During a rare press conference Thursday morning, RCMP Southeast District Chief Supt. Brad Hougli said he was “deeply concerned” when he saw a surveillance video showing part of a wellness check conducted by an RCMP officer.
In the video, Const. Lacy Browning drags UBC Okanagan nursing student Mona Wang handcuffed and half-naked down a carpeted hallway to the building’s lobby.
The officer then steps on Wang’s head with her boot, and about a minute later lifts her head up by her hair.
“I am very sorry to Ms. Wang for what occurred,” Haugli said. “If that was my family member or friend, I would have deep concerns and want answers as well.”
Haugli is now calling for Kelowna’s police and crisis team, also known as the PACT program, to be expanded.
“It is a high goal to achieve, but we need to get to the table and start working on that,” he said.
Ultimately, Haugli said he wants to see an Interior Health nurse paired with an officer for every mental health-related call.
“Mental health calls should and could be assessed by trained mental health workers, and we would be a support mechanism if they felt there was jeopardy to themselves or others,” Haugli said.
However, Interior Health said it’s not planning to expand the PACT program at this time.
“We have had a look at the data in terms of the number of clients that we see while the PACT team has been in place, and it ranges between three and four clients per shift,” said Karen Bloemink, Interior Health’s clinical operations vice president.
“What we want to be looking at is a model where we used a team-based approach and provide access to services and outreach to a broader portion of our population that represents those that might need supports relating to mental health,” she added.
The health authority said it is committed to working with RCMP and that it is considering expanding other crisis outreach and response programs.
“One of the challenges with the PACT model is that it is highly-resourced in terms of having a mental health registered nurse committed to the RCMP vehicle and only seeing small numbers of clients while they’re on a shift.”
“Whereas, if we look at our team-based crisis response outreach model, there’s a much broader touch to the number of clients and the types of supports that we can provide,” Bloemink said. “And we see that as a higher value for the scarce resources that we have in our system now.”
Over the last four years, RCMP said they’ve seen a 21-per cent increase in mental health-related calls, plus a spike during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the month of May alone, RCMP responded to 1,456 calls — the highest number ever recorded, according to Haugli.
Wang said she appreciates the apology from the chief superintendent and that the police force is trying to expand the PACT program.
“But you know, I think the root of the problem, first of all, is definitely that we need more mental health resources, but the other fact is you don’t need to be a health care worker to have that level of compassion to not kick someone when they’re already down,” Wang said.
She said she wants police to be held accountable for their actions and to take complaints seriously.
“People who are in such a high position of power, there definitely should be a more lengthy preparation because right now they feel like they can just be judge, jury and executioner with no repercussions,” Wang said.
Wang has launched a lawsuit against Browning, the federal attorney general and the B.C. public safety minister, who is responsible for actions of RCMP.
In the civil response, the defendants claim that Browning’s use of force was “no more than was reasonable and necessary.”
“The written civil statement of claim to the video that’s in question provides a completely different picture,” Haugli said.
As soon as senior RCMP management saw the video, Browning was put on desk duty and internal code of conduct and criminal investigations were initiated.
The police watchdog is not involved because Wang’s injuries did not meet the criteria, Haugli said.
“We interviewed Ms. Wang as late as Tuesday and there’s no evidence still that shows that we need to advance this to the IIO for their notification,” he said.
However, the investigation’s findings will be reviewed by Abbotsford police. A report is expected to be forwarded to Crown counsel by mid-July, Haugli said.
As of Thursday afternoon, a petition calling for Browning to be fired and charged with assault has received more than 350,000 signatures.
In a statement, Kelowna mayor Colin Basran said that he plans to meet with Interior Health next week to discuss the escalating number of mental health-related calls.
“A new approach is going to take all levels of government and social agencies working together to address mental illness and addictions,” he said.
“We need to rethink our systems.”