Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

It doesn’t take long in a criminal courtroom to hear about mental health issues, including those caused by childhood trauma.

Alberta Health Services Provincial Addictions and Mental Health has a provincial branch which is dedicated to connecting these mental health and justice.

Marni Bercov, with AHS Provincial Mental Health and Justice (MH&J), did a presentation at the September 12 Lesser Slave Lake Health Advisory Council (LSL HAC) meeting in Slave Lake.

MH&J works in 12 areas: Mental Health Act (MHA), Community Treatment Orders (CTO), Provincial Family Violence Treatment Program (PFVTP), Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART), Provincial Mental Health Diversion Program (PMHDP), Provincial Forensics, Provincial Mobile Addictions Outreach Initiative, AHS ID Program, Police Call Line, Health IM, Regional Police and Crisis Team (RPACT), and mental health training for provincial corrections workers.

Some of these are province-wide and others such as RPACT are only in specific communities.

Mental Health Act
One of the jobs of the (MH&J) is helping people understand the Mental Health Act (MHA), which includes community treatment orders.

“Alberta’s Mental Health Act was enacted to provide safeguards, supports and supervision, for people suffering from mental disorders,” says the AHS website. This also includes a Guide to Alberta’s Mental Health Act which was updated in June 2022. This is a 139 page pdf.

One of the aspects of the MHA is the option of Community Treatment Orders (CTO)s.

Bercov calls these “a valuable tool,” which allows people to receive mental health treatment within their communities instead of in hospital. Alberta has 10 years of data on this project, which is the longest in Canada. A report is being compiled.

Section 10 of the MHA also allows for people to bring their concerns for someone else to a provincial court judge and have them apprehended for seven days, says the Guidelines. This can be done by a family member, peace officer, or health care worker. There are two criteria that the person be suffering from a mental illness and will likely soon cause harm to themselves or others.

This is done in closed court and can be done in Slave Lake or any of the other provincial courthouses in the area (High Prairie, Desmarais, Red Earth Creek, and Peace River).

Lack of identification can be a barrier for people experiencing homelessness.

Alberta Supports (which handles AISH) in Slave Lake, High Prairie, and Peace River can help clients without identification. The September 6, 2022 Interagency Notebook on has a brief description of how this works.

MH&J has a similar program called AHS ID Program, but it is not offered within the region. The closest AHS ID locations are in Grande Prairie and Edmonton.

Police call line
A dedicated law enforcement mental health call line has been launched in some communities, and will soon be province-wide.

“So far it’s gone very well,” said Bercov.

Law enforcement officers often respond to mental health calls.

Bercov’s slideshow has some goals of the help-line. First, to give police officers access to a mental health professional to figure out if a person they are dealing with is suffering from a mental illness before they are apprehended and sent to an AHS facility. Second, help officers recognize when the issue is a mental health illness instead of a crime. Third, help connect individuals with local mental health resources.

Other services
LSL Health Advisory Council (HAC) includes High Prairie, Slave Lake, Wabasca and the communities in between up to Red Earth Creek and Cadotte Lake.

Most of the services offered by MH&J are not available within the LSL HAC. However, some are available in Peace River, which serves the northwestern portion including Cadotte Lake. It is also relatively close to Red Earth Creek and High Prairie.

Family violence
Two of the services offered by MH&J are focused on responding to and stopping domestic violence. Neither is offered in the Slave Lake area, but Slave Lake has a women’s emergency shelter called Northern Haven Support Services.

Also, one of these – the Provincial Family Violence Treatment Program (PFVTP) is offered in Peace River, which likely serves Cadotte Lake (in the northeastern part of the HAC) and possibly Red Earth Creek.

PFVTP accepts clients required by the criminal justice system or Children’s Service to take family violence treatment or voluntary clients.

“The purpose of the treatment is to increase victim and community safety by ensuring individuals (offenders) retain responsibility for their actions and engage in evidence-informed treatment,” says Bercov’s presentation slides. It is done through group treatment. It is in 25 communities.

Domestic Abuse Response Team (DART) is a partnership between AHS and local domestic violence agencies, which offers 24/7 service within hospitals and other AHS facilities for women and men experiencing domestic violence.

A news release from November 2021, says it started in Red Deer and had expanded to 23 more communities. The closest ones are in Valleyview, Grande Prairie, and Fort McMurray.

Courts and police
Provincial Mental Health Diversion Program (PMHDP) is offered out of Peace River, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta and six other large centres in Alberta, says Bercov’s slideshow. This covers 28 out of Alberta’s 73 provincial courts.

Peace River has both a Provincial Court and Court of King’s Bench. If a person is charged with a crime by indictment in Slave Lake, Wabasca, High Prairie, or Red Earth Creek, they can choose to have their trial in Peace River Court of King’s Bench.

Peace River is one of four communities which has a pilot Regional Police and Crisis Team (RPACT).

The other communities are Wetaskiwin, Cochrane, and Rocky Mountain House.

These teams are made up of mental health professionals and law enforcement officers. The goal is to “provide a mobile crisis response to intervene, assess, de-escalate, refer and follow up for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis,” say Bercov’s slides.

Marni Bercov