Meet Gord Bylo. His son suffers from mental illness and drug addiction. He and his wife are living a parent’s nightmare. His story is a compelling reason for change.
Is Abbotsford’s Police Department Capable Of Dealing With Homelessness or Drug Addiction?
By Mike Archer. In this series we will look at the role of first responders, more particularly the APD, in the larger social issues surrounding mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness which have taken center stage in Abbotsford. We will ask whether or not it is even appropriate to ask the police to play such a central role in the dealing with the many issues surrounding homelessness.
We will look at training opportunities for first responders, especially the police, we will ask how the APD has managed to play such a significant role in dealing with homelessness, for such a long time, with so little training in dealing with the people it has targeted for enforcement.
We have spoken to two well-known individuals in the fields of mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness; and, we have asked for the input of Fraser Health with specific reference to its ‘Moments to Milestones’ video** on first responders and those who suffer from addiction and/or mental illness which was released late in 2014.
We hope to encourage a community discussion about the ways we have tried, and in some cases failed, to solve some of the toughest issues facing society today, and, in the process, contribute to the healing process and the search for solutions which work for the entire community – not just those who measure up to the sometimes unrealistic moral, medical and behavioural standards of a powerful local minority.
While there are strong opinions about how best to approach these issues, some have proven to work, others have not. We hope to help Abbotsford move forward based on best practices, science, medicine and fact in helping our most marginalized citizens.
We have asked APD Chief Constable Bob Rich to participate but have not heard back. We’ll let you know when we do. Chief Rich and the APD have stated publicly that they will not engage in discussions with Abbotsford Today or, apparently, even respond to our offers to explain themselves. To find out why simply click here.
- Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Intro
- Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part One; Fraser Health
- Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part 2; Ann Livingston
Tell us what you think. Use the comments box below or send us an email at editor@Todaymedia.ca.
Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part 3
Interview with Gord ByloToday Media: After viewing the Fraser Health video, ‘Moments to Milestones,’ how do you react to the police chief describing his visceral anger at a fictional wife beater who suffers from mental illness and/or drug addiction? Is it appropriate to describe someone suffering from mental illness and/or drug abuse only in terms of such a heinous crime?
Gord Bylo: The police chief is the second layer of the onion. Here is someone on the front line leading a police force with his attitude that is both archaic and frankly prejudicial to this population group. To serve and protect everyone … or just some? My only comment about this Chief is that he seems to be burnt out, frustrated and should take a leave. He is expressing how he feels rightly or wrongly but it is also his truth.
Perhaps he should chat with retiring Chief Jim Cessford (Delta) who is well versed with these challenges that policing faces. The stigma associated with MI runs deep and knows no boundaries. I have seen it in justice and healthcare. The video itself certainly represents the way things could be but not how they are. I truly believe that health authorities’ policies prevent the treatment needed by SMI’s. I know for a fact that Fraser Health is desperately understaffed for this population group. Why else would they turn them away at the ER? The stigma within Fraser Health and others is real – if they are addicted they do not get in.
I think the producers had the intention to show healthcare workers that they are not alone, that other caregivers are frustrated. I sure hope Fraser Health is not suggesting that this is what happens in the field. The follow-up video should be an exposé as to how they allocate a billion plus $ per year and how much goes to this epidemic called mental health. Policing must stand up, shout to the power brokers “why are you expecting us to be front line mental health workers?”
By the way I posted a comment on the YouTube site after I viewed the video. I complimented the healthcare workers but also added awareness as to what is really happening in the field and the hospitals. My comment was removed within 40 minutes.
** Fraser Health’s video Moments to Milestones
TM: How well equipped have you found police and police departments in the Lower Mainland to deal with the mental health, alcohol dependence and drug addiction suffered by a growing number of citizens, particularly among the homeless?
