N.B. mental health advocates call for less police involvement in wellness checks
HALIFAX -- Following multiple police-involved deaths throughout North America, many people are questioning the necessity of law enforcement when dealing with mental health issues. In New Brunswick, which saw two fatal police shootings in June, advocates are calling on law enforcement to stop treating mental illness like it's a crime.
Wolastoq Grand Council Chief Ron Tremblay, says more needs to be done to stop fatal police-involved tragedies from ever happening again.
"When we say that we want police policy reform and government reform, our voices must be heard and responded to in a positive manner," says Tremblay.
In June, two police-related shootings resulted in the deaths of two Indigenous people – Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi.
In Moore's case, police say they were doing a wellness check on the young mother who was living in Edmundston, N.B. Police allege Moore threatened the officer with a knife and was shot and killed.
In Levi's case, RCMP says police were responding to a call for an unwanted man at a residence near Miramichi, N.B. – which ended in Levi being shot and killed.
Both investigations are in the hands of a Quebec police watchdog.
The Canadian Mental Health Association of New Brunswick believes there needs to be a fundamental shift, so that police are not the default when responding to someone in mental distress.
"Mental illness is not a crime," says Canadian Mental Health Association New Brunswick executive director, Christa Baldwin. "Mental wellness checks must be a healthcare response, not a law enforcement response."
Baldwin notes there are other solutions to help those with mental health issues that don't involve the police.
"You may have a police officer, not in uniform, responding to a call with a nurse or a social worker," says Baldwin. "They are able to make that care plan; the links to community resources, to de-escalate, to focus on that well-being component."
Baldwin says other countries have ambulances that respond to mental health calls, but in order to make a change locally, the system needs more funding. She adds that CMHA New Brunswick met with Premier Blaine Higgs in the fall – she's hopeful change is coming.
"We are looking at different models to try to implement within our province," says Baldwin. "We don't have an announcement, but I hope we will have good news soon, and that will involve a different response for wellness checks."
Meanwhile, Baldwin also says systemic racism is present in the system and needs to be addressed to avoid more tragedies.
The original version of this article had used the word 'murders'. That was incorrect and was not in the broadcast version of the story. It has been replaced with 'fatal police shootings'. CTV Atlantic regrets the error.