Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Toronto could take a tentative step towards adding a fourth emergency service agency when the mayor’s executive committee votes Wednesday on a plan that would divert mental-health calls from police to teams of civilian health workers.

Under the Toronto plan, the potential creation of a stand-alone mental-health crisis agency to join fire, paramedic and police services is years off. But the go-slow strategy would still place the city near the lead of Canadian municipalities struggling to counteract years of underinvestment in mental health that has resulted in police officers with little mental-health training becoming the default first responders to people in crisis.

“I don’t consider myself qualified to apprehend a bank robber – and [police] are not qualified for some of the difficult situations they’re being asked to address,” said Rachel Bromberg, a law student and mental-health worker who, along with fellow advocate Asante Haughton, founded Reach Out Response Network, a community group working to replace police with health workers on mental-health calls.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Bromberg said the creation of a fourth emergency service is already being undertaken in some American cities and should be the ultimate goal in Toronto as well.

A staff report going before the executive committee on Wednesday calls for the piloting of three mental-health response teams covering the city’s northwest, northeast and eastern downtown regions. A fourth team would focus on Indigenous residents.

The pilot project would cost $1.7-million to develop this year, increasing to over $7-million in 2022 when the teams are fully staffed. If all goes well, a full rollout for the rest of the city wouldn’t begin until 2026. City staff propose a collaboration with Toronto police to “triage and transfer” non-violent mental-health 911 calls, including wellness checks and requests for assistance for individuals in distress.

The service would be available through 911 and also an alternative line, such as 211.

The committee’s chair, Mayor John Tory, is entirely in favour of the proposal. “People call the police at three in the morning because there is no one else to call,” he told The Globe. “We’re going to set about remedying that.”

Toronto Police Service, Canada’s largest municipal force, responds to 30,000 mental-health calls a year. While the vast majority of those interactions end peacefully, many people struggling with mental illness have died during interactions with police. During a three-month period last year, at least five racialized people experiencing mental-health crises died during encounters with police: D’Andre Campbell, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Ejaz Choudry, Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi.

The Toronto plan, headed to a full council debate next week, is a far cry from fulfilling the demands of demonstrators who took to the city’s streets last spring and summer to protest those deaths and call for a large-scale reallocation of police spending towards housing, food security, public transit and other community services.

Story continues below advertisement

The pilot project would focus specifically on non-violent calls. Legislation requires police to respond to many other emergency calls.

“A death is a tragic but relatively rare occurrence in these cases,” Ms. Bromberg said. “What’s more common for a person in crisis is that the police show up and have no choice but to take them out of their home in front of the neighbours and take them to the ER in handcuffs. It’s an extremely traumatic experience that needs to end.”

For some, the timeline for the proposed plan is far too slow and the price tag too cheap.

“The pilot and the thinking that went into it looks very robust and careful,” said Rob Howarth, executive director of Toronto Neighbourhood Centres, a network of 26 community organizations. “But there are pieces missing – we need wraparound services [and] places for these people to go.”

Toronto Neighbourhood Centres authored a report earlier this year recommending the city shift $150-million currently used to police people experiencing mental illness towards civilian crisis-response programs, therapeutic short-term housing and other services.

Mr. Tory, who does not agree with shifting resources away from police, would however also like to see a more ambitious timeline to push the plan forward.

Story continues below advertisement

“I can assure you that if these pilots are successful when they’re in the community in 2023, I will doing my utmost to ensure, if I’m still here, to adopt the model much faster than any timeframe that remotely resembles 2026,” he said. “That is too far away.”

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies