B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer is diplomatically standing her ground amid fierce RCMP union criticism of comments she made on police reform.
In a Thursday news conference, Dr. Bonnie Henry says she “was taken aback by the misinterpretation” of a presentation to a special B.C. legislative committee on Monday.
“There was absolutely no criticism at all of anything that front-line police officers are doing and the misinterpretation of that is something I regret,” Henry told reporters.
On Wednesday, the national union representing RCMP officers released a scathing letter addressed to Henry, and the B.C. government.
“We are collectively appalled by the inaccurate and disrespectful comments you made regarding the work of the B.C. RCMP,” Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation stated.
“As the provincial health officer, and the perceived authority on such matters, I want to first raise your frankly offensive and incorrect remarks about our members’ interactions with the province’s most vulnerable residents experiencing mental health and/or addiction issues.”
On Monday, Henry told a legislative committee examining the Police Act that, in her experience, municipal police are better connected to their communities than the RCMP. She specifically focused on police adoption of the anti-overdose drug, naloxone, during the early stages of the opioid crisis.
“The RCMP, which are very driven by policies from Ottawa, refused to allow officers to carry naloxone.” Henry said. “Then at one point, it was a decree from Ottawa that RCMP officers would carry naloxone but only use it on each other should they be exposed to those people who were doing drugs and need to be rescued using naloxone.”
Rob Farrer, a B.C. regional director with the National Police Federation and RCMP officer in Kelowna, told CBC’s On The Coast, that Henry is factually incorrect.
On The Coast11:09National Police Federation responds to Dr. Bonnie Henry’s comments about policing in B.C.
“The RCMP were the first to start using naloxone,” Farrer claimed. “Between 2018 and 2019, I believe it was 248 out of 252 administrations [of naloxone] by RCMP were successful. Those are real people that were brought back.”
Municipal police and RCMP began carrying naloxone kits within months of each other in 2016, well after paramedic first responders.
Farrer shared Henry’s concerns that the B.C. Police Act needs to updated to address law enforcement involving citizens who have a mental illness or use drugs.
“The Police Act in its current state doesn’t really contemplate the complex social issues police officers on the front lines are addressing every single day,” Henry said Thursday.
“My advice to the committee is consider these complexities and reform the act to ensure we can work together collectively.”