'This is not a criminal trial:' B.C. judge slams govt's response to mental health issues | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'This is not a criminal trial:' B.C. judge slams govt's response to mental health issues

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March 03, 2021 - 7:30 AM

A B.C. judge has slammed the provincial and federal governments accusing them of hypocrisy by telling the public to be non-judgemental about mental health issues but then criminalizing a case of a Canadian veteran whose firearms were confiscated by police because officers believed he was suicidal.

In the Feb. 22 B.C. Provincial Court decision, judge David Patterson points out that the veteran had not been charged with a criminal offence and that the weapons seizure would be better dealt with not as a criminal matter but as a mental health or addictions issue.

The case involves a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who served in Afghanistan referred to in the decision as P.P.B. Following several incidents involving the Terrace RCMP, the former soldier and Gitanyow First Nation member had three firearms confiscated because police thought he was a threat to himself and others.

Months later, after receiving medical treatment and counselling, the veteran then entered into a three-day court hearing in an attempt to get his hunting rifles back.

The veteran argued he needed his weapons to hunt for moose to provide food for his family and the community as a whole.

"This is not a criminal trial... it is unfortunate that the Government of Canada has placed (the firearms seizure)... into the Criminal Code," judge Patterson said.

The judge goes onto to say that mental health issues such as this one should be dealt with by another piece of public interest legislation and not the Canadian Criminal Code.

"Why? Because the Governments of Canada and British Columbia are spending lots of taxpayer money on mental health and addictions campaigns, trying to educate and convince Canadians... that we need to be non-judgmental and remove the stigma attached to mental health and addiction issues," the judge said. "Yet the placing of (the firearm seizure) into the Criminal Code adds stigma and an air of criminality to what is often a mental health or addictions issue.”

The court case highlights how the RCMP and the criminal justice system are left dealing with cases that many believe, including the judge, could be better dealt with in a different setting.

According to the decision, Terrace RCMP was involved in four incidents with P.P.B. between 2018 and 2020.

In one incident, P.P.B. was found in his vehicle in just his underpants and given a 90-day roadside driving prohibition after failing a breathalyzer.

One month later the RCMP was called to P.P.B.'s residence due to a domestic dispute. There are no details of what took place but the officers decided to seize P.P.B.’s firearms citing public safety concerns.

In another incident, the veteran sent pictures of a shotgun to family members along with a cryptic message that worried them. He then lied to RCMP officers about where he was but denied he was suicidal when police caught up with him later that day.

In May 2020, the former soldier sent messages to his family saying he was going to “blow his head off” and was later detained by police under the Mental Health Act and taken to hospital for a psychiatric examination. He was later released with the plan that he would go and live with a family member.

Following this incident, P.P.B. started receiving better help and was put on medication. His doctor said he was suffering from anxiety and depression, largely due to the death of a family member.

According to the decision, P.P.B. spent seven years in the Canadian military entering straight from high school. Since leaving the army he’s spent 13 years working in the mining industry.

The judge discussed several incidents that took place before the altercations with the RCMP and much of the lengthy decision is given to assessing P.P.B.’s mental health.

“Like many returning soldiers, he has struggled with life after military service in a foreign land. He has suffered anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts,” the judge said. “Despite his struggles, and as he proceeds along this journey called life, P.P.B. is taking the steps in his life required to better himself, for himself, his two families and the Gitanyow Nation. He is a contributing member of society.”

In an unusual move, the judge went into detail about mental illness and defines the difference between mental illness and mental health.

"Mental illnesses are described as disturbances in thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that are severe enough to affect day-to-day functioning," the decision reads. "Mental health, however, is a state of well-being, and we all have it. Just like we each have a state of physical health, we also each have our mental health to look after."

The judge also wrote about police 'wellness checks' and says he agrees with statements made by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

"Experiencing a mental health crisis is not a crime, and the response must be a health-care response, not a law-enforcement response," the decision says quoting the Canadian Mental Health Association. "A successful model may involve peer support specialists or rapid-response teams of mental health professionals either working alongside, embedded within — or instead of — the police. Whatever the model, the primary concern of first responders to emergencies involving a mental health crisis must be de-escalation and well-being."

Finally, after a lengthy analysis of P.P.B.’s mental health, the judge makes a decision.

"I am of the opinion that P.P.B. currently does not pose a danger to the safety of any other persons. Finally, there is nothing in the evidence before me to suggest that P.P.B. will be a danger to the safety of other persons in the future," the judge ruled.

He ordered the police to return his guns and his possession and acquisition licence.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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