GB: The police academy 90 day courses average 6.5 hours of training relative to mental illness even though 40% of people they come in contact with are ill. Most police officers I talk to speak about their lack of training and that they feel helpless when it comes to our seriously mentally ill. They are totally frustrated with a health care system that constantly turns ill people away from ER’s. Police officers will spend up to 6 hours with a seriously mentally ill person attempting to have them admitted to a hospital only to witness on a continued basis individuals being released prematurely from the hospital. Even worse the ER refuses to treat those with concurrent disorders which could be addiction and some other mental illness. Healthcare and government need to recognize that addiction is a mental illness and provide care.
Policing is stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are trained to enforce the law not interpret it. If someone breaks the law they are not in a position to say “ He is ill, he didn’t mean it therefore we shouldn’t arrest him.” That said 40%+ of daily contact is with SMI’s. They usually arrest the same person over and over. The crime is typically a breach of conditions – failing to attend a probation meeting, curfew – very minor crimes of administration of justice. How our justice system expects our SMI’s to adhere to conditions is beyond me.
Most of these people are homeless, don’t have an agenda book or smart phone. Their fundamental purpose comes down to survival and staying alive. Finding a dry place to sleep, food etc. We expect them to behave and adhere to conditions as if they are not ill. If an SMI has little insight, comprehension or they are psychotic – do we really expect them to behave “normal”? We must because justice seems to ignore the fact that 40%+ of people coming through the courtroom are ill. If they were paraplegic in a wheel chair would we say “well today we expect you to walk up the stairs like everyone else?”
By the way – the recent Guilford Safeway incident, Translink police – headlines should read “Distraught Man stabbing himself is shot and killed by police!”
Addicts As Criminals
TM: How much of an impact do you think the traditional image of drug addicts as criminals who prey upon innocent people and live in the shadows of our society has had on the ability of our institutions to be able to help those who suffer from drug addiction?GB: I sense that most of us have this stigmatized view. Drug addicts do steal and its usually small stuff – cd’s, a phone, a lawnmower etc. In fact the term drug addict is a dirty word. Most of these crimes create a nuisance and are not life threatening or changing to any of us. In fact let’s be honest, all addictions steal from something. A workaholic steals from his good health and family. A porn addict steals from the victims, himself, his relationships etc. A tobacco smoker is an addict. They hurt themselves and others and then once they have cancer, cost our healthcare systems millions of dollars. They probably will also suffer with depression as their physical illness progresses. People, these human beings,are slowly committing suicide, they are dying in front of us every day. What are we doing as a society to prevent this slow self-inflicted death? It is no different than anyone else with an acute illness.
The person with a food addiction, the overeater is typically self-medicating another condition with food. Of course they will end up with obesity, live with depression as a result of the stigma and again cost the healthcare system. This addiction to mask another illness will compound and cause other conditions like diabetes. I could go on and on – the shopper, the hoarder, the control freak – every one of these conditions is covering up another disorder. Growing up in the 60-70’s was always about masking things that we thought others might not like. What will the neighbors think? I used to be that person until my son’s illness woke me up to the reality. I think if the ordinary citizen looked at these people as being ill perhaps they would shout out “Why is healthcare allowing this to happen?” Why do we have laws that prevent best practices? The privacy law is a perfect example. My son is an adult and therefore healthcare does not have to speak with me.
I call it the privacy “card”. Just pull it and the family is not involved. Furthermore who in government is deciding where healthcare dollars get spent? There seems to be an attitude that addicts “did it to themselves”. This is simply not true or that simple. Addiction to anything starts as a need (right or wrong), becomes a habit and then an addiction. And in most cases its self-medication for mental illness.
Assault of this group is common and accepted.My son has wondered into people’s yards and has been approached by a homeowner. His lack of insight causes him to appreciate the situation differently. He will introduce himself not understanding that the other person has a different take on him being in their yard. He has been assaulted with a hockey stick, a bat, fists and other objects. He will never raise a hand to anyone. In one case he was badly beaten by a White Rock homeowner. He was hiding in their carport. His psychosis caused him to think two men in a black sedan were following him. So he hid in the carport.
