Canada’s largest psychiatric facility is throwing its support behind mounting calls to remove officers from the front lines for people in mental health emergencies.
“It’s clear we need a new way forward,” the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto said Tuesday.
The move follows a string of deaths involving people in crisis, including Ejaz Choudry — a 62-year-old father of four with schizophrenia killed by police in Mississauga, Ont., after his family called a non-emergency line.
Choudry was the third Canadian in crisis to be killed by police over the past month. On June 4, Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old Indigenous woman, was shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.
Eight days later, Rodney Levi, 48, was fatally shot by the RCMP in New Brunswick. The chief of his First Nation community later described him as troubled but not violent.
D’Andre Campbell, 26, was fatally shot in April in Brampton, Ont., after his family says he called 911 for help.
“For too long, the health-care system has relied on police to respond to mental health crises in the community,” CAMH said in its statement.
“Mental Health is health. This means that people experiencing a mental health crisis need health care.
“Police should not be first responders. Police are not trained in crisis care and should not be expected to lead this important work.”
Racism compounds crisis interactions, giving rise to the “tragic outcomes” Canada has seen recently, CAMH added.
In Toronto, mobile mental health teams consist of a registered nurse and police officer, but are mandated only to provide secondary responses. Police officers alone remain the first responders, particularly for calls involving a weapon.
WATCH | Ontario shooting death raises questions about sending armed officers to mental health calls:
That was the case in the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a 29-year old Black woman who fell to her death in Toronto after police were called to her home for reports of an assault involving a knife.
In the days afterward, police chief Mark Saunders said: “There’s no way I would send a nurse into a knife fight.”
Nearby Peel Region has a similar model: the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, launched in January, deploys from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. every day. But whether the teams serve as first responders or take a secondary role depends on the nature of the call, the force told CBC News.
John Sewell, former Toronto mayor and now the co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, says his organization has called on the Toronto Police Services Board to have a mental health nurse paired with a plainclothes officer respond to calls for people in crisis.
At every turn, he says, he’s been met with resistance.
‘The result is that people get killed’
“The board has consistently refused and said we’ve got to send the armed, uniformed officers first,” he told CBC News. “Well, the result is that people get killed.”
As for the argument that armed officers are needed because a situation might be violent, Sewell says trained mental health professionals handle such situations regularly and are trained in de-escalation — something that police aren’t primarily trained to do.
“When someone has had experiences with people in uniform that involved in some way being restrained or tackled… there might be a certain amount of scar tissue so to speak when they’re put into a similar situation,” said David Gratzer, staff psychiatrist at CAMH, emphasizing the vast majority of people with mental health issues are not violent.
“Mental health professionals deal with agitated patients frequently and they understand that certain techniques can be highly successful.”
Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of Toronto’s police board from 2005 to 2015, says he was encouraged to see more mobile crisis units added during his time there, but says the program falls short because they don’t operate around the clock and aren’t designated as first responders.
“That’s where we hit a road block,” he said.
Board ‘willing to explore’ other models
Of the nearly one million phone calls Toronto police receive every year, about 30,000 are mental health related, the force has said. Across Canada, from 2000 to 2017, a CBC News investigation previously found, 70 per cent of the people who died in police encounters struggled with mental health issues, substance abuse or both.
In an email to CBC News, Toronto Police Services Board Chair Jim Hart said the board remains “very supportive” of the existing mobile crisis team program, but that it is “committed to working to explore enhancements of and alternatives to this concept.
“The board is also willing to explore and consider other models that would provide better service to those in our community experiencing mental health or addiction issues; these models may include these services delivered by mental health experts without police,” Hart said.
All of the above cases are being investigated by the relevant police oversight agencies.
In a statement, the Peel Regional Police Board said while it couldn’t comment on individual cases, “these deaths are a tragic reminder that there is much work to be done,” adding that the incidents will inform the board’s work on key issues including community engagement, strategic planning and the upcoming budget.
As Ontario’s police watchdog has itself pointed out, however, officers at the centre of cases involving serious injury or death of civilians cannot be compelled to turn over their notes or participate in interviews with the Special Investigations Unit.
Some say that means the SIU itself lacks the teeth to fully investigate allegations of police wrongdoing.
Asked Tuesday if the province would consider amending the legislation, Jenessa Crognali, spokesperson for Ontario’s attorney general said the rules stem from “principles against self-incrimination.”
She said those rules will remain even after the current Police Services Act is replaced with the Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act, passed earlier this year.
