Debate in the B.C. Legislature on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2022 between West Vancouver-Capilano MLA Karin Kirkpatrick (Liberal), Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson, and Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar.
K. Kirkpatrick:The murder of Burnaby RCMP Constable Shaelyn Yang was a call for action to deal with the massive gaps and missed opportunities in mental health and addiction in this province. Nineteen months ago, Burnaby RCMP begged this government to establish a mental health car program, an integrated crisis response pairing police officers with trained mental health nurses. But the LePard report revealed a shocking fact. The NDP declined the city of Burnaby’s funding requests for a mental health police car model. “Fraser Health declined a proposal from Burnaby RCMP, even though the RCMP… were prepared to allocate a full-time officer, a vehicle and other equipment.”
To the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions: why did this NDP government decline the funding request to establish a safe and proven mental health police car program?
Hon. S. Malcolmson: The tragic death of the RCMP constable in Burnaby on the front line, doing some of the most difficult work that we ask our frontline people, public servants across the province to do, is heartbreaking. It weighs heavily on all of us. We send our condolences, of course, to her family and friends.
The intersection of mental health, substance use and public safety is, of course, something that’s preoccupying everybody, on both sides of the House. That we have, in multiple programs, a pairing of enforcement and of health care is a really important evolution and one that we’re expressing through our programs in many ways. Also, again, it’s important to assert that, for the most part, people with untreated mental health and addictions are not, themselves, violent. We don’t want to contribute to stigma that prevents people from stepping up and asking for health care support.
There are times that those pieces come together, and that’s why we commissioned the LePard-Butler report. It’s why we commissioned the Police Act review. It’s why, in a number of ways, in some cases through our car programs where there is a ride-along service, in other cases with peer-assisted crisis supports, like we are funding on the North Shore so that people in crisis aren’t, escalated by the presence of a police officer….
There is more work for us to do in this area, but we are gathering data and evidence on a number of platforms, led by a number of municipalities and a number of health authorities that are tackling this problem together in different ways.
Mr. Speaker: Member for West Vancouver–Capilano, supplemental.
K. Kirkpatrick:I’m not sure that the minister completely understood the question, so I am going to rephrase this.
It is not enough, and it is not fast enough, whatever is happening now. Pairing mental health support workers with police, like the Car 67 program in Surrey, is a proven approach. It’s happening in communities — community based and community funded — and we can show that it works.
Over the past five years, this opposition has called for these programs to be expanded. Seven months ago, the all-party police committee called for them to be expanded as well. Now government’s own LePard report calls it a proven approach blocked by the NDP. How many reports does this government need before they act?
I quote from the LePard report again, “they declined a proposal from Burnaby RCMP,” and “Fraser Health provided no explanation.” So this NDP government has ignored every suggestion that we have made related to the crisis on our streets without explanation. Why has the NDP blocked integrated mental health teams?
Hon. S. Malcolmson: I don’t agree at all with the member’s characterization.
I’ll go through a number of the programs where we are exactly tackling these problems with integrated police and mental health teams. There is more to come and more to do.
Vancouver Coastal Health has three car programs that are funded through the health authority: Vancouver, North Shore, Richmond. Fraser Health has Car 67 in Surrey. Interior Health has Kamloops and Kelowna. Northern Health has Prince George, Fort St. John, Terrace. Island Health has an integrated mobile response team in the capital region.
In many of the programs — where the previous government started them and we have continued to expand them, ACT teams — there is a police liaison. So the crisis on the front lines, in the streets — often with people who are unhoused — has a direct link to police, and this is what we heard through the Police Act review and through LePard-Butler that are working well and we need to expand.
Most encouragingly, and one that we have a lot of police support for is, instead of asking police to respond to mental health and crisis-on-the-street calls that, like on North Shore with the Peer Assisted Crisis Team, it is the peer worker team and the mental health worker team that respond. If they need police backup, then they are called in. We’ve got data on this from the first year. We’re funding this in two more communities. I hope we’ll fund it in more.
P. Milobar: Well the minister makes it sound like this government has expanded the car programs across this province, and they flat out have not. That is the core to the problem. Municipality after municipality has been asking for either expanded car services or, in the case of Burnaby, one to be started. They repeatedly get told by this government: “No.” So for the minister to talk about expanding these programs, it just simply isn’t happening under their watch. Full stop.