Out came a 250 lb. gorilla – threw down this 135 lb person and pummeled him. The police were called, took my son away and never charged the assailant. They called an ambulance at the police station as blood coming from my sons ear indicated more severe injuries. Then RCMP called me and told me what happened and how could they help. I asked them to charge the homeowner. Nothing ever happened. My message – vigilante behavior is legal, alive and well. This is just one example of many when this citizens fundamental rights have been forgotten as a result of the stigma.
There are so many examples of discrimination I could write a book on the subject.
Addicts And The Justice System
TM: Your personal journey down this road has struck a nerve, not only because of the devotion both you and your wife have shown to your son but because Brian seems to contradict much of the usual imagery surrounding drug addiction. How much of that do you think has to do with the fact that people like Brian typically only have their story told once they are criminalized and their background and family circumstances rarely get told?
GB: Once a concurrent disordered person is in the justice system you have the perfect storm. And take my word for it; I attend the Surrey courthouse on a regular basis and to sometimes speak up for my son.
Let me describe the picture.Brian has breached for missing a meeting or curfew or the like. He is arrested and put in a police car and taken to the pretrial center in Surrey. They know Brian, recognize him to be ill and lock him in the “medical range”. This is an area of the jail for inmates with known mental illness and it is full 24/7. It’s important to realize that this has been happening for 7 years on a regular basis. He will wait and then he goes to court. Brian sees this incarceration as part of his life now. Once in court the legal aid lawyer and crown will discuss what to do this time.
He could be given more time or be put on probation. Over and over! The justice system is so overwhelmed with the mentally ill inmates that they simply look at what law has been broken and decide on sentencing. Most people in the court know me now. And seeing my very ill son in orange coveralls in the prisoners both is heartbreaking. He is the kindest, caring person you could meet. I will ask if I can speak and tell Brian’s story. Justice does not communicate with healthcare and vice versa. Let’s say he is given 30 days. He stays in the unit, can call us collect which he does each night, receives no treatment etc. Of course the guards all know Brian and like him. He gives no one a hassle.
When he is released he is still homeless, healthcare knowing he is ill has no involvement with his release plan. he was given meds every day he was locked up. He is released without medicine even though In fact he has been released with a tee shirt and wet cloths in the middle of winter. No one is responsible for this ill individual. If he is released to a recovery home no one in justice has checked references of the place and they expect this ill person with no insight to do the legwork. This program is repeated several times a year with the same outcome. And Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result”.
1000’s of families are suffering this stigma. The revolving door rhetoric we hear on a regular basis – well guess what, my son is in the revolving door but so are about 40 other people. The cops who picked him up, the Sherriff, the guards, the social worker at the jail, the court, legal aid crown counsel, judge, recorders, etc. etc. This is ridiculous. And costs our system 10’s of millions of dollars a year. Speak to any cop in Surrey and they will tell you – they are not trained for this, they don’t want to put ill people in jail but they have to. Families become ill and will begin to show the symptoms of this heavy burden they carry in silence.
TM: Do you believe the basic psychology of a police department makes it a suitable organization to be dealing with mental health and drug addiction issues?
GB: No and no.
TM: What do you say to those who believe that a drug addict must first ‘bottom out’ before they can be ‘saved’ and that a good dose of ‘tough love’ from society is what is needed to help them turn their lives around?
GB:This is a theory and I imagine when addiction was looked at in its simplest form it might have made sense. We followed that theory for several years waiting for Brian to “bottom out”. I am not sure how much lower he can get short of a grave. If a person lacks insight as a result of their illness then how do we expect them to comprehend what a healthy person thinks is the bottom.
The SMI’s are not equipped to actually understand how bad things are. That ability to reason has been stripped away. Some would say “they are not playing with a full deck”. Pretty tough to play a game of cards when several spades are missing. No different here – our healthy society thinks that this population must behave and reason as if they were not ill.
