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Toronto mayor to ramp up pressure for mental health supports after TTC killing

In the wake of last Friday’s deadly stabbing, which took the life of 31-year-old Vanessa Kurpiewaska, Toronto’s mayor has been making increasingly public calls on the federal and provincial governments to invest more in mental health and addiction supports for both those suffering and people concerned about public safety.

Standing in front of the Deputy-Premier and federal and provincial cabinet ministers following a TTC attack that killed a 31-year-old woman, Mayor John Tory called out each level of government for not doing enough. “We are dropping the ball on this,” said Tory, “we are dropping the ball collectively, but most of it is part of the health-care system.”

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“It is time that we step up because if you look at the problem of community safety that we’re facing right now on the transit system, on the streets, a great number of them are related to mental health issues.”

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Thirty-one-year-old Vanessa Kurpiewska died in hospital after she and another woman were stabbed on the subway near High Park station.

Global News / provided

A few hours later, Tory repeated the call at a City Hall press conference.

“The system is not addressing that illness, so they’re left to be in the transit stations and on the streets and on trains and buses without the kind of treatment available to them that they require. And it is a scandal, quite frankly,” said Tory.

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Tory said those people facing addiction and mental health problems without the adequate supports are victims, but that they are also creating public safety concerns. The mayor said he has recently met with employers representing workers coming back to the office, who raised anxieties their employees face about the issue.

Mayor John Tory said all three levels of government are collectively failing people suffering from mental health and addiction issues, which is creating public safety risks.

Matthew Bingley/Global News

The victims of mental health and addictions shouldn’t be the ones at blame, said Tory, who noted the issue should be treated no differently than someone with a heart or kidney problem.

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Still, despite meetings with the Prime Minister and Ontario’s Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Michael Tibolo, Tory said the problem remains unchecked and he vowed to increase pressure on the two levels of government to address the problem in early 2023.

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Ontario’s Government announced in March 2020 that it was launching a ‘Roadmap to Wellness,’ a 10-year, $3.8 billion plan aimed at filling in gaps to mental health and addiction care. At the final Question Period of the fall session, Associate Minister Tibollo, grilled on mental health questions by the NDP opposition, indicated the province was making headway on the issue.

Global News requested an interview with Minister Tibollo to respond to Tory’s finger-pointing, but his spokesperson said he was unavailable for interviews all week.

In an email, his spokesperson said the province continues to be committed to building accessible, equitable, and evidence-based services for all Ontarians. “We have invested over $369 million to support those in Toronto Region needing mental health services and supportive housing,” wrote Sara Domino in a statement.

But days after a request to the Ministry of Health, they couldn’t indicate in time for our deadline how many addiction support beds or mental health workers have been added in Toronto since the Roadmap to Wellness was launched in 2020.

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Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks, whose ward the TTC stabbings occurred in last week, said the problem lies within the Ford Government’s priorities and accused it of not doing its job.

“They simply do not care about people with mental health and addictions problems and they wind up suffering and far too often dying,” he said, “and that is directly the fault of the province of Ontario.”

Mayor Tory said his push for more action from upper levels of government will include a request for a meeting between Canada’s premiers, the Prime Minister, and its big city mayors. But he added the issue shouldn’t exclude attention to rural municipalities, which he said often have even fewer supports available than their urban counterparts.

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