Chairperson's Statement on the RCMP's Response to Persons in Crisis and Wellness Checks

Ottawa - 2020-07-21

In recent weeks, there has been heightened public interest in police responses to persons in crisis and wellness checks. I welcome the opportunity to explain the actions the Commission is taking to address such concerns in its oversight role of the RCMP.

Over the past four years, the Commission has issued 14 reports concerning individual cases where the RCMP’s actions concerning a wellness check or person in crisis was unreasonable.

Since the cases involve sensitive personal health information, the reports are not public. However, it is in the public interest to convey the general pattern of concern observed from the individual cases, as well as some of the Commission’s key recommendations made to the RCMP.

Command and Control Approach

With respect to interacting with people in crisis, the Commission’s findings have consistently highlighted concerns about police adopting a “command and control” approach—an authoritative style of dealing with a non‑compliant person.

The Commission’s reports have repeatedly found that this “command and control” approach has led to the RCMP’s unreasonable use of force in apprehending persons in crisis.

The Commission’s findings are consistent with other expert bodies on the subject.

  • In the Braidwood Commission on Conducted Energy Weapon Use, Justice Thomas Braidwood observed:

    It seems clear that the "command and control" philosophy underlying police recruit training, however appropriate generally, is both inappropriate and counterproductive when dealing with emotionally disturbed people.Footnote 1

  • Retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci reached similar conclusions in his 2014 independent review into the Toronto Police Service’s approach to persons in crisis:

    The challenge, and one of the most critical requirements for police, is to know how to de-escalate a crisis involving a person who, as a result of what is effectively a transient or permanent mental disability, may not respond appropriately (or at all) to standard police commands.Footnote 2

  • The Ombudsman of Ontario, in a report entitled "A Matter of Life and Death," commented that police training is focused on seeking compliance with police commands from rational offenders. While this approach is often successful with rational offenders, it is liable to escalate a confrontation with a person in crisis and different approach is required.Footnote 3

Involvement of Mental Health Professionals

In a 2016 report, the Commission recommended a review of RCMP policies and training with respect to communication and the use of force, and more recently the Commission highlighted the need for the RCMP to involve mental health professionals in its response to persons in crisis.

A statement from the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health provided the supporting context:

Mental Health is Health. This means that people experiencing a mental health crisis need health care. Police should not be the first responders when people are in crisis in the community. Police are not trained in crisis care and should not be expected to lead this important work

. . .

For too long, the health care system has relied on police to respond to mental health crises in the community. Transformative change is needed to support a new way forward. People with mental illness and their families deserve better.Footnote 4

The Commission understands that sometimes a police response to a person in crisis will be necessary. For instance, where there is concurrent criminality or a clear risk to public safety. In that sense, the RCMP’s role is an important one, but not the only one. Mental health professionals should be leading the response, with police providing support as necessary.

In a 2020 report on the topic, the Commission recommended that the Commissioner of the RCMP direct commanding officers to work with provincial and territorial partners to create appropriate health care‑led response options to persons in crisis in the community.

This recommendation was partially based on studies over the last ten years showing the success of joint response teams composed of police and mental health professionals.

The benefits of the joint teams included:

  • Less use of force and fewer trips to the hospital;Footnote 5
  • Less time spent by police responding to such incidents;Footnote 6
  • fewer arrests and apprehensions;Footnote 7 and
  • an increase of referrals to mental health resources.Footnote 8

The same 2020 report also commented on the RCMP’s role in responding to “wellness check” complaints, as many of the same issues discussed above overlap with these types of calls for police assistance. I recommended that the RCMP consider amending their policies to limit police involvement to cases where it is necessary based on criminality or a risk to public safety. I await the Commissioner’s response to my report.

I am hopeful that the increased public attention on this developing area of policing will allow the RCMP to find the right balance and establish effective policies, training, and procedures to respond to people in crisis and to handle requests for wellness checks.

I remain committed to providing effective civilian oversight on this crucial topic through the Commission’s review and investigation functions.

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