Coquitlam mayor Richard Stewart made an emotional plea for improved mental-health services over the weekend (October 30).
“I’m here today on my way home from a funeral, another funeral, [for] a young man who died of his mental illness and addictions,” he said in a video posted on Facebook. “I got to offer condolences to a family that lost their young son. And I don’t want to do that again.”
Stewart filmed the short video on the Riverview lands, a sprawling complex off Highway 7 that once housed more than 5,000 mental-health care patients. The facility was slowly decommissioned through the 1990s and 2000s and finally closed in 2012. Since then, the province has reopened a couple of buildings on the site and begun work on plans for a larger redevelopment.
Walking the Riverview grounds on Sunday, Stewart discussed the overdose crisis—which is on track to kill more than 1,500 people in B.C. this year—and argued it’s a reason to hurry those plans along.
“A year ago, I made a video here on the Riverview lands that called for the provincial government of the day to contemplate an enormous expansion of critical mass of treatment facilities for those who suffer from mental illness and addictions,” he said. “Our family, as so many families, we’ve seen first-hand the gaps in the current system for the treatment of mental illness. And today I got to see firsthand, again, one of the results of those gaps. So I renew the call.
“In the end, there’s lives at stake,” Stewart continued. “And this magnificent property, 244 acres in the heart of Metro Vancouver, a facility that has served the mental-health needs of this province for more than 100 years, I think it can play a role in that renewal and a role in really trying to offer hope to the families and to those who suffer from addictions and suffer from mental illness.”
Stewart acknowledged Riverview’s controversial history. Like other mental-health facilities across North America, it was once known for the sort of heavy-handed institutionalized care that is no longer practiced. But he said a revitalized Riverview would be different.
“We don’t treat mental illness as we did in the past,” Stewart said. “This was built as an asylum. We don’t do that kind of institutional care. But there are all kinds of reasons why this site can and will—there are facilities under construction now—play an important role in the treatment of mental illness and addictions in the future. And I look to the government to hurry.”
For a history of the Riverview site and its role in mental-health care in B.C., read the Straight’s 2014 in-depth report, “Amid a mental-health crisis, Vancouver care providers revisit the debate on institutionalization”.