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Latest RCMP standoff death prompts renewed calls for better mental health crisis response

A Friday afternoon wellness check on a Langley man believed to be distraught led to an hours-long standoff and ended with the man presumed dead after a massive fire.

In a news release, BC RCMP said the initial responding officers reported the sound of shots fired from inside a building on the 0 Avenue property.

Nicky McIntosh tells CTV News the man who died was her father, Don Bennett – and that if he had a gun, that is news to her.

"I don't know that he had any weapons on the property,” she said.

The standoff lasted more than six hours, and McIntosh said police had a phone company block incoming calls to her father’s number which meant no family could reach him.

She doesn’t know what kind of mental health professionals the RCMP may, or may not, have used to try to de-escalate the situation.

"It just doesn't seem like there's enough mental health support for people who are struggling and the RCMP can be so intimidating,” McIntosh said.

One of the burned vehicles appeared to have the remnants of police lights on its roof, suggesting it may have been an RCMP cruiser that burned. (CTV)In a similar standoff near Lytton in January 2020, a sniper with an RCMP emergency response team shot and killed Barry Shantz – a man reported to be armed and suicidal.

At a Coroner’s Inquest into that case, the RCMP crisis negotiator working that day said the psychologist on call to offer advice in mental health crisis situations did not return messages left during the incident until two weeks later.

"The fact is that people who are in mental health distress or have substance use issues are substantially more likely to die in police encounters,” said Benjamin Perrin, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law.

Perrin has written about the issue in his book, Indictment: The Criminal Justice System on Trial.

"It is an absolute tragedy in this province, and it's really inexcusable at this point, that we continue to fund more and more police when what we actually need are mental health crisis workers.” Perrin said.

In Toronto, 911 callers can have the option of being connected to police, fire or ambulance services, or being directed to the Community Mental Health Crisis Service, which offers a non-police response for calls about people in mental distress.

Last week, that city council voted unanimously to expand the program.

"We need trained nurses, counsellors to appear on the scene without sirens, without guns, to calm people down and give them the support they need,” councillor Mike Colle said after the vote.

It’s the kind of service McIntosh wishes had been available for her father.

"I'm sorry that it has to end this way. He was only 66,” she said. Top Stories

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