(Toronto, June 24, 2020) – The following is a statement from Camille Quenneville, CEO, of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario in reaction to the death of Ejaz Choudry:
“It’s sad, heartbreaking and incredibly upsetting that once again an individual experiencing distress has died after a police response to a mental health crisis call. It’s frustrating to reiterate our recommendations to the media, the public and government about what changes are required to support those who need help at the most critical point in their lives.
“Since April, four racialized Ontarians – D’Andre Campbell, Caleb Njoko, Regis Korchinski-Paquet and now Ejaz Choudry, a 62-year old husband and father of four – have lost their lives in a way that’s becoming alarmingly common. The family of each one of these individuals, and in the case of Mr. Campbell himself, had reached out for help only to end up dead after a police interaction.
“It’s easy to point fingers and lay blame with police, but these tragic events are a painful reminder of how our health, justice and social systems are failing those living with mental health or addictions conditions.
“Having 911 as the de facto crisis line is problematic to begin with, but it’s the reality. This is why we’ve long held the view that all communities in Ontario should have the resources to put enough mobile crisis response teams on the road 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as a first response model. These teams typically include a mental health professional, such as nurse or social worker, who rides alongside a specially-trained police officer.
“The general purpose of these MCRTs includes de-escalating situations where a person may be experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis and aims to divert individuals from unnecessary hospital emergency department visits or justice involvement. And the mental health workers on board can provide an assessment to determine links to appropriate community services.
“When MCRTs are used effectively, the individual experiencing a crisis is often stabilized and the mental heath worker can create a care plan and get the person the mental health supports they need. The individual avoids entry into an already overburdened hospital emergency department or the justice system.
“Our experience, and our partnerships with police services across Ontario, has shown us that police also want additional MCRTs on the road, as well as increased training for all front-line officers to help them support people in distress.
“But the issue of how to respond to those experiencing a crisis is incredibly complex and there are no guarantees that MCRTs alone will help solve the problem. MCRTs are just a tool in the toolkit.
“There are shining examples that exist, such as in London, Ontario, where our branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association has a standalone 24-hour crisis centre where individuals can walk in and receive crisis services and where police and paramedics can take people in distress. There, staff can help de-escalate and prepare a care plan, connecting a person to mental health resources. Between March and May, there were 644 visits to this crisis centre, including 120 times when police or paramedics delivered someone experiencing a crisis.
“But examples like this in London are few and far between. The resources just aren’t available. Even if these programs do exist, the public largely isn’t aware of them.
“That’s because the mental health and addictions system has been chronically underfunded compared to the physical health system, and as such it is difficult to navigate for the average person. If you break your arm, you go to the hospital. Our goal is to help inform the public that community-based agencies are here to help when they’re struggling with their mental health.
“Supporting individuals experiencing a crisis is not a quick fix but requires a long-term strategy that includes adequate funding from across government. Mental health is not just a health issue. It stays with us and affects us at home, at work, at play, when we’re out with friends and colleagues, or when we’re on our own.
“Our goal should be to support people at all points on their journey of recovery from mental health and addictions issues so that they can lead meaningful and productive lives and avoid crisis situations.
“Otherwise, we will find ourselves here again, faced with more tragedies and filled with more anger and frustration.”
CEO, Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
About Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), Ontario is a not-for-profit, charitable organization. We work to improve the lives of all Ontarians through leadership, collaboration and continual pursuit of excellence in community-based mental health and addictions services. Our vision is a society that embraces and invests in the mental health of all people. We are a trusted advisor to government, contributing to health systems development through policy formulation and recommendations that promote positive mental health. Our 28 local CMHA branches, together with community-based mental health and addictions service providers across the province, serve approximately 500,000 Ontarians each year.
For more information, contact:
Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
T: 416-977-5580, ext. 4175