Tory calls for national summit to address ‘mental health crisis’ playing out on Toronto streets

Toronto Mayor John Tory is calling for a national summit on mental health, saying we are seeing a “mental health crisis,” the effects of which are playing out in Toronto every day.

Speaking with CP24 Breakfast Wednesday, Tory drew a line between mental health and some of the disturbing acts of violence the city has seen recently.

“There are people who are timid about the drawing a connection between some of the incidents we’re seeing and mental health. I’m not shy about that,” Tory said. “Because in the end, if you see someone push someone onto the tracks of the subway that is not known to them or a random person, you see someone — an elderly person – get pushed out on the street and lost their life by a complete stranger, those are incidents that are evidence of some issues out there that people have with mental health.”

Tory said he has been “shocked’ by the prevalence of seemingly random acts of violence on the TTC recently, including incidents this week that saw a group of people attack two transit workers in Scarborough in a “swarming” and a young woman stabbed and seriously injured on a downtown streetcar in an apparently random incident.

He said more needs to be done to address the mental health crisis and called for the prime minister and premiers to come together to come up with better solutions.

“A lack of mental health supports undoubtedly contributes to a number of issues we are seeing in cities across the country,” Tory said in a statement. “Some of this may have been brought on by the pandemic experience, and it’s high time we took an urgent, in-depth look at this possible cause and effect.”

He pointed out that demand for psychological services in Ontario grew by 50 per cent last year and that according to the Ontario Psychological Association approximately 900,000 young people in the province are living with mental illness.

Tory said that while Toronto has attempted to respond to a wave of mental health and substance abuse issues with initiatives like the Toronto Community Crisis Services pilot, health care is ultimately the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments.

Cities, he said, are struggling to deal with the fallout of untreated mental health.

“The lack of spending on mental health – particularly as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic – is painfully clear on the streets of municipalities across the country. When people are suffering and unable to receive adequate support, frequently they are left on our streets, on our transit systems, and in our emergency rooms to fend for themselves,” Tory said.

“When the federal and provincial governments don’t fully and adequately fund mental health care, the responsibility is offloaded to ill-equipped municipalities across Canada which are without the financial resources to address this crisis – it is offloaded to our shelters, to our police services, to our transit systems, and to hospital emergency departments.”

He said confronting the mental health crisis will take the same level of determination and cooperation as was required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in Canada three years ago with the first detected case in Toronto.

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