Police call for legislative changes for better sharing of health information for people in mental distress

Police forces are asking for legislative changes to promote the sharing of information from the health network on people in psychological distress who are often the subject of 911 calls, in order to prevent tragedies.

Representatives of the police community spoke about their reality during the second day of the recommendations and representations of the public inquiry of the Coroner’s Office on the subject of suicide, at the Trois-Rivières courthouse on Thursday.

The notions of confidentiality and professional secrecy must be relaxed, said Julie Marcotte, captain and deputy commander of the Deputy Directorate of Territorial Surveillance at the Service de police de la Ville de Québec (SPVQ).

“When there’s an emergency, information comes in and goes out, there’s no problem,” Marcotte said. “But when the danger is not immediate or for future interventions, the police face a refusal from health professionals,” Marcotte told coroner Julie-Kim Godin.

The duty of confidentiality imposed on healthcare teams “hinders” the work of agents when they regularly intervene with the same people in distress. Most often they are sent back to the hospital because the police do not know what to do, she said.

Inspired by the Ottawa police, the SPVQ set up a discussion forum with the CIUSSS in the region and a crisis assistance service to determine what to do in recurring cases. But unlike the Ottawa model, the Quebec police force faces more constraints in terms of confidentiality.

Health care workers are “very reluctant” to publicly promote their collaboration with the SPVQ, said Marcotte, who presented the story of a woman with whom the police intervened 43 times between 2020 and 2022.

Sharing information in “concerning situations” must be legitimized in order to “reassure” employees “who are currently afraid” to pass on certain details, Marcotte said.


A police officer from the Longueuil police department also suggested that the Access to Information Act be relaxed to allow information to be shared without consent, before an urgent and dangerous situation arises.

“We must add a notion of transition, a ‘tipping point’ to the law”, declared Ghyslain Vallières.

“At the tipping point, at this pivotal moment, I think it is very legitimate to say: we are at such a risk that we do not have to wait for the emergency under the crisis”, said Vallières, who came describe the RÉSO initiative of the Longueuil police to help the most vulnerable.

“We have to wait until the person wants to commit suicide before giving them support and accompaniment? Why? We have already lost there,” he continued.

Often, institutions have a narrow interpretation of the law, while experts don’t, Vallières said.

The Quebec police are also proposing to modify the law on the protection of persons whose mental state presents a danger to themselves, which is “too restrictive”.

The law (LPP) allows a court order at the request of a doctor to ensure that a person is temporarily kept in a health establishment for a psychiatric examination, despite the absence of consent, because of danger to themselves or to others.

If a worker believes that a person’s mental state presents a “serious and immediate danger”, a police officer may, without court authorization, take the person to an establishment against their will.

“The law is for here and now. I wish I could talk to myself until the care order is issued,” Marcotte said.

The coroner’s inquest concerns the deaths of Mikhaël Ryan, Joceline Lamothe, Suzie Aubé, Jean-François Lussier, Marc Boudreau and Dave Murray.

Initiated in 2019, the investigation is in its final stretch, after completing the factual component last fall. She first looked at the causes and circumstances of each of the deaths.

Hearings on recommendations and representations will be held until June 10. Some forty witnesses will contribute to the coroner’s reflection on suicide prevention solutions.

Friday, the relatives of the deceased who are the subject of the public inquiry should share their comments.


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— This report from The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 2, 2022, with the financial support of the Meta and Canadian Press News grants

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