It has been 25 years since the British Columbia government did a comprehensive update of the Mental Health Act.
In 2021, the BC NDP made a record investment in mental health programs and services. However, the Act governing them is outdated and based on ideas and values from a previous generation.
Another Act that needs substantial transformation is the Police Act. I was on a committee that recommended that transformation and it is important that government not lose momentum on the important work we did.
In question period I asked when British Columbians will see transformational change in the Mental Health Act and the Police Act.
REVIEW OF MENTAL HEALTH ACT
The Mental Health Act is outdated. It prioritizes discipline and control and makes people with mental illness feel like they’ve failed for having a health issue. The act hasn’t been seriously updated in 25 years. Advocates, legal experts, community members and independent officers of this Legislature have all called for a serious update and review of this act. A couple of weeks ago the all-party committee reviewing the Police Act recommended the same.
The Tyee reported that the government was modernizing the act, and then the Attorney General said that there was no plan to modernize the Mental Health Act. Community members told me that they knew that that initial report was too good to be true.
In 2001, this government celebrated the largest investment in mental health services in B.C., and yet it’s remarkable that the government is investing all this money into a problem but has not changed the foundation of the issue. It remains untouched.
Decades from now this government could be known as visionary leaders who responded to a growing mental health crisis. So my question is to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. When is she going to review and update the Mental Health Act?
Hon. D. Eby:
The member raises some important questions about the Mental Health Act. It’s one of the statutes in the province that deals with involuntary care. We have an Adult Guardianship Act as well. Staff within the Ministry of Attorney General are doing a review of the Adult Guardianship Act right now.
The member will also know we just passed, in this House, a significant modernization of the Mental Health Act, providing basic legal information to people who are involuntarily detained. It’s one that passed, I’ll note, with all-party support, for which I’m grateful, because it’s an important part of our system to ensure that people have the safeguards and are able to take advantage of them as they move through the mental health system.
We aren’t able to do everything at once, but we’re doing important work on these statutes that are really important to people’s lives across the province.
Mr. Speaker: Member for Saanich North and the Islands, supplemental.
REVIEW OF POLICE ACT
We actually have changed one significant part of the act. We have not done a significant review of the Mental Health Act in decades, yet we are expending hundreds of millions of dollars on that act that is founded on values that are from a completely different generation, and those are the outcomes that we’re getting.
We know that outdated acts can cause harm. They don’t reflect the lessons of history or the tidal wave of social change that we’ve seen here in this 21st century.
We can see this when police are the primary response to mental health crises instead of trained crisis responders. That brings me to another act that needs updating: the Police Act. The committee reviewing the Police Act recently tabled a report, a couple of weeks ago. It called for a transformational change. B.C. Police Association liked the report.
The representatives that I spoke to at an event earlier this week were very supportive, and, in fact, expressed to me their gratitude for how the committee articulated the challenges that police services face in this province and how we navigated what can be tricky territory.
The response from some when we tabled that report was that it was dead in the water. Why? Well, because governments can’t do transformational change. The response from this minister was that there was going to be consultation this summer. I don’t believe that’s good enough. This file needs leadership. We’ve got a session that is almost over, and British Columbians haven’t seen that leadership yet.
To the Minister of Public Safety: will he commit to delivering on the recommendations of this committee and establish an oversight committee to work with him to transform policing and public safety in our province?
Hon. M. Farnworth:
I thank the member for his question. What I can tell you is that I think the committee did some outstanding work and did deliver to this chamber —and in fact, to the public — a very comprehensive report in terms of how we reform policing in this province.
What is critical, and what I have said publicly and when the committee was struck, is that we need to change and reform and modernize the Police Act. That work is underway, and the work of the committee is going to be a critical component on the reform of that piece of legislation.
What I can tell you is that my public statements so far have been that the report is now within my ministry. The analysis on the recommendations is underway. But what I can tell you, and what we have committed to, is that there is a new Police Act going to be coming. The report that was done by the all-party committee, unanimously, approved is a critical cornerstone of that work.