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Civilians, not Toronto police, to take over mental health 911 calls in pilot programme in Canada

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Toronto, Canada, will launch a pilot programme that will see civilians, not police officers, dispatched to 911 calls involving mental health crises — as long as violence is not being threatened.

Council also approved a motion by Mayor John Tory to fast-track parts of the plan and review 911 call services in 2021 to determine how best to dispatch help through the proposed new service.

The plan calls for four crisis support teams in different parts of the city, to respond to some of the roughly 30,000 calls for people in crisis that go through 911 each year. 

Pilot programmes are to be launched in early 2022, and were scheduled to be fully implemented in 2026 if proven successful. Tory’s motion called for full implementation by 2025.

“Putting something else in place is not a simple task. It is necessary that we do it properly,” said Tory, in bringing forward the motion. Nonetheless, the mayor said, he believes it can be done more quickly.

Asante Haughton, a mental health advocate and co-founder of the Reach Out Response Network, focused on transformational change in mental-health crisis response, said the move is another rung on the ladder to a more equitable society.

“I really see this as an opportunity to transform the way that we think about mental health and transform the way that we think about social service and community building in general,” he said.

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Source: Toronto Star, 2 February 2021

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