Crystal Muenier, and others like her, need
immediate help, not jail. Below, she's shows off an infectious smile
can spot the raw underbelly of Chilliwack coming a block away.
Bedraggled. Wandering aimlessly.
When it comes to the current crime wave sweeping across Chilliwack,
there are no bigger prolific offenders than Crystal Muenier. She's the
poster girl for prolifics. According to court documents, she's been
arrested, charged and released 42 times since 2009. Before that, she had
problems in Surrey.
But in Muenier's case, it's a trifecta of mental illness, drugs and
plenty of probation breaches that keep her cycling in and out of jail.
Each time she falls through cracks, she lands right back in the RCMP's
She's a tragedy waiting to happen. Police caught up with her early
Monday morning meandering
down Yale Road panty-less, with a hiked up skirt Later that
afternoon, they found her in the old Empress Hotel parking lot wigging
the police who arrest her are all she's got. They're her front-line
workers and get her off the street to safety when she's like this. But,
the RCMP have said many times jails are no place for people with mental
Similar scenes involving mental health unfold multiple times a day in
Chilliwack. All police can do is watch and make sure
the person doesn't hurt themselves.
Muenier wasn't in breach Monday, therefore couldn't be arrested. So,
Emergency Hospital Services are called and she's taken to the psyche
ward at Chilliwack General. A short time later, it's all set in motion
again when she's released to wander prone until re-arrested.
Police in BC say that 1-in-5 calls are mental health-related. When
having to assess people with significant functional impairments, cops
have no choice but to act as medical professionals and apprehend them
under the Mental Health Act.
The situation downtown is so familiar to cops, they're on a
first-name basis with Muenier and the other prolific offenders.
Kim Lloyd, who runs the Pacific Community Resources Society needle
exchange program watches the events unfold from her step-side van.
"Look, they aren't arresting her," declares Lloyd, who deals with
Muenier occasionally. "They could take her to CGH."
The police are in a pitched battle. The problem is an ineffective
treatment system where individuals in need of care are stuck in an
endless loop when they're released back into the community to fend for
themselves with little, or no support.
What ends up happening is the community blames the police, who look to
the courts. Evidently, the courts back the police in that
jail isn’t the right place for the mentally ill.
On Tuesday, City council unanimously threw their support behind the BC
Government's biblical "Blue Ribbon Report on Crime Reduction"
The BRRCR which focuses primarily on crime and prolific offenders, is
nebulous about mental health strategies or to make recommendations other
than a couple of pages telling us governments need to be more involved.
It was tabled last December. Chilliwack was not part of the consultation process, with the exception
of Restorative Justice and Youth Advocacy Association.
Councillor Sue Attrill gave the BRRCR a ringing endorsement.
"This is a big issue for us. RCMP resources are repeatedly drained out.
We'd like to see something done to reduce crime in our community,"
stated Attrill at the meeting Tuesday. "It is our goal to continue to
work in partnership with the RCMP and senior levels of government, and
have had discussions with MLA Darryl Plecas, who has been very
supportive and we can't thank them enough for their involvement, and our
local MLA's about crime reduction. Going forward, I see this as an
opportunity to support the suggested changes which the province's Blue
Ribbon Report Crime Reduction and I hope that this plan, will indeed
drive the crime rate lower in both our city and the province of British
Police watch over Crystal Muenier during a
mental illness episode in the Empress parking lot Monday.
Attrill was correct in stating the resources police need to manage
mental health in the city is hefty.
For example, on Wednesday, several officers, a K9 unit and Air One
chopper were all used to locate a young suicidal Chilliwack woman
allegedly carrying an xacto blade. Once apprehended, reports were she
was banging her head on the bars in the back of the cruiser on the way to the hospital.
The panel, who put the BRRCR together, recommends the Province "enhance the
treatment options available in the community, including those in
custody; increase access to Aboriginal-led treatment programs for
Aboriginal offenders and prioritize funding for programs focused on
sustainable long-term recovery".