The NDP have actually taken the word police out of police assisted care teams. That doesn’t appear to be an accident. Internal Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions documents show that the NDP policy changes are designed to defund police mental health teams. The policy document claims that: “Police response can be retraumatizing and can contribute to stigma.”
In light of all the increased violence that mental health response teams are seeing on a day-to-day basis, this simply makes no sense. The NDP appear to be prioritizing their ideological opposition to police over police mental health teams that are proven to work and that communities desperately want expanded.
When will this government stop asking for yet another report to verify what, over the last five years, has become very clear: communities want these programs expanded?
Hon. S. Malcolmson: Again, I completely disagree with the member’s characterization. I know that the Minister of Public Safety will talk about all the ways we’re expanding support for police. I’ve certainly seen it in my own community in Nanaimo.
There’s no question there are times that a police response is needed, and that is why we support people working on the front line in this way. At the same time, team-based approaches are vital, and they are evidenced throughout our government’s approach, particularly in mental health and addictions, particularly in primary health care. And the linkage of police is vital to that. To say otherwise is completely ignoring the facts.
But let me say: the ACT teams in our communities deliver crisis intervention, housing supports and psychiatric treatment, always with the police linkage. The peer-assisted care teams, which I sometimes called peer-assisted crisis teams…. Sorry for the change in acronym. This program, that my ministry funds, doesn’t have police in the name, and it hasn’t, because they’re only called in when needed. Police asked for this in Victoria, in New West and in North Vancouver. We’ve got direct police involvement because they love the fact that they don’t have to get called.
North Shore PACT started operating November 2021. Since then, and until the end of August of this year, the team was contacted 448 times and only dispatched 75 times, because they were often able to give people the support that they needed. The PACT team only called for police intervention six times. That means that police keep doing the work of fighting the real crime and getting at the root of illegal drug dealing and the things that are exacerbating what’s on the street, and mental health workers and peer workers give people the care and de-escalation that sometimes is needed.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Kamloops–North Thompson, supplemental.
P. Milobar:5.5 years, 5.5 years, the opposition has been calling for the expansion of these programs. 5.5 years, mayors and councillors across this province have been calling for the expansion of these programs. The all-party police committee called for the expansion of these programs. Seven months ago, the LePard report cited that these are police mental health units as a proven approach. Yet the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions continues to stand up and be in the way of these proven results.
Kamloops has been trying for years to get their Car 40 program expanded. I’ve asked the minister directly, myself, in estimates about that. Prince George has been asking. Surrey’s been asking. Burnaby was flat out told no. Let that sink in for a second. Burnaby was flat out told no. Perhaps, given that Burnaby was directly asking for it and Burnaby was directly prepared to have the police resources and cars and equipment — all they needed was nursing help and support — can the minister explain why this government rejected Burnaby’s request for this specific program despite all of the reports over the years that have said that it’s a program that works and should be supported and expanded?
Hon. S. Malcolmson: Why the opposition continues to overlook the fact that peer-assisted care teams, which my ministry is expanding, were the number one recommendation in the LePard-Butler report, were also something that resulted from the all-party budget committee two summers ago, were also brought repeatedly to the Police Act review…. That is something that we are implementing right now — peer-assisted care teams. We’re going to do more. Police have called for them. It takes the pressure off police, and sometimes it gets better results on the ground.
In my own community in Nanaimo, there is a pairing through the health authority and the RCMP of some form of a ride-along program. Those programs do continue to expand. But these are health authority decisions about how they will use their health authority resources, knowing that nurses in particular are in short supply. Sometimes, health authorities make different decisions based on what is on the ground and what their own human resources limitations and restrictions are.
We know how difficult it is to hire nurses right now. But that said, let me be really clear. Let me be very clear. Our government continues to expand support for mental health and addictions. We continue to work very closely with police and with health authorities.
Hon. S. Malcolmson: I have never said no to Burnaby. Thank you for your heckling, Member. I have never said no to Burnaby. I continue to meet…
Mr. Speaker: Members. Members, let’s hear the answer, please. Members.
Hon. S. Malcolmson: I continue to work with municipal leaders, health authorities and police about the resources they need to keep people safe.
Source: B.C. Hansard.