A former Mountie turned BC Liberal MLA is calling for more mental health supports after kicking a knife away from a man in crisis outside a White Rock café on Tuesday.
Elenore Sturko, who represents Surrey South, was sitting at Laura’s Coffee Corner with a friend around 2:15 p.m., when she said a stranger approached the patio and began shouting at customers. That’s when he pulled a hunting knife out from beneath his clothing, she added, prompting the shop owner and her friend to call 911.
“In my previous career as a police officer, I’ve dealt with people with mental health issues and in crisis before,” Sturko told Global News on Wednesday.
“Based on what I saw, yeah it was a threatening sort of situation, but gratefully, the person ended up fumbling their knife on the ground and I didn’t hesitate.”
Security footage shows Sturko walking up to the man; he drops the knife, she steps on it and kicks it behind her. The video then shows another customer kicking the knife too, before someone picks it up and brings it inside the shop, whose doors were locked shortly afterward.
Laura Cornale, the owner of Laura’s Coffee Corner, said the entire incident was “a bit traumatic.”
“Thank God Elenore was here, a fluke accident, having coffee here and kind of saving the day getting the weapon out of his hand. It could have been a lot worse … That’s what keeps going through my mind — what could have happened.”
At that time of day, Cornale added, the coffee shop is often busy with parents and school children.
White Rock RCMP confirmed the suspect is in custody, the knife was seized as evidence and criminal charges are pending. The man was scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday morning.
“No customers or members of the public were hurt in this incident, however, we understand this situation could have been frightening to witness,” wrote Const. Chantal Sears in a news release. “RCMP victim services are available free of charge to anyone needing emotional and/or trauma support.”
Just before RCMP arrived, Sturko said the man’s mother turned up at the coffee shop. When she told her the police would arrive soon, the mother was reportedly grateful.
“She said, ‘You know what? Good, I can’t get help for my son, I need help,'” Sturko recalled. “We shouldn’t have to wait for a crisis like this for a family to receive help for their adult child.”
Sturko is a former Royal Canadian Air Force and RCMP officer in Langley, Yellowknife, Ottawa, and Surrey. She was elected to the legislature last September and serves as the shadow minister for mental health, addiction, recovery and education.
She said the White Rock café incident, while “really unsettling,” is an opportunity to advocate for more mental health supports. She said she would like to see legislative changes to get help to those who are unable to navigate the system on their own, who are unable to access services, or who are not in a position to ask for help.
“Having seen this many times in my former career as a police officer where families are struggling, particularly when it comes to adult children with psychiatric issues who are trying to receive help, it is extremely frustrating and I understand that,” Sturko said.
“This is exactly one of the reasons why I wanted to get into this role as an MLA so that I could work on these things with the government, put that pressure on.”
At an unrelated long-term care announcement in Vancouver on Wednesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix told Global News the province has added more resources to mental health and addictions services than any other area of health care “by a significant margin.”
A new specialized mental health and substance use facility was completed at the Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock late last year, but was not in use as of the end of January.
Dix said the facility — which includes two private quiet rooms, a patient exam room, a seclusion room, a waiting area and a nursing station — is now “open,” but the province is in the process of hiring more staff for it to be “fully open.”