Doctor Andrew Affleck is an emergency room physician in Thunder Bay, and he says they get frustrated, when asked to assess the mental health of an intoxicated person.

"Until they settle down, unless they overtly say they're going to do harm to themselves or others, we can't do anything," he said.

This can take six to eight hours, depending on the intoxicant, and the OPP are no longer allowed to use what was once known as the 'drunk tank.'

While a police officer can apprehend and bring a person to the hospital, if they're deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, neither the medical staff or police can hold a person against their will.

Constable Bob Bernie serves with the Kenora OPP detachment, and he says they often run into the same gap in service. When they're dealing with an intoxicated person, who may be a harm to themselves or others, the officers can take the person to the hospital or Morningstar Detox, but they can't make them stay.

"If they want to leave, we have no authority to stop them from leaving. So, all these things taken together make for a very difficult situation," Bernie said.

The officer's part of the community's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Task Force. He was part of a day-long conference on how social services in the area are dealing with the influx of crystal meth.

Police have noted the drug has been in Kenora for about a year. While there have been a number of arrests and seizures in the area, members of Monday's panel were hoping to create a community response.

One of their suggestions was the creation of a Rapid Access Addiction Management clinic, similar to the one in Thunder Bay. Another option might be a secure detox, such as the one in Winnipeg. The addition of a justice centre in Kenora, will help. The community's also waiting for the opening of a new permanent shelter next to Knox United this fall.

The lack of stabilization beds available for youth in crisis in the northwest is another gap that's been identified. The beds in Thunder Bay are often full. Staff at the hospital in Kenora have requested resources to offer the service, and they're being supported by a recent consultant's report.

The gaps in service may also be key, when considering the case of Azraya Kokopenace. A media release noted the 14-year-old was in the hospital and in the care of family services, before she left the hospital. She was found deceased a stone's throw from the building in April of 2016. 

While the Kokopenace family has requested a coroner's inquest into Azraya's passing, no decision has been made. The province's chief coroner is currently conducting a review of 12 cases, where a youth in care passed away. The findings are being reviewed, with a release expected this summer.

Last year, the provincial government passed The Child, Youth and Family Services Act, 2017 (CYFSA), which maintains restrictions on detaining a child. In their email on the issue, the ministry noted a new provision extends the restrictions to foster parents.

Earlier this year, Hezekiah Wesley was found dead in a boxcar in the CP Rail yard. The province has already passed legislation that increases the age from 16 to 18, before a youth in care ages out. Wesley had just passed his 16th birthday.

For more information:

Kokopenace report on track, coroner

Gap closed after Hezekiah, ministry


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