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B.C. mental health services and RCMP must communicate better, says dad

07/25/2015 06:02 EDT | Updated 07/25/2016 05:59 EDT
Gord Bylo has watched his 33-year-old son Brian bounce in and out of jail after being arrested 60 times, but he's not upset with his son — he's upset with the system.

Surrey teenager Brian Bylo was a good student, athlete and son.

"He was liked by pretty well everybody," said his father.

But in March 2000, it became apparent that something was wrong.

"My wife and I are watching a show in the living room, and he just sat in the chair beside us and he said, "'Mom and dad, I can't take it anymore.'  He's holding his head. He's been hearing voices," said Bylo.

Since then, Brian has been diagnosed with many different forms on mental illness, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.  

But to this day, Bylo said his son still hasn't received the help he needs, and frequent arrests aren't helping things. 

Communication problems

Bylo points to flaws in the communication between law enforcement and health services.

He says when officers make an arrest, their computer systems are only able to access a record of that individual's past charges and convictions.

"There's nothing in their computers about health-care because the two agencies don't share information," said Bylo. "That's why I'm always fearful when he's out on the street, when he's homeless, for the safety of him, because his insight is extremely low, and he is at risk. He is at risk to himself. This is a nightmare for a family."

Surrey RCMP responds

"The health-care databases and the police databases are separate for very good reasons," said Cst. Taylor Quee with the Surrey RCMP Mental Health Intervention Unit, the first of its kind in Canada. 

"We shouldn't really have access to that detailed level of information."

Instead, officers are trained to liaise with hospitals and on-duty psychiatric professionals to determine how best to approach each individual situation.

While officers can bring at-risk patients to the hospital for immediate treatment following a street-level intervention, it is ultimately up to the patient and their health professionals to set a long-term course of action.

"We don't control behaviour at the end of the day. We don't control clients' choices," Quee said.

Under the Mental Health Act, police officers have the authority to arrest individuals who are at risk to themselves and see that they are hospitalized. 

But Quee said that it is then up to health professionals and clinicians to guide the patient toward wellness, and that police are only there to support those strategies. 

Change is needed

"I've actually had somebody tell me to my face in the psychiatric assessment unit at Surrey Memorial Hospital, 'Mr. Bylo, your son has a right to live at risk. If he doesn't want to be treated here, he can leave,'" Bylo said.

"I was astonished," he added. "We need to speak up. We need to insist to government that these citizens be treated with respect and dignity."

"We need to enforce section 8.1 of the B.C. Human Rights Act and ensure that all citizens of British Columbia receive health-care treatment, and that's not happening now."

To hear the full interview with Gord Bylo, listen to the audio labelled: Mental health and law enforcement.
To hear the full interview with Constable Taylor Quee, listen to the audio labelled: How the Surrey RCMP engage with people suffering from mental illness.

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