental health population,” said Assistant Chief Judge Larry Anderson, who expects the specialized court will not be fully operational with all aspects of what the final vision holds, but will do what’s needed to assist individuals who get lost in the current adversarial format of court.

“We’re going to assess things as we move along and see where the needs are and adapt accordingly”

Anderson told the commissioners that every day, 150 people come through docket court and, “if statistics are correct and applicable to Edmonton, probably at least 10 per cent and probably 25 per cent of those persons have mental health needs.”

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The court will have a judge trained in how to deal with individuals with mental health issues. The Crown and duty counsel will also have training, while mental health specialists – and others who can stickhandle the housing situation – will also be on hand to assist.

“What we’re really trying to do here is to slow the system down so that we have a court that listens, that is able to provide assistance to individuals and still look after the safety of the public,” said provincial court judge Renée Cochard.

Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht estimates at least one quarter of police calls deal with individuals with mental illness.

“Whether it’s somebody in a homeless situation, somebody that’s addicted, or somebody that’s just suffering an episode for whatever reason,” he said.

“I think this is a great idea, I think this is a great approach, I think a lot of these folks are falling through the cracks or are just being moved along in the system or released or going to jail. I really support the judiciary for taking this on. I think it’s a great idea.”

READ MORE: Mental health calls, ER waits tying up Edmonton police, says chief

He said this proposed system should eventually save time and money. He also updated the commission on a project to refurbish the vacant Edmonton Remand Centre as a Wellness Centre to assist addicts and others with mental illness.

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Knecht said progress is being made because there is strong communication now with social agencies, all levels of government, as well as the private sector and the philanthropic community who is willing to assist in the renovation of the building.

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