The Students’ Union of UBC Okanagan is calling for change following allegations that a Kelowna, B.C., police officer mistreated a university student during a wellness check earlier this year.
The incident, which was captured on video and has garnered national attention, involved nursing student Mona Wang, who was allegedly in mental distress on Jan. 20.
“It was shocking and genuinely saddening to see the way the student was treated, especially on a wellness check by an officer,” said Ali Poostizadeh, UBCSUO president.
According to a civil lawsuit, Wang’s boyfriend called 911 while Wang was in mental distress and asked for a health check.
The building where the incident occurred is located off-campus.
Part of the interaction between Wang and the RCMP officer, Const. Lacy Browning, was captured on the building’s surveillance camera.
Video footage shows the student being dragged down the hallway by Browning.
In the civil claim, Wang states that Browning handcuffed her and dragged her down a hallway after finding her lying semiconscious on the bathroom floor, next to empty pill bottles.
The lawsuit also states that as a result of the incident, Wang suffered bruises to her face plus broken blood vessels in her left eye, a swollen right eye and bruising to her right temple.
“This is not just an isolated issue,” said Poostizadeh. “This isn’t just an American issue or an issue in major cities across Canada.
“This is an issue in law enforcement in North America and around the world, and it’s important that we raise these issues when they come up.”
Poostizadeh told Global News he’s saddened it takes a video to bring attention to the problem of excessive police force.
“We are in this cycle where it takes a video to bring awareness to it and it takes a video to cause outrage,” he said.
“I think about how many of these aren’t happening on video and aren’t happening in the lobby where there is a security camera pointed at it.”
In a news release issued late Tuesday, the students’ union said the public has responsibility to speak up when it sees injustice and inequality in the systems meant to protect people.
With that in mind, the students’ union is calling for a number of changes, including:
- A review of UBC protocol for situations where students require immediate mental health support.
- Increased funding for mental health resources, and other community support.
- An external review of RCMP wellness check protocol.
- Meaningful consequences for RCMP officers who have abused their position of power.
- Greater accountability from all levels of government on issues of police brutality and excessive use of force.
“This is a provincial and a federal issue,” Poostizadeh said. “It isn’t just a municipal issue and this isn’t just an issue in one branch of the RCMP.
“This is across Canada and it’s important that our government continue investing and open up new avenues of investment into services to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Poostizadeh said he hopes the troubling incident highlights the urgent need for more appropriate resources to deal with mental health emergencies.
“Wellness checks should be conducted by nursing professionals that are trained in mental health and are trained in this kind of stuff,” he said.
“We understand that it might be necessary to have a police officer on call if there’s a wellness check, but it should never be a police officer walking into a room with somebody who’s going through something like that.”