Critical responses to violence and policing in mental health were the topics presented by guest speakers Anthony Morgan and Shane Martinez during the Across Boundaries Annual General Meeting in Toronto on September 29, 2014. Martinez, a criminal defense lawyer, spoke about the history and objectives of the mental health court system and described the changes that have taken place since the 1970s, including the introduction of the diversion program. He provided practical tips for successful navigation of the mental health court system, including collecting as much information as possible about one’s mental health condition; obtaining letters of support from family and friends; and, providing proof of offers of employment or educational opportunities.
Morgan, Policy and Research Analysis Lawyer with the African Canadian Legal Clinic, discussed the recent release of the Iacobucci report titled “Police Encounters with People in Crisis.” This report is one of the three investigations into use-of-force that were launched shortly after the fatal shooting of Sammy Yatim in 2013. The other two are being led by the Ontario’s Ombudsman, Andre Marin, who is examining provincially-approved de-escalation techniques. Meanwhile, Gerry McNeilly, the Independent Police Review Director, is conducting an external investigation into the Toronto Police Service use-of-force guidelines.
Morgan believes that the Iacobucci report’s objective of zero death is not good enough. Police should be trained in the necessary skills and resources to be able to respond effectively to individuals with mental health conditions.
Additionally, over the past 26 years, 73 per cent of the people in mental distress that have had fatal encounters with the Toronto police were from racialized populations. In a commentary he wrote for the Toronto Star, Morgan’s discusses the absence of racialized analysis in the Iacobucci report. He discussed how the number of deaths of racialized individuals at the hands of police have drastically increased since 1986.
Morgan ended his presentation by advocating for a public ethic of compassion that would result in improved social programs and supports for marginalized populations, including racialized persons in need of mental health services.
CMHA Ontario has informed this issue by providing submissions to each of the three investigations on use-of-force in Ontario and by encouraging police and mental health agencies within communities to collaborate and find effective solutions when it comes to police interactions with people experiencing a mental health crisis.