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Review of Campus Safety role in student mental health crises ongoing during fall 2021

Panel seeks to understand Campus Safety procedures, training for mental health crises
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A Campus Safety vehicle. JOHANNA FORTES/THE VARSITY
A Campus Safety vehicle. JOHANNA FORTES/THE VARSITY

Following recommendations from the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Mental Health in 2019, U of T created a 10-member panel to undertake an inquiry into the role that campus policing and safety play in student mental health incidents. Spanning U of T’s three campuses, the review hopes to assess the mental health crisis response procedures and training of the Campus Safety Special Constable Service — formerly the Campus Police — as well as broader mental health supports.

The review is currently underway and is accepting advice and information through an anonymized online consultation form, which is currently open. According to a U of T spokesperson, the panel expects to finish the review by late fall. 

Background 

The review comes in response to a report about student mental health that was completed in December 2019. The report criticized the university’s lack of after-hours mental health services, which the report’s creators noticed “results in police involvement when it might otherwise not be required.” 

Additionally, the report examined the controversial history of handcuffing students undergoing mental health crises — a topic highlighted by an incident in 2019 where Campus Safety handcuffed a student taken to a hospital during a mental health crisis. The report questioned whether Campus Safety is the correct service to transport students in these crises.

The review aims to investigate the problems set out by the original report while answering a number of other wide-reaching concerns. The panel will look into whether Campus Safety Special Constables receive adequate training on de-escalation and how mental health issues interact with the experiences of minoritized students. 

It will also review which policies governing interactions between students in crisis and campus police require change, whether campus police get enough support for their own mental well-being, and if there are better alternatives for dealing with mental health crises than Campus Safety. The review will look at pilot programs designed to help students in these situations. 

Concerns from student groups

A number of student unions have voiced concerns about policing on campus. The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) has been working on a larger Police Off Campus campaign, asking the university to divert funds away from Campus Safety to other campus programs. 

In an email to The Varsity, Justin Patrick, external commissioner for the UTGSU, wrote that there is not enough student representation on the review panel. “In addition to being involved in consultation processes, campus students’ unions should be directly involved in writing the report as well since they represent students’ collective voice,” he added.

[The report] needs to call for tangible systemic and structural change. Without such changes, the Campus Safety rebrand will likely do little to change the relationship between Campus Safety and the U of T community,” wrote Patrick.