Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part One

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.

Tell us what you think. Use the comments box below or send us an email at

Part One

Fraser HealthThe Role Of First Responders

Fraser Health released a video in late 2014 called ‘Moments to Milestones’ on first responders and those who suffer from addiction and /or mental illness. The Fraser Health region has been accused of lagging other jurisdictions in helping drug users.

As the main provider of health services to the community and as the main source of funding for many of the agencies and service providers which deal with citizens suffering from mental illness and rug addiction, Fraser Health has played a central role in the way the Abbotsford Homeless Crisis has played itself out.

While some might argue it is late in the game to be making videos to help first responders deal with marginalized people, it can also be said that it is better late than never.

We were particularly interested in the choice of Chief Bob Rich as the first speaker in the video. The connection the Chief makes between spousal abuse and mental illness or drug addiction is odd. If there is a connection between mental illness, drug addiction and spousal abuse we have not been able to independently determine its existence nor has the APD or Fraser Health been able to explain why the Chief makes the connection.

We asked Fraser Health Authority for comments on the video. Specifically we directed a series of questions to the Chief Medical Health Officer or a suitable spokesperson. We received the following in reply:

“We couldn’t answer many of your questions directly, as they did not fall into the jurisdiction of Fraser Health.

Therefore, [we] have provided a statement about Moments to Milestones and one about our work in harm reduction.”

Question Asked Of Fraser Health

  1. What prompted the decision to invest in making the video?
  2. Fraser Health has been accused of lagging behind other health regions in its ability to deal with homeless and marginalized people, especially those suffering addiction and mental health issues. Is this video an attempt start to deal with those accusations?
  3. Surrey has seen a certain amount of frustration and conflict develop in the attempts to provide harm reduction services to citizens. Much of that conflict seems to be between the agencies and organizations tasked with providing the services. What role is Fraser Health playing in ensuring that harm reduction services are promptly and properly delivered in Surrey?
  4. Abbotsford has become a poster child community throughout the Western World for how ‘not’ to deal with homelessness, specifically in areas of harm reduction and providing health care to those who suffer from drug addiction, alcohol dependence and/or mental illness.
  5. Other than the forced dismantling of the City’s ‘‘Anti-Harm Reduction Bylaw” due to the legal intervention of the BC Supreme Court, does Fraser Health see any reason for hope that Abbotsford can move beyond the lip service it has been forced to pay by the courts and become a City which understands mental illness and drug addiction are not best solved by criminalization but by social and health care responses?
  6. Is Fraser Health in a position to enforce its role in providing health care to Fraser Valley citizens and force municipalities and police forces to stop criminalizing social behaviour, mental illness, addiction and poverty?
    If not, do citizens have any recourse other than the courts?
  7. The first person interviewed in the video, Abbotsford Chief Constable Bob Rich, makes what appears to be a telling statement of belief when he equates mental illness and drug addiction with wife beating. Since he presents no evidence of any case(s) relating drug addiction or mental illness to wife beating, the viewer is left to wonder why he made the connection.
  8. Is it Fraser Health’s contention that there is a connection between drug addiction and/or mental illness and spousal abuse or is Chief Rich being used as an example of inappropriate attitudes or even of someone who is fooling themselves by attempting to rationalize what he clear describes as “visceral anger” in reaction to a fictitious situation?
  9. Given his rather strange description of his attitudes towards those who suffer from mental illness or drug addiction, is Chief Rich the kind of person who should be leading a modern police force, especially in view of the stated purpose of the video which appears to be setting an example for first responders in dealing with marginalized people?

Fraser Health Responses

Moments to Milestones:
Moments to Milestones is intended as an education resource to be utilized in education and training activities with first responders across the country; to generate dialogue among helping professionals and increase compassion for people who are struggling with substance abuse.

The film was a partnership between Fraser Health and Sources Community Resource Centres, and was made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada’s Drug Treatment Funding Program.

We know that when substance users are responded to with compassion, engagement and inclusion, they are more likely to seek help and treatment – and this was the inspiration for the film.

The goal was to shine a spotlight on the benefits of positive interactions between first responders and people who use substances, and show the potential for a positive relationship between the helper and the helped, rather than one of division and judgment.

Harm Reduction:
Fraser Health supports harm reduction to stop the spread of disease.

We have been working to expand access to harm reduction supplies through public health units, other Fraser Health programs, and supporting community partners. We are committed to diversifying access points for harm reduction, which serves to broaden the platform in which we work with people. Harm reduction services provide a vital tool in combating the spread of disease and connecting people who use substances to services and supports.

Our harm reduction philosophy guides and informs the health care of individuals. This includes working with the individual using an array of strategies and interventions that correspond to supporting their health and goals at that time.

Between A Rock And A Hard Place Series

Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Intro

Short Summary of Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis:

Nick Zurowski, The Face of Homelessness in Abbotsford. Bas Stevens  Photo

Nick Zurowski, The Face of Homelessness in Abbotsford. Bas Stevens Photo

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.

Embarrassing Revelations

Abbotsford Homeless Camp. Bas Stevens photo.

Abbotsford Homeless Camp. Bas Stevens photo.

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.

Leave a Reply