As for whether police services being funded through taxpayer money means officers should be compelled to answer to an oversight body, Crognali did not answer.
What you need to know about the coronavirus right now
(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
Hundreds of scientists say there is evidence that the novel coronavirus in smaller particles in the air can infect people and they are calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) to revise its recommendations, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
However, the health agency said the evidence for the virus being airborne was not convincing, according to the NYT.
“Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence,” Dr Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead of infection prevention and control, was quoted as saying.
India now has the world’s third-highest number of novel coronavirus cases behind Brazil and the United States, at nearly 700,000, according to the latest data, as the outbreak shows no sign of slowing.
India has seen eight times the number of cases as China, which has a similar-sized population and is where the virus originated late last year.
Late on Sunday, India cancelled the planned reopening of the Taj Mahal, citing the risk of coronavirus infections spreading in the city of Agra from visitors flocking to see India’s most famous monument.
Agra, site of one of India’s first big clusters of the virus, remains the worst-affected city in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state.
Not since the Spanish flu
Officials are closing the border between Australia’s two most populous states from Tuesday for an indefinite period as they scramble to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus in the city of Melbourne.
The decision marks the first time the border between Victoria and New South Wales has been shut in 100 years. Officials last blocked movement between the two states in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic. Victoria’s only other internal border, with South Australia state, is already closed.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, has surged in recent days, prompting authorities to enforce strict social-distancing orders in 30 suburbs and put nine public housing towers into complete lockdown.
Hydroxychloroquine and HIV drugs off the table
The WHO said on Saturday that it was discontinuing its trials of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and combination HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir in hospitalised patients with COVID-19 after they failed to reduce mortality.
The setback came as the WHO also reported more than 200,000 new cases globally of the disease for the first time in a single day.
The U.N. agency said the decision, taken on the recommendation of the trial’s international steering committee, does not affect other studies where those drugs are used for non-hospitalised patients or as a prophylaxis.
Kicking in place
Soccer-mad Argentines in the farmbelt city of Pergamino have devised a clever way to keep playing while avoiding risk of spreading COVID-19: a human foosball pitch with zones for each player to avoid physical contact.
The game, known as “metegol humano” divides the pitch into rectangular zones with white lines limiting where a player can move – helping to enforce social distancing, though limiting slide tackles or pitch-length dribbles with the ball.
Two teams of five players – a goalkeeper, a defender, a midfielder and two forwards – can take part, said Gustavo Cuiffo, a creator of the project.
Seen from above, the demarcated court resembles a large foosball table – though with real people and no swivel handles.
“It is the first time I have kicked in several months,” said Gustavo Santapaola, who took part in a match at the Play Fútbol ground. “I honestly tell you, I am excited.”
(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Britain to put nearly $2 billion into arts to help survival
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will invest nearly $2 billion in cultural institutions and the arts to help a sector that has been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday.
Theatres, opera houses and ballet companies have been left without a live audience for months.
Though English museums and cinemas can re-open with strict social distancing in the latest easing of lockdown which began on Saturday, guidelines still dictate no live performances at theatres or concert halls.
That has created an existential crisis for much of the sector, which has been vocal in calling on the government for support.
“This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down,” Johnson said in a statement.
The government said the 1.57-billion pound ($1.96 billion) investment was the biggest ever in Britain’s culture sector.
It said that Britain’s museums, art galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues would be protected through emergency grants and loans.
The government will consult with figures from Arts Council England, the British Film Institute and other specialist bodies on awarding grants, while it said repayable finance would be issued on affordable terms.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout, Editing by Timothy Heritage)
Nearly 40 feared dead as torrential rains hit southwest Japan
TOKYO (Reuters) – Nearly 40 people were feared dead as torrential rains continued to hit Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu, with river banks at risk of bursting on Monday morning and new evacuation orders put in place.
Flooding and mudslides that began at the weekend torrential rains killed 21 people so far. A further 18 people were showing no vital signs and presumed dead pending official confirmation, and 13 people were missing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.
“I offer my deepest condolences for those who have passed from the torrential rains,” Suga said, adding that some 40,000 members of the Self-Defence Force were involved in rescue missions.
He added that evacuation centres were also working on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus by distributing disinfectant and asking evacuees to maintain their distance from each other.
As of Saturday, some 200,000 have been ordered to evacuate their homes, according to Kyodo news agency.
The floods are Japan’s worst natural disaster since Typhoon Hagibis in October last year that left about 90 people dead.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Michael Perry)
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