A mental-health court in Kamloops would provide more benefit to the community than broad police reform or defunding, according to the head of the city’s most prominent social agency.
“I think we’ve heard loud and clear from the RCMP that they are providing a considerable amount of mental-health and social service in the community,” Bob Hughes, executive director of ASK Wellness, told KTW.
“A lot of their calls are largely of a social nature. So, the question we have to ask is, are the RCMP the best suited to do that?”
According to Hughes, the answer is not black and white.
“I think the question, maybe, is about reallocating some of the funding that’s going to agencies that are maybe not the best equipped,” he said. “Part of it is that the RCMP have become a catch-all, the police departments have become a catch-all for all of society’s ills. I think the RCMP often get roped into responding to those calls because they are the default agency.”
So, should we be talking about defunding the RCMP?
“Absolutely not,” Hughes said. “I think our detachment and the superintendent here have been very involved in mental-health issues and social issues and taken a measured tone.”
Kamloops lawyer Michelle Stanford and Thompson Rivers University law professor Ruby Dhand have been working on a proposal for a mental-health court for the city since last year.
A mental-health court would see those with addictions and those with mental-health issues dealt with in a way that would prioritize recovery while still holding them accountable for their actions. The idea would be that those with acute addictions would be given the opportunity to recover and get out of the criminal justice system’s revolving door — which would also reduce the number of social-issue calls for Kamloops Mounties.
Hughes believes a specialized court to keep those with addictions and those with mental-health issues that lead to criminality would be a good place to start when it comes to changing how police deal with social issues.
“I’m a believer that with drug addiction and issues with mental health, the need for a drug court is more and more important,” he said. “A lot of the issues we’re seeing on the streets have to deal with addiction and poverty. They go hand in hand. We need to explore a way of managing people with acute addictions who are put on a collision course with police and the criminal justice system.”
“Having RCMP become social workers in our community confuses the public and puts police in a position where they don’t have the resources to respond effectively,” Hughes said. “The police need to be given the opportunity to stay in their lane and not be a catch-all.”