What is tough love anyhow? Is tough love repeated incarceration, denial of healthcare, discrimination, fear for their life on the street? If someone has emphysema as result of chain smoking do we discriminate them? No of course not. They are admitted and treated for the rest of their living life. We don’t punish them because they “chose” to smoke.
Mental Illness And The Police
TM: What kind of a response have you been receiving to your calls to stop criminalizing drug addiction and mental illness?
GB: Well I am always encouraged when I am put in a forum where people come to listen. I spoke at the justice institute in New West a few months back. 300+ attendees. All justice type people. My topic was – A Fathers Journey – common ground. I shared what a family goes through, what is a SMI, stories of Brian’s journey and the “damage” we are doing to this population. Dead silence. Everyone was listening and emotions where certainly activated. I shared how SMI in a family can cause the whole family to become ill.I also shared a report published for the RCMP as to how much health benefit claims for mental illness in the force has climbed – 2012: 38% of claims are associated with mental illness – depression, anxiety etc. When you are not trained for this you will become ill yourself. After my talk which was towards the end of the conference a dozen people waited in line to speak with me. Most to “come out” – what I mean is mental illness is everywhere, in most family trees. People are dying to talk and speak out about their situation or experience but there is no consistent forum. Or they are embarrassed to do so as a result of the stigma.
I am a pain for most. Two years ago I organized a meeting with Mayor Watts as host in an effort to pull in all the stakeholders to one room. This had never happened before. We had policing, healthcare, probation, crown, corrections, social workers, car 67 and volunteers. Good turnout. 40+ I was amazed this hadn’t happened before. Lots of discussion, palm slapping etc. But no outcome to speak of. Nothing has changed and there has been no other meeting.
Police don’t talk to healthcare. Corrections has no responsibility for a suitable release plan, police still arrest ill people every day, hospitals still deny treatment. I have read dozens of $40,000 reports – they all say the same thing. We have a crisis, don’t incarcerate our ill, don’t expect cops to be mental health workers, don’t build more jails, build more treatment facilities.
We have one treatment center in the lower mainland (well BC) called Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and addiction. It opened four years ago with 90 beds. It is a residential treatment center. It has constantly had a 900+ person waiting list since it opened!
My therapy is speaking to others, awaking people with my stories and showing compassion to our less fortunate. I am always amazed at how people will open up if I do. The stigma runs so deep that people need to talk. I attended the Canadian Mental Health Association conference in Calgary. 500+ people all talking but no one could really say what was actually happening in our country but I knew they were all feeling it. I spoke and woke the room with a real case and point story about my son and family.
The stigma is causing our healthcare providers to become unhealthy. I ended my commentary with “ what we need is a march, people to get angry, shout out. The audience cheered. I figured out that most people can’t say what I can because they have a job they could lose. Or they don’t know how to speak out. People do care and are fundamentally good. But they do need serious, determined leadership when it comes to forcing change.
The Shooting Of Roy Roberts
This now infamous video of the shooting of one of Abbotsford’s best known members of the homeless community, Roy Roberts, was shot April 16th, 2014 and shows Roberts being taken down in a hail of rubber bullets by APD officers while screaming “What did I do?”
The video also clearly demonstrates an APD officer calling Roberts, whose first name is Roy, by the name ‘John’, a tactic sometimes used to disorient people in confrontations with police. Why a police officer would deliberately try to disorient a man in crisis, a man with whom they have had over 200 interactions and know intimately, who suffers from mental illness and drug addiction, while repeatedly shooting him, is a question the APD has never adequately answered.
No charges were laid against Roy Roberts that day. He was simply shot and taken away.
Where To From Here
TM: What advice would you give the community of Abbotsford as is slowly moves away from its Anti Harm Reduction bylaw and strives to understand what has gone wrong in it’s tough stance on drug addiction?
- Explain addiction is a not by choice but an illness.
- Insist that healthcare treat every concurrent disordered person the police deliver to the ER.
