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Police aren’t well-trained for mental health and wellness checks, says Vancouver-based advocate

A Vancouver-based advocate says police in Canada aren't trained to respond to mental health related calls, and often escalate the situation further.
A Vancouver-based advocate says police in Canada aren't trained to respond to mental health related calls, and often escalate the situation further. File / Global News

After an Indigenous woman from B.C. was shot dead by police in New Brunswick who had been asked to check on her wellbeing, a Vancouver-based advocacy group says police are the wrong people to respond to those calls.

Twenty-six-year-old Chantel Moore had just recently moved to Edmunston, N.B., from Port Alberni, B.C.

Edmunston police sent an officer to her apartment to check on her around 2:30 a.m. on June 4, after a friend reported seeing concerning posts on her Facebook profile.

Police said Moore allegedly attacked the officer with a knife as soon as the door opened, and the officer shot her dead.

Meenakshi Mannoe with the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver says police are forced to attend mental health and wellness check calls because there are limited resources to call on other professionals — but that officers are not trained to handle these situations.

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READ MORE: Indigenous woman from B.C. dead after police shooting in Edmundston, N.B.

“We do have untrained or improperly trained people attending these calls, being police, who don’t have the tools to deescalate, whose main tool is force,” Mannoe said.

“They’re also coming with all these negative preconceptions of what someone with mental health issues looks like, acts like, responds to them with.”

Mannoe said that means police often end up escalating the situation — and that leads to a disproportionate number of Black and Indigenous Canadians dying or being hurt by police.

“Imagine being in a really bad place mentally, feeling really unsafe, and then being met by someone who’s attending who’s armed, in a uniform, who you may perceive as threatening or you may have had interactions that may have led you to believe, rightfully, that they could threaten your safety.”

READ MORE: ‘Disturbing’ police violence against Indigenous people will be investigated: Trudeau

Mannoe said the problem goes beyond police training, though. She said a number of factors have led up to this “crisis point”, starting with the de-institutionalization of mental health care, which led to people with mental illnesses not being properly resourced to live in the community.

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“Many folks ended up street-involved (and) self-medicating because their health issues were not properly met, and they were not maybe respectfully cared for by physicians,” Manno said.

“So self-medicating by substances.”

Mannoe said people with mental illnesses are much less likely to have stable housing, access to health care or safe supply of substances, and basic income.

“All of those interventions would actually keep people much safer than armed officers attending their home.”

Mannoe said racialized people are disproportionately impacted by police violence in Canada.

READ MORE: VPD officers discriminated against Indigenous mother, says BC Human Rights Tribunal

‘There’s no doubt that police violence, police attendance at mental health calls does disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous and other racialized people. There are a myriad of reasons for that ranging from lived experiences to inter-generational trauma,” Mannoe said.

“But again, for those reasons, police are absolutely the most inappropriate people to come and respond to crises.”

Global News has asked the Vancouver Police Department and the B.C. RCMP for information on how they train officers to handle mental health calls and wellness checks.

But the president of Vancouver Police Union disagrees that officers are not well-trained for mental health situations.

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“Our members are very, very well-trained here in Canada, and particularly in Vancouver. The training programs we have are exceptional,” Ralph Kaisers told Global News.

“We are trained to deal with people who are dealing with mental health crises. Especially crisis negotiation, deescalation — we’re all trained in it, we do it day in and day out.”

Meanwhile, Moore’s family is demanding answers on why she was shot by an officer sent to check on her well-being.

“Doesn’t make sense to us. Why couldn’t he have used a Taser? Why did he go in alone? I’ve never heard of that, a cop going in by himself,”  Moore’s aunt, Nora Martin, told Global News on Thursday.

Late Thursday, an independent police watchdog from Quebec confirmed it will look into the shooting.

The New Brunswick RCMP is providing investigative and forensic support.

READ MORE: First Nations demand immediate action in death of Chantel Moore in Edmundston, N.B.

Meanwhile in B.C., the Independent Investigations Office is looking into an incident in Lake Country the day before Moore died on the other side of Canada.

In a release, the IIO said Lake Country RCMP responded to a man’s residence around 1 a.m. on June 3 for a welfare check.

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“Officers reported that, during their interaction with the man, he harmed himself with a weapon, sustaining serious injuries,” reads the release.

“Officers began first aid and managed to move the man to a safe location for emergency medical assistance.”

The man was later taken to hospital.

READ MORE: Charges to be considered against 5 RCMP officers in Prince George, B.C., man’s death

The IIO is now looking into whether police actions or inactions led to the man’s injuries.