BC United leader Kevin Falcon has said he wants to see “purpose-built institutions” in the province for people with “untreated, severe mental health” problems.
In a wide-ranging interview with KelownaNow, the leader of the opposition said that, “if necessary,” people would have to be taken off the streets “involuntarily.”
The decision to close down “so-called mental institutions” by previous governments was a “mistake,” Falcon said, adding: “The pendulum swung too far the other way.”
“What happened is a lot of people with untreated mental health were released into the communities without proper supports,” he said. “And you see them on the streets today.”
Falcon gave an example of an encounter he had in Kelowna on Thursday, in which he saw “a gentleman lying on the streets, yelling and swearing.”
He was told it was the "Rage Man.”
“That's very frightening if you're a young woman or a child walking along the street,” he said.
“And so that's a perfect example of why we're going to build purpose-built facilities, including in the Interior, where we can take folks with untreated, severe mental health off the streets involuntarily – if necessary – into proper 24/7 care so that they can be looked after, stabilized, and get to a place where hopefully we can release them back into the community with genuine supports.
“Some may never go back, to be honest. Some, through repeated drug overdoses or other issues, have acquired brain injuries which mean they're never going to get back to being perfectly operating human beings, but they deserve a duty of care and true compassion is looking after them.”
Asked whether such a policy would infringe on people’s rights, Falcon said “these folks are not able to make decisions in their own best interests.”
Some people on the streets, he said, are saying, “Help me” through their actions, adding: “We have a duty, an obligation I would argue, as a society, to make sure those folks are looked after. If it was you or me, I sure hope you would do that for me.”
Another topic discussed by Falcon was the decriminalization of drugs in BC.
Possession of up to 2.5 grams of drugs – including the likes of fentanyl and meth – has effectively been legal since Jan. 31, 2023 as part of a three-year trial.
BC United has rejected decriminalization and pointed to 2023’s record-breaking overdose death toll of over 2,500 as a consequence of the policy.
But marking the anniversary of the policy last month, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said “ending this measure will not save a single life.”
Outgoing Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe even said some of Falcon's comments about the drugs crisis make her "very sad," adding: "When I hear anyone in a leadership role vilifying members of our community, almost hate mongering, I think it’s really disappointing."
In a report released last week, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it was crucial to make drugs more freely available to users, including in the form of smokable fentanyl.
Falcon, who said earlier this week that Henry "won't be working for us," told KelownaNow decriminalization has been a “terrible experiment.”
He said all the government needed to do was “look at Portland, Oregon,” where attitudes to decriminalization have soured and the state’s governor has declared a state of emergency in the city.
“I don't want people charged for carrying small amounts of drugs,” Falcon explained.
“But the police tell me they were rarely ever charging people with two and a half grams or less. They only did it if they were on a playground or at a school or something extreme. But the problem is, by decriminalizing drugs with no guardrails, what's happened is an explosion of open drug use in our parks, our playgrounds, our beaches – and the police cannot do anything about it because they have no tools now.”
The BC Supreme Court ruled in December that a provincial law designed to prevent people taking drugs in public places could cause “irreparable harm” and blocked its implementation.
That has sparked frustration among many municipal leaders, including in the Okanagan.
Falcon said the drug crisis is “the worst we’ve ever seen in the history of the province.”
“We've got drug dealers coming from across the country to BC because they realize now they can sell drugs here with impunity because they're not going to be arrested,” he said.
He also attacked Conservative Party of BC leader John Rustad and Premier David Eby, even accusing the latter of supporting the former as a way of dividing the right.
Watch the full interview here.