Commanding officer of Southeast District RCMP offers apology to UBCO student, calls for expansion of mental health teams

No plans to expand crisis team

UPDATE 9:05 p.m.

Interior Health has no plans to expand the region's Police and Crisis Team, despite a request from the commanding officer of B.C.'s Southeast District RCMP and the City of Kelowna.

Chief superintendent Brad Haugli has sent a letter to Interior Health indicating his desire to expand the program and Karen Bloemink, vice-president of clinical operations, said the health authority would follow up.

"We have a high commitment to working with our partners to improve and streamline the ability to access services in a way that's easier for individuals," Bloemink said in an interview.

However, she said Interior Health has no plans to expand the police and crisis teams.

"Our mental health nurses are highly skilled and quite valuable resources in our system," she said.

"It's not the most effective use of scarce health-care resources, especially when we know there's such a significant demand for mental health services for the whole population."

Bloemink said Interior Health is focused on preventative measures aimed at improving overall mental health and access to urgent care and other support services.

"We're hoping that we can influence the mental health of individuals in a broad sense and then have our crisis response programs overlaid on top of that."

Bloemink said Interior Health has crisis phone line and teams of nurses and social workers, which often collaborate with RCMP detachments during incidents relating to mental health.

"They're available to advise that kind of thing and we feel that there may be an opportunity for us improving in terms of process and how we work together."

But enhancing a single service, such as the police and crisis teams, wouldn't effectively address the complex situations that health-care providers and police face, said Bloemink.

- The Canadian Press

UPDATE 11:10 a.m.

The commanding officer of the RCMP in B.C.’s Southeast District, during a rare press conference Thursday, offered an apology to the UBCO student who had her head pushed to the ground by a Mountie’s boot during a wellness check earlier this year.

“When I first saw the video, deeply concerned,” said chief superintendent Brad Haugli. “I’m very sorry to Ms. Wang for what occurred. If that was my family member or friend, I would have deep concerns and want answers as well.”

Haugli said he expects the criminal investigation into the actions of Const. Lacey Browning, the officer in the video, will be in the hands of Crown counsel within two weeks. He said the RCMP will inform the public when the probe concludes. 

The investigation is being reviewed by the Abbotsford Police Department, but Crown prosecutors will have the final say on whether charges will be approved. An internal code of conduct for Browning, who is on desk duty, is also underway. A public complaint process has been started for Wang will be provided the review’s findings.

Pointing to a 21 per cent jump in mental health calls in the Southeast District between 2016 and 2019, Haugli said he will be pushing for the rapid expansion of the Police and Crisis Teams that currently operate in Kelowna and Kamloops, which pair a mental health nurse with an RCMP officer. 

Haugli said he wants to see an Interior Health nurse paired with an officer for every single mental health call in the Southeast District.

“I appreciated the commitment required by both Interior Health and us in the RCMP, but it is much needed,” he said. “Mental health calls, should and could be assessed by a trained mental health worker, and we would be a support mechanism if they felt there was jeopardy to themselves or others.”

“If there is an inability to provide a dedicated Interior Health nurse for every call, then I want to implement a real-time information sharing model that provides our members with the important health information of the person in crisis before attending the call.”

He suggested privacy concerns from such an initiative are outweighed by the wellbeing of the person in crisis. 

Haugli said he forwarded his request to Interior Health earlier this week and is awaiting a response. 

The 1,300 RCMP officers who make up the Southeast District are “concerned on the support from the public," he said.

“But it is my job and all of our senior leaders to uphold the morale of our members and to ensure that they are provided the support required through this period of time.”

“My members, in my view, are doing an exceptional job. There is a number of dedicated women and men that show up for work every day, even through the pandemic,” he added.

Haugli suggested that while the recent videos involving Const. Lacey Browning and Const. Siggy Pietrzak may cause some “individuals” to hesitate to call the police for help, “the majority of the public still feel confident and safe with police force of jurisdiction for their community.”

ORIGINAL 10 a.m.

RCMP Southeast District Commander, Chief Superintendent Brad Haugli is holding a press conference in Kelowna Thursday morning at 10 a.m., "to discuss the current climate of policing in the community and to reinforce our commitment to public safety."
C/Supt. Haugli is expected to make an announcement regarding his plans moving forward with respect to the RCMP’s response to mental health-related calls in the Southeast District of B.C. 

The move comes just one day after a petition calling for the termination of a Kelowna RCMP officer caught on camera dragging a UBCO student down the hall and pushing her head down with a boot attracted 340,000 signatures. 

The Change.org petition, Justice for Mona Wang, has taken off since the surveillance video was released last week as a part of a civil lawsuit Wang launched against the RCMP over the violent wellness check in January.

The press conference also follows news that Const. Siggy Pietrzak has had a prior complaint inquiry made against him for an arrest back in 2017.

Castanet will livestream the press conference. 

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