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Mental health unit wasn't staffed on night B.C. student dragged, stepped on by cop during wellness check
VANCOUVER -- The wellness check that resulted in a Kelowna Mountie dragging a nursing student across her apartment building and stepping on her could have been handled by a specialized mental health unit — but it wasn’t staffed that night.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran said an officer and a nurse trained in mental health response work together in the PACT team in Kelowna, similar to Car 87 in Vancouver. But the unit is swamped with calls, and attempts to outfit a second one are stalling, Basran said.
“It’s just one officer and one nurse. Clearly they can’t work 24-7,” the mayor told CTV News.
The PACT team is staffed from Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., according to Interior Health. That meant at 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20, it was unavailable to be dispatched to the apartment of Mona Wang, where disturbing surveillance video has been filed in a lawsuit.
Interior Health says it also operates Crisis Response, a team of social workers who work in pairs and work seven days a week, from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. It’s not clear what role that team could have played in the response.
"You don't get to schedule your mental health crisis," said Meenakshi Mannoe of Pivot Legal Society. "This demonstrates how severely underfunded and under-resourced people are in accessing mental health care."
The video, first obtained by CTV News, shows Const. Lacy Browning dragging Mona Wang, a student at UBC Okanagan, through her apartment hallway and into the building’s lobby as other apartment residents watched.
At one point, the video shows Browning pulls Wong's head up by her hair; at another point, Browning appears to put a boot on top of Wang’s head.
Photos after the incident show bruises to Wang’s arms and face. The RCMP has said in court documents that it responded to the incident in good faith and used appropriate force.
The surveillance video, obtained by Wang’s lawyer as part of her civil suit, has been seen nationally and prompted a response from RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki.
“The videos, they’re hard to see, they’re visceral,” Lucki said. “We’ll do a complete review of that incident.”
B.C.’s solicitor general, Mike Farnworth, said he has seen the video and plans to make examining police response to mental health cases part of the province’s review of the Police Act.
“Like most people, I was disturbed by it and found it quite shocking and it’s being investigated, as it should be,” Farnworth said.
Wang, who currently works in a neuropsychiatric unit, told CTV News on Tuesday there is no reason that level of force should have been used for her case.
“We deal with combative patients every day - people who are verbally abusive or physically abusive. And yet, you never see us with our boots on their heads,” she said.
The RCMP told CTV News officers are called to approximately 64,000 mental health files each year in B.C.
Across Canada, six people have been reported to have died during wellness checks: Ejaz Choudry, Chantel Moore, Rodney Levi, D’Andre Campbell, Caleb Tbuila Njoko, and Regis Korchinski-Paquet.
The deaths are among those that have prompted calls for a review of how police handle mental health calls. Widespread protests have also prompted a reckoning for racism in policing after the video of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Basran said Kelowna’s city council asked the Mounties to provide another officer for a second PACT unit. The Mounties offered one up several months ago, and the current sticking point is getting a nurse from Interior Health, Basran said.
But Interior Health said it had yet to receive a request from the City of Kelowna to staff the second PACT unit.
Canada's largest mental health facility, Toronto's Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, put out a statement Wednesday saying police should not be on the front lines of mental health calls.
"Police are not trained in crisis care and should not be expected to lead this important work," the statement reads.
The province should consider a peer-led response, where people who have personal experience with mental health crises can help de-escalate the situation, said Mannoe said.
"You're asking officers to attend these calls and they're not the right people," she said.