Canada’s mental health crisis demands a national summit with representation from all levels of government, Toronto Mayor John Tory said Wednesday, claiming a lack of provincial and federal support is off-loading responsibilities onto “ill-equipped” municipalities.
In a statement, Tory called for a summit that would see mayors, ministers, premiers and the prime minister discuss how better to support people living with mental health and addiction challenges.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tory said the lack of spending on mental health is “painfully clear on the streets” of Canadian municipalities.
“This summit must be the moment we start treating mental health care as health care. That we clearly decide on who has responsibility to do what, and to get on with doing much more together,” he said.
The mayor has routinely linked issues of mental health support with recent random violent attacks on Toronto public transit. Police have reported three incidents on the city’s transit system in the past four days alone.
After a woman was stabbed to death during a random attack on a subway in mid-December, Tory said more mental health investments were required to ensure people in crisis had places to go other than the transit system.
“When the federal and provincial governments don’t fully and adequately fund mental health care, the responsibility is off-loaded to ill-equipped municipalities across Canada,” he said in Wednesday’s statement.
“It is off-loaded to our shelters, to our police services, to our transit systems, and to hospital emergency departments.”
Asked to respond to Tory’s comments, Ontario Health Minister Sylvia Jones pointed to the province’s investments in crisis response teams that match mental health professionals with police officers.
“There is no doubt more work needs to be done,” said Jones, speaking at a news conference Wednesday morning. “And I am always willing to work with whether it is police forces or municipal governments.”
The office of federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett said making mental health-care an equal part of the universal health-care system is a core part of the government’s plans.
It said the department is continuously working with provincial, territorial, municipal and Indigenous governments on a comprehensive mental health and substance use strategy.
“The Prime Minister will be meeting with premiers on Feb. 7 to ensure sustainability of our system for years to come, and to ensure our investments deliver real, tangible outcomes, including: reducing backlogs and wait times; ensuring access to family health teams; improving mental health services; advancing use of health data; and supporting seniors,” Bennett’s office said in an e-mail.
The best evidence of the ongoing mental health crisis is issues related to substance abuse, Tory said, noting the thousands of people who have died from opioid overdoses.
Tory says he first made the proposal for a national mental health summit directly to Trudeau in December.
“Three years ago, we confronted the COVID-19 pandemic and in that moment all governments worked together to help people and to help each other get through those tough times,” Tory said.
“Now we are facing a mental health crisis that requires that same level of dedication, co-operation and commitment.”