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Mariners join call for suicide prevention fencing on Vancouver's Granville Bridge

Mariners want suicide fence

Grant Brandson’s first thought was that someone dumped a pile of garbage in the False Creek waterway under the Granville Bridge.

He wasn’t happy about it.

But when he steered his boat closer to the unidentified object, he realized it was a person.

It was a young man, and he was unconscious.

“I immediately went from anger to horror,” said Brandson, who had passengers on board, including children, on what he described as a gorgeous day last August.

He sent out a radio alert to other boaters and the nearby coast guard. He then tried to steer his boat alongside the man in an attempt to pull him from the water. That failed, so he jumped in, grabbed the man and kept him from sinking.

Brandson pulled the man through the water for a short distance to another boat, where the captain and passengers got him onboard. One of the passengers happened to be a doctor on vacation.

“She immediately started CPR and they raced to Kits Coast Guard [station],” Brandson recounted Monday, as he sat at a table at Granville Island near where the incident happened. “I was told they did get a pulse, but I’m not sure what happened after that.”

The man had jumped from the Granville Bridge.

Brandson doesn’t know why, but hoped he survived and got the help he needed.

At the same time, he said, there is the other side of tragedy and the untold effect it had on witnesses, including himself, who was traumatized from the incident.

“Granville Island is a beautiful place to be,” he said. “Everyone is generally pretty positive down here and tourists come from all over the world to be here. They want to have a positive experience, and this is what they ended up seeing.”

granbridge2
The Granville Bridge is currently undergoing a $50-million upgrade that doesn't include suicide prevention fencing. Photo Mike Howell

 

BC Coroners Service

Brandson shared his story after reading a Glacier Media post over the weekend that reported details of a suicide attempt on the bridge in November 2023 that resulted in an investigation of Vancouver police officers.

The Independent Investigations Office cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.

The scope of the investigation did not include examining whether the Granville Bridge should have had suicide prevention fencing, or “means fencing” — a term often used by medical experts and engineers.

Vancouver Police Department statistics for calls to the bridge for suicidal persons show officers responded 135 times between 2016 and 2022. Only the Lions Gate Bridge generated more calls during that period, with 284 answered by VPD.

The bridge was one of five the BC Coroners Service annual report identified in 2008 as needing to be retrofitted with a barrier to prevent suicides. The Burrard, Lions Gate, Ironworkers and Pattullo bridges were the others.

'Long-range design'

More recently, Vancouver Coastal Health, the Crisis Centre of B.C., the B.C. Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association and a Vancouver city councillor have lobbied to have suicide prevention fencing installed on the Granville Bridge.

Thomas Lancaster, director of Granville Island for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, previously told Glacier Media that fencing is needed to help prevent further tragedies.

The city is currently working on a $50-million upgrade to the span, but it does not include suicide prevention fencing. The city’s communications department told Glacier Media via email June 7 that the fencing is part of the bridge’s long-range design.

Estimated cost is $10 million to $20 million.

“With the high cost to install means prevention fencing on the bridge due to the length [including ramps] and weight limitations, fencing was not included in the first phase, however, the city is in ongoing discussions regarding funding for means prevention measures for Granville Bridge with VCH and senior levels of government,” the city’s email said.

Brandson got almost the identical response when he wrote a letter to Mayor Ken Sim and councillors last year about the incident in August 2023. In that letter, he shared that a woman had also jumped from the bridge and landed in a children’s play area.

“It is time to take immediate action to take effective measures for those experiencing a mental health crisis,” he wrote.

“Closing the sidewalk pedestrian walkway until the installation of a temporary 15-foot chain link fence does not cost $19 million. Further long-term fencing, netting should be a priority before another tragedy takes place. Anything less than this is, in my eyes, criminal negligence and tarnishes the image of our great city.”

'It's still a problem'

Jeremy Patterson, operations manager of False Creek Ferries, shares Brandson’s concerns and said he’s lost track of how many people have jumped from the Granville and Burrard bridges in his 34 years on Granville Island.

“It's a concern for anybody that works on Granville Island, and it's a concern for anyone that works underneath the bridge,” Patterson said.

“This could sound a little weird, but I actually think carefully about how and where and when I'm going to walk under the bridge. Not just for that, but for other things like ice, or concrete or anything else.”

People jumping from the bridges is not something new, he said, noting he appeared on the front page of The Province newspaper in 1990 after he went to the aid of three people in the span of a year.

“It was problem then, and it’s still a problem,” Patterson said.

Both Patterson and Brandson say their call for fencing is not in place of the necessary supports people in a mental health crisis require. They want the tragedies to stop, and the people to get the help they need.

As for the fencing, Patterson said he can’t think of one incident where someone has leaped from the Burrard Bridge since fencing was installed in 2016. The Ironworkers is also equipped with the fencing.

'The barriers are there, and they're effective'

Jonny Morris, CEO of the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said Monday that he recalls the boisterous public debate about installing fencing on the Burrard Bridge, with heritage advocates concerned about the upgrade.

“There was an uproar, but no one cares anymore,” Morris said. “The barriers are there, and they’re effective — they work.”

Morris said such infrastructure can make a difference in a person’s life.

“I've often said that if infrastructure can help create hesitation, or interrupt someone's desire to attempt suicide, it can have profound effects,” he said. “That few seconds of hesitation can be absolutely enough to disrupt and support someone to not take that life.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available.


  • In an emergency, call 9-1-1

  • In a crisis, call 1-800-784-2433

  • In need of support, call 310-6789 (no area code needed)

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You can find a full list of resources on the B.C. government’s website.

 

 



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