Toronto, Ontario | Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Over the past two days, more than 320 delegates from across Canada gathered in Toronto at a first-of-its-kind conference co-sponsored by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) to find ways to improve interactions between police and people with mental illness.

“There needs to be more supports for people with mental illness in our community. Often, the police have no choice and have to arrest and charge criminally, people who need the health system, not the justice system,” said Chief Constable Jim Chu, President, CACP. “It was important for the community members that attended this conference to hear about the many examples of successful police and mental health practitioner collaborations from across Canada.  

“The vast majority of people who have mental illness will not come into contact with the police. For those that do, they should be assured that police officers will approach them with compassion and understanding, and that the police successfully resolve the majority of these contacts with cooperation and without using force.”

Criminal justice and mental health leaders, researchers, and people with lived experience of mental illness discussed what works, what could be improved, and promising practices sought to find innovative ways to answer the question: How can we make these interactions safe for the person with mental illness, the police officer, and the communities in which we all live?

While the number of calls to police departments directly related to mental health incidents continues to rise toward crisis proportions, the reality is that people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators. The fact that the worlds of mental health and policing frequently intersect must be addressed.

“This is a watershed moment,” stated Louise Bradley, President and CEO, MHCC. “It takes imagination and courage to collaborate to chart a course for a future where the stigma surrounding mental illness is eradicated. This includes where the men and women of our country’s police services are educated and trained appropriately about mental illness and de-escalation of interacting with people with mental illness.”

“And it takes strong leadership,” she added, “to realize that the mental health of its employees is as important as their physical health and to take the necessary steps to create a mentally healthy workplace.”

In alignment with the Mental Health Strategy for Canada, conference delegates and subject matter experts talked thoughtfully about the workplace mental health of police personnel, and how providing better mental health education and training for police officers must be seen as solid investments in the public safety of all Canadians.

Well-rounded discussion and debate emerged as participants took in sessions on topics that included the stigma associated with mental illness, new models of community safety, and the impact of stable housing on people with mental illness who are homeless, as well as on society. A valuable component of the conference was the wide-range of perspectives from police, mental health advocates, and people with lived experience of mental illness.

The wrap-up session included an address by Dr. David Goldbloom, Chair, MHCC Board of Directors, who shared that it was clear that delegates had demonstrated courage, vulnerability, and leadership as they worked respectfully and collaboratively to improve interactions between police and people with mental illness.

A Consolidation Panel with conference co-hosts Chief Chu, Ms. Bradley, Chief Matt Torigian, Waterloo Region Police Service, and Ms. Jennifer Chambers, Coordinator, The Empowerment Council, a peer advocacy organization with the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, and reviewed outcomes determined at each session and, together with conference delegates, agreed that the following conclusions should stand as the official record from the conference:

  1. Work collaboratively toward a new national framework for police training and education that would be adopted by CACP and its membership.
  2. Joint release of the updated TEMPO report (police education and training) and continued dialogue on implementation of the recommendations therein.
  3. Increased focus on the mental health of police officers and mentally healthy workplaces for all police personnel.
  4. Work with Statistics Canada and other key organizations to address measurement of police workload related to calls involving mental illness, and consider the collaborative development of new tools for data collection and analysis.
  5. Share the results of the conference through the release of the conference report as part of a shared commitment towards ongoing collaborative learning.
  6. Central to any next step will be the continued inclusion of people with lived experience of mental illness as vital stakeholders in the discussion between the mental health and police leaders.

"‎It has been heartening to learn how so many people across Canada are working on ensuring people with mental health issues can survive, and even emerge better off from their encounters with police officers," said Chambers. “This opportunity for people to come together and inspire each other to do better around the country can go a long way to restoring hope for people across Canada – a police knock at the door does not have to be a cause for fear."

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For additional information or background:                

Katherine Cormack
Director, Communications
Mental Health Commission of Canada
Mobile: 1-403-620-2339

Tim Smith
Government & Strategic Communications
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police
Mobile: 1-613-601-0692

ABOUT THE CANADIAN ASSOCIATION OF CHIEFS OF POLICE

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) was established in 1905 and currently has greater than 1,000 members from all across Canada.  Through its member police chiefs and other senior police executives, the CACP represents in excess of 90% of the police community in Canada.  Our members include federal, First Nations, provincial, regional and municipal, transportation and military police leaders.  The mission of the CACP is “The safety and security for all Canadians through innovative police leadership.”

ABOUT THE MENTAL HEALTH COMMISSION OF CANADA

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change. We are collaborating with hundreds of partners to change the attitudes of Canadians toward mental health problems and to improve services and support. Our goal is to help people who live with mental health problems and illnesses lead meaningful and productive lives. Together we create change. The Mental Health Commission of Canada is funded by Health Canada.