Dr. Bonnie Henry defends controversial RCMP remarks as 'misinterpretation'
VANCOUVER -- The province’s top doctor is defending comments she made critical of the RCMP in B.C. that prompted swift and scathing backlash from the officers' union.
On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry made a short presentation to a special legislative committee on policing reform and lauded municipal police as being more in touch with community values and norms than Mounties. She also questioned the RCMP's early naloxone policy.
The remarks prompted backlash from the RCMP's union denouncing her comments as offensive and erroneous in a letter to Henry and other government officials.
"I was taken aback by the misinterpretation ... in that letter,” said Henry at a news conference on Thursday, earlier noting that she’s reached out to the force’s deputy commissioner. “There was absolutely no criticism at all of anything that frontline police officers are doing and the misinterpretation of that is something I regret.”
A key sticking point for the National Police Federation and the RCMP’s top boss in B.C. was Henry’s claim that Mounties wouldn’t use overdose antidote naloxone in the early days of the crisis, which the RCMP disputes.
“I was referring to an example of the complexity of policing in British Columbia and of the challenges that on the ground officers face, and the example I used was when they initially were rolling out naloxone in our communities, and this was in response to the overdose crisis, there was concern from police services and there was conflicting messages that came down from police services in B.C. versus RCMP,” said Henry.
“This was an example of how the frontline police officers were in impossible positions that challenge them -- and my advice to the special committee was that they consider some of these complexities and that they reform the act to ensure it enables us to work together closely because we know that's what works and it supports people."
In reviews of news coverage at the time, the Canadian Press reported that that frontline RCMP would be “distributing naloxone kits to officers to use on themselves or others to reduce or reverse the effects of opioids” on Sept. 13, 2016, while Vancouver police made a similar announcement just a few days earlier.
That December, Delta police announced they’d be following in the RCMP’s footsteps to do the same.
The harsh letter from the RCMP union also urged Henry to address funding for mental health and addictions initiatives, which they feel are insufficient.
“Our members have advocated for additional funding, resources, and mental health specialists to support and complement these calls, but governments deny additional funding,” wrote National Police Federation president Brian Sauve. “This negligence is unacceptable, as is blaming our members for government’s lack of leadership.”
The NFP took a different tone on Thursday in the wake of Henry’s response, addressing it in an email statement.
“We welcome Dr. Henry’s comments this afternoon, and thank her for clarifying the intent behind her comments,” wrote Sauve. “On behalf of 6,500 RCMP members across the province of British Columbia who – along with their colleagues nationwide – are being asked to do more with less in increasingly complex and dangerous working conditions, our letter sought to set the record straight on the positive and important work our members are doing to save lives and support our most vulnerable citizens.”
In saying that she has no criticism of officers on the ground, Henry implied her issues are with RCMP leadership. When CTV News asked E-Division to respond to Henry’s clarification, the commanding officer of Mounties in B.C. sent a diplomatic answer through her communications staff.
“Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan and Dr. Bonnie Henry have connected on this issue,” staff wrote in an email. “The conversation was positive and the BC RCMP are grateful for the opportunity to continue the important discussion underway about the RCMP’s role in dealing with public health issues and their impacts on policing … As we move forward, the focus of the BC RCMP will be to ensure that we continue to support Dr. Henry and provide her with information, data, or insights drawn from our service in the diverse communities in B.C.”
According to a news release from Vernon RCMP last week touting the actions of a North Okanagan Mountie who saved someone from an overdose with his naloxone kit, “Throughout Canada, RCMP officers have administered naloxone 990 times since they began carrying it in 2016.”