Correspondence from Health Canada responding to Board Recommendation #11: Advocacy for Community-Based Mental Health and Addictions Services
From: CSD DGO / BDG DSC (HC/SC)
Sent: Friday April 16, 2021 12:33
To: Board General Mailbox
Subject: Re: Correspondence from Toronto Police Services Board
Dear Jim Hart and Ryan Teschner,
Thank you for your correspondence dated January 20, 2021, addressed to the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health, requesting for funding for community-based mental health and addictions services to work in collaboration with police crisis services and Ontario Health Teams in Toronto. I have been asked to respond to you directly.
I want to thank you for sharing the initiatives that the Toronto Police Service Board is undertaking to support community-based mental health and addictions services in the City of Toronto. These are commendable measures to help ensure the safety of all community members.
As you mentioned in your correspondence, community safety, including mental health and addictions care, is a shared responsibility between the Government of Canada and the provinces and territories. While the federal government provides financial support to the provinces and territories for health care services, the responsibility for matters related to the administration and delivery of these services falls within provincial and territorial jurisdiction.
Although this is primarily a provincial and municipal matter, the Government of Canada has taken actions to increase the availability of high-quality mental health and addictions services for all individuals in Canada. For example, in 2017, the Government of Canada committed $5 billion over 10 years in targeted funding for provinces and territories to improve access to mental health and addictions services. In addition to this investment, Health Canada is working on the 2019 Mandate Letter commitments to develop national standards for access to mental health services.
Mental health continues to be a priority, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Safe Restart Agreement with provinces and territories, the Government of Canada has invested $500 million to address immediate needs and gaps in the support and protection of people experiencing challenges related to mental health, substance use or homelessness.
We are also investing in the area of virtual mental health, which will help individuals stay connected to their practitioners, therapists and other supports digitally – something that we all need in light of the current pandemic. The 2020 Fall Economic Statement announced an additional $93 million in mental health and virtual supports for Canadians.
This includes $50 million to bolster distress centres as well as $43 million in additional funding to support the online mental health and addictions resource portal, Wellness Together Canada, for a total of $68 million in funding since March 2020. The Wellness Together Canada portal provides individuals with access to free, credible information and supports to help address their mental health and substance use issues. It is led by a consortium of established leaders in mental health and substance use care, including Stepped Care Solutions, Homewood Health and Kids Help Phone.
Unlike any other online program, the portal provides an entire suite of free resources and supports for mental health and substance use issues. Depending on their needs, individuals can access different levels of support, ranging from information and self-assessment tools, to connecting with peer support, social workers, psychologists and other professionals for confidential text sessions or telephone calls. It also provides individuals the opportunity to assess their mental health and monitor their progress as they engage in their chosen care option. Instantaneous translation is available over the phone in over 200 languages and dialects. To learn more about Wellness Together Canada, please visit: wellnesstogether.ca.
Health Canada also provides funding directly to provinces, territories and community-level organizations for community-led projects that support efforts to address problematic substance use through the Substance Use and Addictions Program (SUAP). I am pleased to say that Health Canada, through SUAP, is currently funding 11 projects totalling approximately $10.5M within the Greater Toronto Area aimed at reducing community harms and scaling up interventions through increased services and training for health and social service providers. Examples of projects being funded include:
- Street Health Community Nursing Foundation is receiving $1.7M to provide training to peer workers to conduct outreach to vulnerable populations and connect them to supports and services.
- Heritage Skills Development Centre is receiving over $300K to implement a peer-driven harm reduction program that provides access to harm reduction services for vulnerable populations.
- Unity Health Toronto, Providence St. Joseph’s, and St. Michael’s Healthcare are receiving over $2.1M to provide drug checking services at three supervised consumption sites in Toronto.
More recently, through the 2020 Fall Economic Statement, the Government of Canada also announced $66 million to support Canadians struggling with problematic substance use, and to support community-based organizations responding to substance use issues, including providing frontline services in a COVID-19 context. Approximately $7.7M will support three projects offering pharmaceutical grade alternatives to the toxic street supply in Toronto.
As part of our public health approach to substance use issues, we continue to encourage the use of diversion programs that create pathways from the criminal justice system toward appropriate health services and social supports. For example, in May 2017 the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act became law. It provides some legal protection for individuals who seek emergency help during an overdose. In addition, on August 18, 2020, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada issued guidance to prosecutors directing that alternatives to prosecution should be considered for simple possession offences, except when there are serious mitigating circumstances. This policy is available at https://www.ppsc-sppc.gc.ca/eng/pub/fpsd-sfpg/fps-sfp/tpd/p5/ch13.html.
Furthermore, on February 18, 2021, the Government of Canada introduced an Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This will allow for a greater use of conditional sentences and establish diversion measures for simple drug possession offences. For further details, please visit https://parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/43-2/bill/C-22/first-reading.
Thank you again for writing on behalf of the Toronto Police Services Board to outline your approach to addressing the complex issue of mental health and addictions in the City of Toronto. It is commendable that the City of Toronto is taking important measures to ensure the safety of all community members. We will continue working with the Toronto Polices Services Board and other law enforcement agencies to address mental health and substance use issues in Canada and to keep striving to ensure people have the support they need.
Controlled Substances Directorate