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Police and the head of one of B.C.’s key crisis centres say they want to see the province get creative and find a way to install suicide barriers on the Alex Fraser Bridge.
Completed in 1986, the cable-stayed span connecting Delta with Richmond and New Westminster is nearly a kilometre long and 154 metres high.
It’s also all too often the scene of crisis interventions. Between 2020 and 2022, Delta police have responded to 48 crisis or suicide attempt calls, and say at least six people have taken their lives from the span.
In January of this year, police were forced to condemn angry commuters who honked, yelled and harassed officers trying to de-escalate a situation with a person in crisis, prompting the bridge to be shut down for hours.
Delta police have been advocating for the installation of barriers on the bridge since 2016, but Chief Neil Dubord said they’ve been told that engineers don’t believe it would be safe.
“They’re afraid any additional weight may cause some engineering problems,” he said.
“We are frustrated to a certain extent — we understand the engineering requirements the bridge has and the difficulty they have in being able to put up barriers here. Unfortunately, it’s our officers who are responding to these crisis calls, and people are losing their lives because they’re jumping.”
After police reached out to the province about the issue in 2016, highly-visible emergency call boxes which connect to crisis counsellors 24/7 were installed along the span.
But the Ministry of Transportation told Global News current technology limits what else they can do.
“Unfortunately, the Alex Fraser Bridge was not designed to safely accommodate tall safety fencing, as any additional barrier or fencing would create stress on the structure — both in weight and aero-dynamics that could impact the stability of the bridge,” the ministry said in a statement.
Stacy Ashton, executive director of the Crisis Centre of B.C., said she’d like to see the province work with the engineering departments at B.C.’s universities to overcome that problem.
“I am not an engineer, but I would love to see engineers take up the challenge,” she told Global News.
The payoff, she said, will come in the form of human lives.
According to Ashton, barriers are 93 per cent effective in preventing suicide attempts.
“That also decreases suicides overall. There is a myth that people will just go somewhere else and die there, but that is a complete myth; we don’t see any evidence of that. So we strongly support suicide barriers.”
Ashton said the call boxes on bridges do have value, but that they don’t reduce the overall rate of attempts or incidents that require the deployment of first responders.
Barriers, she said, also make it safer for those first responders to intervene when there is an attempt.
She argued other major bridges in the region, including the Lions Gate and Granville Street bridges, should have barriers installed, and that the province should legislate their use in all new builds.
In the meantime, Delta police continue to provide emergency response, with officers trained in de-escalation and crisis management.
But that work takes a toll on both officers and the public.
“Each one of these crisis calls are delicate and take hours to resolve,” Dubord said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 9-1-1 for immediate help.
For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at suicideprevention.ca.
Learn more about preventing suicide with these warning signs and tips on how to help.