- Enforce section 8.1 of BC Human Rights that states all citizens will receive treatment.
- Recognize that addiction is an illness usually accompanied by other mental illness.
- Show compassion
- Arrest people who assault this vulnerable group.
- Institute a mental health court to divert people from justice to healthcare.
- Create a Car 67 mental health police team.
- Train the police more about recognizing MI people and what to do. Don’t shoot them!
- Insist healthcare, justice and the city all work together on the project. All stakeholders must own and be responsible for a piece of the new solution.
- Assure all stakeholders work on this change initiative. They must or you will end up with no progress. All in!
- Educate the public. Get some stories from affected families – the real stuff. And of course the MI themselves.
- Make NIMBY a crime! or don’t discriminate.
TM: Is there anything we should have asked?
GB: Others affected:
This is a nightmare for affected families. We are taught that when our kid is ill we bring him to the hospital. When are kids have been assaulted we call the police. All of the infrastructure and societal beliefs that you are brought up to count on actually work against you when you have a SMI, concurrent in your family. After years of this the family becomes the “not normal”. If the doorbell rings we jump. Even in a TV show. Is it the cops, our son – what now. The phone the
same. You can’t travel because you can’t leave your house unattended. Or you miss work because you are so deflated trying to get care for your child that you can’t possibly do your job.
Your relationship suffers. 50% of marriages break up because of the stress and disagreement. Other siblings become ill or disconnect from their family just to survive. Friends disassociate themselves with you because your story is old or too hard to listen to. What used to make you happy doesn’t. You are at risk of becoming dependent on a substance yourself. Your life revolves around your sick child with little support from anyone no matter how you try not to let this happen. Your world changes!
You must look after yourself. Go to the gym, help others, speak out: don’t be shy, watch your own habits, do things to give you hope and show compassion to others. It could be you or your child one day.
Also ask police, probation, crown, healthcare workers to contribute on an anonymous basis – they are all tired, not able to do their jobs and burning out quickly.
TM: Is there anything you would like to add?
Over 30% of RCMP claims are related to mental health.
- Best Practices – Concurrent Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
- Human Rights Code
- Mental Health and Substance Use in British Columbia/
- Mental Health and Substance Use in British Columbia
- RCMP Mental Health Strategy (2014-2019)
Gord Bylo is a father from Delta whose son, Brian, lives with serious mental illness (SMI) and drug addiction. Gord and his wife Virginia have been vocal advocates for education and understanding of the issues surrounding addiction and mental illness and the need to treat them as health and medical issues rather than criminalize their victims. Gordon has witnessed his son’s incarceration into the justice system dozens of times and is well aware of the vast separation between stakeholders.
For more on the Bylo family and their journey:
Short Summary of Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis:
First came John Smith’s announcement to the national media that he had instructed the APD to handle homelessness in downtown Abbotsford; then the Abbotsford Shuffle – otherwise known as Chief Bob Rich’s “disperse and displace” strategy for solving homelessness; then Mayor Banman’s Chicken Manure Incident (first revealed on Abbotsford Today); then there was the Standoff in Jubilee; followed by the ‘MCC Dignity Village‘ protest camp on Gladys Avenue and the gathering of more and more of Abbotsford’s homeless to the security of living with others and out in the open in the growing size and number of camps across from the Salvation Army and along Gladys Avenue.
Along the way a few embarrassing revelations were uncovered and published by Abbotsford Today including
the fact that the Salvation Army knew about and was in agreement with the use of chicken feces to encourage the homeless to move from their camp across the street from the Sally Ann; and the rude and demeaning emails shared by police chief Bob Rich and his senior staff after the Chicken Manure Incident went worldwide.
Editor’s Note: We have sent all of our questions to APD Chief Constable Bob Rich but have, as of publication, not heard back. Chief Rich and the APD have stated publicly that they will not engage in discussions with Abbotsford Today. To find out why simply click here.