Saying more resources are needed to help people with mental health issues, a spokesperson for the union that represents RCMP officers has defended the response to a standoff at a Langley farm near the Canada-U.S. border on Friday, Nov. 10 that ended with the apparent death of 66-year-old Don Bennett.
Bennett was believed dead after a fire destroyed his home, an RV on rented space in the 23500-block of 0 Avenue, during a police wellness check.
National Police Federation Pacific/North board director Jeff Swann said RCMP officers “are highly trained to respond to active threats and have a responsibility and right to protect themselves and others to keep residents safe.”
“It can be easy and even fashionable to blame the police, but it’s also simply unfair and ignores the larger gaps in funding and supports. In this case, it also completely ignores the fact that shots were fired at the police.”
Swann said mental health calls are rarely isolated events.
“Most often, they are the result of ongoing and multiple breakdowns in the social and health-care continuum that leave vulnerable British Columbians without the professional, accessible supports they need. This is one of the many reasons that the National Police Federation has been calling on the Province of B.C. and governments across Canada to increase funding and supports to help those in need before a situation becomes dangerous.”
Swann’s statement came a few days after Bennett’s daughter, Nicky McIntosh, said the family was not told about the wellness check, nor the police standoff until late in the day.
McIntosh said the family has a lot of questions abut the way the matter was handled, beginning with why they weren’t contacted earlier, and whether there was a mental health or social worker on the scene.
The incident is being investigated by the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), a civilian-led police oversight agency responsible for conducting investigations into police-officer-involved incidents of death or serious harm.
Swann said the union, which represents roughly 20,000 RCMP members across Canada, welcomes “a thorough, timely, and transparent investigation into what transpired.”
“Our thoughts are with everyone impacted by the tragic situation,” Swann said, “including members of the RCMP, the community, family, and friends.”
A shot was fired at officers during the stand-off.
Sarah Jones, executive director of the Aldergrove-based Langley Animal Protection Society told the Langley Advance Times animal control officers arrived to find a police standoff underway at a barn on the road that runs along the Canada-U.S. border.
“They were told [by RCMP] that there was a wellness check happening, and there were dogs blocking access to the person,” Jones said.
After retrieving one dog, when the officers attempted to open the barn door to retrieve a second dog, a shot came through the door at them, Jones said. None of the officers were physically injured.