The jury in a coroner’s inquest into the death of a Lytton man fatally shot by a police sniper three years ago has called on the province and police to better integrate mental health into crisis response calls.
Barry Shantz, a well-known advocate for the homeless in the Fraser Valley, was killed when he came out of his house with a loaded shotgun after a six-hour standoff on Jan. 13, 2020.
The inquest heard Shantz’s partner had called 911 that morning saying he was suicidal and had a weapon, and that he had later said he planned to come out of the home with his shotgun in hand.
Inquest into death of Barry Shantz begins
It also heard Shantz fired his gun from a second story window when the first two officers arrived at the scene.
The officers testified the believed Shantz was shooting in their direction, however it was later determined damage to the eves of his home was likely caused by the shot.
The responding officers called for backup, resulting in the deployment of an emergency response team and crisis negotiator.
The inquest heard, however, that officers were unable to reach a mental health professional.
“I guess the biggest thing is the mental health professional, that they didn’t get someone there, that it wasn’t, it didn’t seem to be a priority,” Shantz’s sister Marilyn Farquhar told Global News.
“Realistically in this incident it might not have (made a difference). But for the next person it might.”
Coroners inquests are fact-finding exercises, and do not find fault but can make recommendations.
The jurors in this case made two recommendations focusing on mental health.
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The jury recommended the Ministry of Health and the B.C. RCMP improve access to mental health services so that a qualified mental health professional with access to relevant medical records can be activated to support crisis negotiators.
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It also recommended that the B.C. RCMP and BC Emergency Health Services enter into a memorandum of understanding to permit and encourage agencies to coordinate mental health resources during a crisis call.
Farquhar’s lawyer Tonia Grace said she was pleased to see the jury had come up with recommendations “aimed at preventing what Barry experienced which was a fundamental breakdown in the system when it came to providing him with mental health resources.
“If somebody finds themselves in that position next time that hopefully these recommendations will be taken seriously and acted on by the RCMP and by the ministry,” she said.
“What I am concerned about is it seemed very broad and generalized, not specifics on how stuff needs to be implemented. I guess I’m just worried it doesn’t get implemented,” Farquhar said.
“It’s a milestone now that, OK this chapter is done, we can move forward, but as far as something positive coming out of this particular venue, I strongly believe that where positive change can happen it’s because the media’s been here reporting it, that’s likely to have a stronger impact.”
In its own report on the fatal shooting, the Independent Investigations Office found officers were justified in using lethal force, finding police had a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm when Shantz came out of the house with his gun.
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