TORONTO – The Ontario government says part of the $1.9 billion it has earmarked for mental health over the next decade will go to police to help first responders deal with mental health issues and to offer de-escalation training.
The announcement came after Premier Doug Ford met with Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, Mayor John Tory and Bill Blair, the federal minister of border security and organized crime reduction, to discuss gun violence in the wake of a fatal shooting spree in the city over the weekend.
Ottawa has promised to match the provincial mental health funding. The Ontario government said Tuesday it would draw from the pooled money to fund the police initiatives, but did not say how much would be allocated or when.
“The amounts at this point haven’t been determined, but one of the things that I’m very interested in is an integrated approach in terms of looking at how we deal with mental illness,” said Michael Tibollo, the minister of community safety and correctional services.
“I’ve been advocating not only utilizing funds to help the police forces, but also to train them how to deal with individuals that are suffering from mental health and addictions,” he said.
LISTEN: Premier Doug Ford on the Danforth Avenue mass shooting
“It’s also important that we think about the use of funds like that in education, because we can prevent about 25 per cent of the addictions by having kids taught the coping skills they need in early years.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she supports giving police the proper training to deal with those in crisis, but expressed concern that funding for other mental health services would be “watered down” as a result of the government’s decision.
“Let’s not forget that we need counselling services, we need psychiatrists, we need social workers, we need psychologists, both in the general population as well as with children and youth, and we need housing. We need supportive housing services as well,” she said.
The previous Liberal government, which was defeated in the spring election, had pledged to spend $2.1 billion over four years to rebuild the mental health system. The plan proposed to increase access to youth counselling and to hire hundreds of mental health workers to work in high schools, among other things.
The governing Tories said Tuesday that the initiatives included in the Liberal plan had been cancelled.
Sunday’s attack in Toronto’s Greektown claimed the lives of an 18-year-old woman and a 10-year-old girl and left 13 others wounded.
Authorities have identified the shooter as 29-year-old Faisal Hussain, who was found dead at the scene. Hussain’s parents have said their son struggled with psychosis and depression his entire life.
The premier said his meeting with federal and municipal officials also dealt with gun control and other issues.