Police and advocates push for sobering centres

NOTE TO EDITORS: This is a by-invitation only event, but it is open to the media. Meeting is December 9, 2010 from 9 a.m. to noon at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre.
A group of non-profit organizations, along with police, health authorities, first responders and housing groups will be at a meeting convened by the BCCLA to discuss how to save the lives of those who are arrested for being drunk, high or otherwise intoxicated in public. The event will be live streamed on the internet here >>

The meeting, also sponsored by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the Elizabeth Fry Society, and the Frank Paul Society, will focus on alcohol harm reduction and feature speakers from the RCMP and Vancouver Police Department, as well as speakers from Portland’s Sobering Station and Toronto’s Seaton House.

“This issue is beyond debate,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“We must organize ourselves to work on this pressing issue, explore real solutions and to send a strong message to the province that they have must act immediately on one of the key recommendations of the Frank Paul Inquiry.”

The Vancouver Police Department had fully developed plans for a sobering centre that was never funded by the province. The RCMP advises the BCCLA they are currently working in the Yukon to establish a sobering centre in Whitehorse.

“The Frank Paul Inquiry first phase report recommended the implementation of sobering centres to save lives,” said David Dennis, President of the Frank Paul Society, noting that three of the eight B.C. coroner’s inquests held this year into in-custody deaths recommended the establishment of sobering centres for the same reason.

“The point for us is that a minimum of 18 people between 2008 and 2010 would likely not have died had they received medical supervision and attention in sobering centres,” said Shawn Bayes, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society.

“There is no natural constituency to push for attention to this issue,” noted Robert Holmes, President of the BCCLA. “Groups of homeless, chronic alcoholics are not going to make their way to Victoria to lobby for this. Police departments under budget constraints are not going to have this at the top of their list. Yet the public is getting tired of hand-wringing after each death occurs. So we have decided to give a voice to those who otherwise won’t be heard. We’re thankful others are partnering with us and we ask the public to join in calling for government to deal with it.”

Shawn Bayes, Elizabeth Fry Society, 604-803-5079
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, (250) 490-5314
David Dennis, Frank Paul Society, (604)831-5241
David Eby, BCCLA, 778-865-7997


Recent coroner’s inquests that called for sobering centres

Recent coroner’s inquests calling for sobering centres, compiled by the Elizabeth Fry Society:

MILLER, Christine Bernadette – October, 2010
WALKER, Scott Alexander – September, 2010
YOUNG, Ian Alexander – August, 2010

According to figures compiled by the Elizabeth Fry Society, there were twenty-three inquests
into deaths in police custody between 2008 and 2010 in British Columbia. Of those inquests,
13 deaths were related to substance use (over intoxication, toxicity, organ failure because of it,
respiratory arrest, pneumonia, etc). A further 6 deaths were due to head injury. The remaining
4 deaths were either for unknown causes or other reasons.

List of deaths in custody since 2006 that may have been prevented by sobering centres
1. Candice Pete 9 Jan 06 Overdose Vancouver
2. James Bertholet 30 Aug 06 Alcohol Surrey
3. Chris Tom 5 Aug 07 Alcohol Tofino
4. Steven Qualtier 5 Aug 07 Head injury Kelowna
5. Michael Stein 16 Aug 07 Overdose Kelowna
6. Larry McPherson 28 Aug 07 Overdose Fort St. John
7. Daniel Hong 2 Sept 07 Overdose Vancouver
8. Duane Nelson 20 Sep 07 Head injury Victoria
9. Cecil McKenna 27 Oct 07 Overdose Surrey
10. Daniel Serbeh 7 Dec 07 Overdose Vancouver
11. Debra Coon 14 Mar 08 Head injury Victoria
12. Albert Prevost 23 Mar 08 Overdose Campbell River
13. David Stitt 19 Jun 08 Overdose White Rock
14. Scott Walker 7 Feb 08 Alcohol Surrey
15. Christine Miller 8 Aug 08 Overdose Abbotsford
16. Stanley Cardinal 4 Aug 09 Overdose Kamloops
17. Ian Young 19 Oct 08 Head injury New Westminster
18. Kevin Vigar 27 Jun 10 Alcohol Victoria

Selection of some of the organizations who are sending representatives:
– Royal Canadian Mounted Police
– Vancouver Police Department
– New Westminster Police Department
– South Coast B.C. Transit Authority Police Department (Transit Police)
– Vancouver Coastal Health
– City of Vancouver
– Vancouver Fire Department
– Metis Nation B.C.
– Downtown Community Court
– Province of British Columbia – Police Services Division
– Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs
– Tsow-Tun Le Lum Centre
– Elizabeth Fry Society
– Frank Paul Society
– Atira Housing
– Portland Hotel Society
– Carnegie Community Centre
– Carnegie Community Action Project
– Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users
– West Coast Aboriginal Harm

Reduction Society
– Spencer Herbert, MLA
– First United Church, Vancouver
– Wish Drop in Centre Society