A third-year student studying psychology and criminology at UTM was handcuffed and escorted to the hospital when they went to the Health and Counselling Centre (HCC) for mental health concerns.
The incident occurred back in 2017 at the beginning of October, during the student’s first year at UTM. She had recently moved to Canada with her family and had decided to stay in residence for her first year.
“It was hard to adapt,” said the student. “I had some issues stemming from high school, but when I came here, it was really hard to adapt. Everything got to me and I wasn’t feeling great.”
The student decided to seek help at the HCC.
When meeting with a counsellor, the student expressed that she was experiencing suicide ideation. The counsellor directed her to a mental health nurse.
A couple days later, the student met with the mental health nurse. The student filled out a checklist and was ranked high for depression. The nurse said she needed to see a physician.
When the student finally met with the physician, she was asked about her whole history again.
“This was basically the third time that I had to repeat everything to someone, and it wasn’t easy because there was a lot of things to talk about and it’s just not easy trying to talk about issues,” said the student.
The physician asked if she had a plan for committing suicide, to which the student said possibly by overdosing.
The physician said she had to admit the student to the hospital. The student agreed with the physician’s order but asked to go after her exam the next day. The physician said she had to go immediately and called Campus Police.
When the student asked why the Campus Police was being involved the physician said, “that’s how we usually do it.”
When the student asked if it was common for the Campus Police to be involved the physician said, “it’s procedure but I would say it’s pretty rare for us to call Campus Police.”
The student said that it wasn’t necessary; she could go on her own or with a friend to the hospital.
She had previously told the physician that a police confrontation in her youth had traumatized her and was one of the reasons she was depressed.
“I’m telling them ‘I will go right now, I just don’t want the police involved. You can check up on me. You can call the hospital,’” said the student. “Involving the cops is going to affect me even more. I don’t want them involved.”
When a Campus Police officer arrived, he said they were understaffed and had to call Peel Police for backup.
Two Peel Police officers arrived and started escorting the student out of the HCC. She asked to walk in front of the officers so as to seem unassociated with them.
“It was in Davis, it was so crowded. It was around 1:00 p.m. And I said I don’t want anyone seeing this,” said the student.
The officers said “no, you have to come with us. What if you try to run? And [the student] said I’m so small you can easily catch me, like I’m not going to run. They said, ‘no we have to do this.’”
They exited the Davis Building where two cop cars were parked before the bus stop. One was the Campus Police car and the other a Peel Police car.
“They start handcuffing me at that point, in front of the bus stop where all the students are,” said the student. “I told them ‘you don’t have to handcuff me, I’m right here. I can just go in the car.’”
Two male students had walked by the student being handcuffed and started to make fun of her.
“They go like ‘oh thank god Campus Police are here. They need to catch criminals like you.’ And I’m just like I’m not a criminal. I’m here for a mental health reason and you’re calling me a criminal,” continued the student.
“And the cops don’t say anything. [The two male students] just laughed and they were told ‘keep walking.’ They didn’t even defend me. They didn’t say ‘oh, she’s not a criminal. She’s here for other reasons.’”
The student rode in the back of the cop car to the Credit Valley Hospital and continued to be in handcuffs in the emergency room until an attending nurse told the officers to uncuff her.
She stayed in the hospital for seven hours. The doctor gave her a medical certificate, to exempt her from the exam she had the following day and told her to “just keep seeing your counsellor at school.”
After the ordeal the student did not continue to seek help.
“I was like no, I’m not seeing anyone anymore. What’s the point? Like I go through all of this just to be treated like a criminal, just to be called a criminal. It was traumatizing for me,” said the student.
Two months later, the student attempted suicide. Then once more on February, two months after the first attempt.
She was admitted to the hospital for the attempts and on the third visit to the hospital, she was accompanied by her parents, who forced her to go to therapy.
Looking back at her treatment by HCC and Campus Police, the student said that after the incident she refused to seek help.
“I didn’t want to go back. What I learned from this whole experience was to not be honest anymore, because of how I was treated. I was more cautious of what I was saying. I didn’t want to go through this again. I kind of downplayed everything and instead kept saying ‘oh yeah, I’m better now’ when I clearly wasn’t.”
The student was given a Form 1, also referred to as an Application by Physician for Psychiatric Assessment under the Ontario Mental Health Act.
The Form 1 allows a doctor to hold a patient in a hospital for up to 72 hours for a psychiatric assessment. The order also allows another person, usually someone close to you or a police officer, to involuntarily admit you to the hospital up to seven days after the Form 1 is signed. Form 1, however, does not allow the patient to be detained in jail or any other institution besides a hospital.
The student also expressed concern about having the “arrest” be shown in her record.
“I don’t even know if it’s going to be on my record. Because Peel Police was involved,” she said. “And I’m getting worried about that. What if it’s going to affect my future? All because I try to go and get some help for my mental health reasons.”
The student, wishing to be a psychiatrist when she graduates to help students like herself, has been repeatedly questioning her future.
“This experience had left me wondering ‘is this how students are getting help?’ and […] is this what I really want to do after seeing how this is, how the mental health system actually works?’”
On the article published by The Medium last week the student said she was relieved to see she was not the only one with the same experience.
“I thought it was just me. And it was good to know that it wasn’t just me and I would encourage [other students with the same experience] to speak up against this so that the more they speak up, the more we can prevent this from happening to others. It can push for a better policy change.”
“It’s still happening after three years. It’s happening, and it was good to know that I wasn’t the only one,” the student continued.
The Medium reached out to Campus Police for comment. Mark Overton, dean of Student Affairs, provided a statement for the university instead.
“As is the practice with our local police protocols, when individuals express specific intentions to harm themselves or others, we want to ensure that they get to the hospital safely,” said Overton.
“We’re really focused on their safety when they’re at their most vulnerable. And so, we’re reviewing the police practices in respect to the whole picture. We do believe our existing practices are consistent with those of local municipal police forces and with most Ontario university health clinics.”
On the manner that students are being escorted from the HCC to the hospital by Campus Police, Overton states that involuntary apprehension is done in rare cases.
“We certainly hope that students recognize a great amount of thought and care [is considered], and that we would only engage in an involuntary apprehension and a secure transportation to hospital in the most concerning cases.”
Regarding the Campus Police officer’s discretion and an “involuntary apprehension,” the student who was handcuffed and forcibly escorted to the hospital expressed her disagreement with the university statement.
“It is not true because I volunteered so many times to go to the hospital and they still call[ed] the police on me […] So, that statement is not true because that’s not what happened to me,” said the student.
Overton states the U of T is looking at reviewing the practices of Campus Police on all three campuses related to the treatment of students with mental health concerns.
“It’s a broad look at the practices that Campus Police works with whenever a student has a serious mental health condition,” said Overton, “that could include safe transportation to the hospital for example.
Overton also stresses that the risk factors of suicide, assessed by the HCC staff and Campus Police, determines whether involuntary hospitalization is necessary. Under HCC’s Privacy Statement & Collection of Personal Information, it states that “the HCC is ethically and/or legally required to disclose confidential information to the appropriate authorities […] if you indicate that you or another person may be a danger to themselves or others.”
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) released a statement on November 12, shortly after The Medium’s article was released last week, condemning the police involvement at the HCC.
Where to get help
Canada Suicide Prevention Service
In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone:
Text: TALK to 686868 (English) or TEXTO to 686868 (French)
Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Post-Secondary Student Helpline:
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre
If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs:
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Substance abuse.
- Feeling trapped.
- Hopelessness and helplessness.
- Mood changes.