Toronto Mayor John Tory calling for national summit on mental health

Mayor John Tory is calling for a national summit on mental health, arguing that inadequate government supports to address the issue are fueling a crisis on Toronto’s streets.

In a statement issued Wednesday that coincided with the annual Bell Let’s Talk event, Tory said it’s time that the country’s mayors, premiers, ministers and the prime minister sit down “to discuss how we can better coordinate across governments to support Canadians living with mental health and substance addiction challenges.”

“This summit must be the moment we start treating mental health care as health care. That we clearly decide on who has responsibility to do what, and to get on with doing much more together,” he said.

The statement noted that demand for psychological services in on the rise, and there were thousands of opioid related deaths across Canada last year.

The mayor asserted that a shortage of funding for mental health supports from the provincial and federal governments has shifted the burden to municipalities that are financially “ill-equipped” to address the problem.

“A lack of mental health supports undoubtedly contributes to a number of issues we are seeing in cities across the country,” Tory said.

“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 noted that despite Toronto’s financial constraints, the city’s draft 2023 budget allocates $1.53 million in tax base funding to Toronto Public Health mental health initiatives, and $13.75 million to the Toronto Community Crisis Service, a program that provices non-police responses to people in mental crisis.

The mayor claimed the federal government has yet to follow through on its pledge of ongoing mental health services funding under the Canada Mental Health Transfer of $4.5 billion over 5 years.

Tory’s statement follows a string of seemingly random violent incidents in that have stoked fears about public safety Canada’s largest city.

On Tuesday, police said a young woman was stabbed in the head and face by stranger on a TTC streetcar. Last Friday an 89-year-old woman died after she was pushed to the ground near the intersection of Yonge Street and King Street in what police described as an unprovoked attack.

It’s not clear what role mental health issues may have played in the incidents.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering city hall and municipal politics for the Star. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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