Content warning: this article contains mentions of suicide.
At the University Affairs Board (UAB) meeting on November 13, Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh was met with questions about the recent allegations that a student was handcuffed by UTM Campus Police while seeking help during a mental health crisis. Welsh declined to comment on the specifics of the case but clarified that such instances would be separate from the university-mandated leave of absence policy (UMLAP), and also defended campus police training.
According to an article in The Medium, later reported by CBC News, a U of T student sought help for suicidal ideation at the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC), and was handcuffed when the the HCC called campus police on the evening of October 2.
The student arrived at the HCC with a friend and developed a safety plan with a nurse. Before she could leave, she was informed that it was protocol to speak with campus police. The student was then handcuffed and arrested when she disclosed that she was having suicidal thoughts.
The Varsity has yet to independently verify the reported allegations.
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) condemned the decision by the HCC to call the police. “The UTMSU believes that this student should have been approached with care and compassion, not handcuffs,” reads the press release.
University responds at UAB
Responding to a question from full-time undergraduate member Daman Singh, the former Vice-President, Internal of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and an advocate for the UMLAP, Welsh declined to comment on the details reported in the two articles, but did say that the UMLAP was about concerning behaviour and that it would be irrelevant in a situation where a student is being taken to the hospital.
Welsh, along with UTM Dean of Student Affairs and Assistant Principal, Student Services, Mark Overton, reiterated that police are there to assist in extreme cases and work in accordance with the province’s Mental Health Act.
In response to a member questioning the “authority and knowledge” of campus police to “put people in handcuffs,” Welsh replied that campus police officers are trained in de-escalation and work closely with the health and wellness offices of the three campuses.
A university spokesperson wrote in a statement to The Varsity, “Campus police become involved when an individual makes specific statements that [indicate] they have an intention to do harm such as suicide and are unwilling to go to the hospital.”
“U of T is reviewing its police practices in this respect. Our existing practices are consistent with those of local municipal forces.”
The UTSU endorsed the UTMSU’s statement, writing that they “stand in solidarity,” and described the incident as an “injustice.” Other campus organizations including the Association of Part Time Undergraduate Students and the U of T Students’ Law Society also supported the statement.
Spadina–Fort York MPP, Chris Glover, condemned the incident, writing: “What is the state of our services on campus if students looking for mental health support are turned away and led in handcuffs.” Glover also criticized the Ford government for removing services and thereby creating barriers to success for postsecondary students.
UTSU President Joshua Bowman weighed in with a tweet asking “What University can stand by a protocol that actually ‘arrests’ a student seeking help?”
.@UofT what University can stand by a protocol that actually "arrests" a student for seeking help? The student "was told there was no alternative option and that arresting and handcuffing her was mandatory according to U of T protocol." https://t.co/HTLWjMAeJs
— Joshua Bowman (@_joshuabowman) November 12, 2019
Diana Yoon, former federal candidate for Spadina–Fort York, described the traumatic experience of being sent to the emergency room “without any reasonable discussion” after seeking help for mental health issues from a guidance counsellor while in high school. Yoon declared that it is “outrageous to see this now from UTM.”
This story is developing, more to follow.
If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:
- Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
- Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
- Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
- Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
- U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.
Warning signs of suicide include:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.