Even though police do an exemplary job dealing with mentally distressed
people, the BRRCR notes "in a recent House of
Commons report on the economics of policing, front-line police officers
are not the best equipped to deal with mental health problems."
The panel also recommended that "governments constitutionally
responsible for health care work in collaboration with local police
forces, achieve better practices when dealing with persons having
mental health problems and illnesses, outside of the police being the
first and only line of response".
Sharon Gatez commended Abbotsford MLA Plecas and his staff for their
work in putting the 90-page BRRCR booklet together, and for
looking at the cause and effect and impact crime has on
“He makes the point very well that it’s connected a lot to mental
illness (and crime), that sometimes they cannot be separated anymore,”
said Gaetz. “Of the people who are doing most of the crime, few people
are doing 80 per cent of the crime. In fact, the numbers are much higher
because they usually don’t get caught, they’re seasoned prolific
Councillor Waddington touched on the heart of the matter by saying that
it’s a problem for upper levels of government, but failed to point a
finger, for instance, at the Ministry of Health.
Councillor Lum thanked Attrill for her past work on the Public Safety
Committee and said he’d be with her at the UBCM in support of the
resolution on the report.
One thing that would help is a unit similar to the downtown eastside's
Strathcona Mental Health Team. Most other large communities in the
Fraser Valley have Assertive Community Treatment Teams (ACT) that
provide outreach services to adults with persistent mental illness.
Surrey has one. Abbotsford has one.
Michael Marchbank, Fraser Health President and CEO, told The Voice
after a Fraser Valley Regional District board meeting back in February,
that there weren't plans to get an
ACT Team in Chilliwack.
Hiring more officers isn't necessarily the antidote either. But due to
the number of times police respond to mental illness calls, having a
street team in Chilliwack like ACT, would be the equivalent of hiring
more police officers.
The difference is the outreach and the follow-up teams provide. But
due to their high cost, only 15 such teams are currently deployed in BC,
when approximately 60 would be required to cover most areas of the
There could be more community-based policing in Chilliwack. But in order to do that, you need cops who are established and
trusted in the community. For instance, they can't learn about what's
going on in the north side if they live isolated from it on
A man is arrested under the Mental Health
Act at the Alano Club last Friday.
Public Health Nurses are everywhere on the Downtown East Side of
Vancouver which is Coastal Health's jurisdiction.
Tasleem Juma, Fraser Health spokesperson, said there was help in clinics
but limited outreach.
"Outreach Services to clients with a mental illness or substance use
issues are not provided by a Public Health Nurse, but rather clinicians
within our mental health and substance use system," she said in an
e-mail Wednesday. "In addition, we have a contract with Salvation Army
which provides a part-time Homelessness Outreach Worker".
"The Community Mental Health Centre provides mental health services
which are either office-based or outreach in nature dependent upon
client situation and need. Riverstone Home and a Mobile Detox program
has an outreach Addictions Worker that provides outreach for substance
use services full-time to residents of Chilliwack," wrote Juma.
"We have a very good working relationship with the Chilliwack RCMP and
we have a Full Time Mental Health Police Liaison that coordinates
services and response with the local RCMP detachment. The system for
responding to individuals with mental health issues and who are charged
with offences, is the Forensic System, not Fraser Health's mental health
and substance use program. The court is the access point to the Forensic
system after a judge orders a forensic assessment of the individual,"
UFV professor Blakeborough said in his multi-dimensional
Housing First Report to city hall, that people in other areas are
finding out homeless services are better in Chilliwack. The whole
support system is stretched so thin it's ready to snap as mentally ill street people
push their way up the valley.
On Tuesday, Chilliwack police were checking out a woman charged with
break and enter who is waiting to go to court in Langley.
There are alternatives to consider such as Rainier School in Washington, which
is a small town with homes where developmentally disabled people live.
Similar places and programs can be modified for mentally ill in Canada.
Jim Green came to Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and set up the Downtown
Eastside Residents Association (DERA). He brought his big American
dreams with him and managed to change the social landscape of Canada's poorest
postal code, eventually creating the Portland Hotel for people like Muenier. It was also where John Turvey and Barb Daniels set up the first
A mental health consultation process is taking place in Europe, called
the "Tell us" initiative.
"It's about being involved instead of being affected: The positive
response to the initiative Tell us! highlights that many patients and
relatives are eager to share their experience and questions regarding
mental illnesses. The platform
provides an opportunity to make suggestions concerning which unsolved
problems and research questions in terms of prevention, diagnosis and
treatment of mental illnesses should be addressed. For the first time,
citizens are able to actively shape science. Contributing to this unique
initiative in Europe is still possible until July 6th."
Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft has started the initiative Tell us! in
spring 2015 in order to enable interested parties and affected people to
take part in the research process by generating research questions. The
focus of the initiative lies on mental health and it is part of an
ongoing project dealing with
Innovation in Science. Opening up the innovation process at
pre-determined points in time allows for outside knowledge to improve
In the end, it all comes down to funding. It's going to take as much
money as governments can throw at it.
The Blue Ribbon Report on Crime Reduction's next stop is the UBCM in
But Muenier could be dead by then.
Below, a release that came out on Wednesday from the Canadian Mental
"On the heels of the Canadian Mental Health Association's (CMHA)
successful 64th annual Mental Health Week campaign – where Canadians
were encouraged to take action to reduce discrimination and stigma and
demand more and better access to mental health programs and services
from their elected representatives – CMHA is releasing key results from
a Nanos Research poll on mental health funding."
"In most provinces, funding has not kept pace with the demand for
services," says Peter Coleridge, National CEO of CMHA. "In some
provinces, there have actually been reductions in funding."
According to the poll, commissioned by CMHA, Canadians strongly believe
that mental health must be a funding priority for governments. The
survey found that:
• 94% of Canadians
said that mental health conditions should receive the same or higher
funding priority compared to physical health conditions and
• 90% of respondents support the creation of a dedicated mental
health transition fund
"Canadians want better access to high quality mental health services and
this is not surprising," says Coleridge. "According to a 2012 Statistics
Canada health survey, one in six Canadians aged 15 or older reported
having had a need for mental health care."
"While it's important to reduce discrimination and the stigma around
mental illness, it is equally important to continue to call on
governments to ensure appropriate levels of funding for mental health
services so that the help is there when people need it," adds Coleridge.
CMHA's position is consistent with three key recommendations in
the Mental Health Strategy for Canada (2012), which calls on all
governments in Canada to:
• increase their
proportion of health spending that is devoted to mental health from
7% to 9% over 10 years;
• increase the proportion of social spending that is devoted to
mental health by 2 percentage points from current levels; and
• identify current mental health spending that should be reallocated
to improve efficiency and achieve better mental health outcomes.
As the federal Standing Committee on Health undertakes a new study on
mental health in Canada, CMHA strongly believes that we do not need more
studies to provide a direction for mental health transformation in
Canada. CMHA also looks forward to learning more about the Mental
Health Commission of Canada's new mandate and proposed Mental Health
"Canada has an evidence-based mental health strategy and all provinces
have mental health and addiction strategies or plans. This has led to
progress in transforming programs and services across Canada as health
and social service providers better align efforts to keep people healthy
and collaborate more effectively at various points of care within
limited resources. However, many Canadians continue to experience
barriers to receiving timely, quality mental health services. The
transformation of mental health services requires governments at all
levels to fund the implementation of various strategies and plans," says
In line with recommendations first made in a 2007 Senate report to
establish a mental health transition fund for Canada, CMHA is reminding
elected representatives and public officials across the country about
the need for increased investments in mental health, mental illness and
addiction. CMHA, an active member of the Canadian Alliance on Mental
Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH), will continue to work with all
community partners and Canadians to further these discussions.
For more information on how to GET LOUD for increased mental health
funding, go to CMHA's Mental Health Week website at
Below is a list of mental health services available in Chilliwack
courtesy of Fraser Health Authority.
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