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VPD cleared in attempted bridge suicide, but questions remain over fencing

Granville Bridge is same span that Vancouver Coastal Health recommended suicide prevention fencing be installed
The Granville Bridge is currently undergoing an upgrade that does not include the installation of suicide prevention fencing. The City of Vancouver says the fencing has been incorporated into the long-term design of the span.

An attempted suicide on the Granville Bridge last fall that resulted in an investigation of Vancouver police officers occurred on the same span that Vancouver Coastal Health recommended suicide prevention fencing be installed.

The incident in November 2023 recently made headlines with the release of a report from the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) that cleared officers of any wrongdoing related to a man who jumped from the bridge and ended up in critical condition.

The report authored by Sandra J. Hentzen, the IIO’s interim chief civilian director, doesn’t mention the lack of or need for suicide prevention fencing and is solely focused on the conduct of officers who responded to the man.

Hentzen found no negligence and concluded the officers “performed their duties appropriately, and they are not responsible for [the man’s] unfortunate decision,” which he made shortly after meeting with officers at a pizza shop near the bridge.

“The evidence of four police officers and a civilian witness confirms [the man] was not displaying symptoms of mental disorder at the time they spoke with him, and had apparently set aside any thoughts about jumping from a bridge,” Hentzen wrote.

“It was reasonable for the officers to conclude [the man] had a safe plan for the night and was no longer at risk of self-harm. In fact, it would have been unreasonable for them to apprehend him after their inquiries, and doing so might even have amounted in law to an assault.”

Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, the deputy medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health. Photo Mike Howell

'A considerable impact'

The incident on the bridge comes three years after Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, the deputy medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, wrote a letter to city council to support the need for suicide prevention fencing on the Granville Bridge.

At the time, the council of the day was discussing the planned $50-million upgrade to the 1950s-era bridge. The estimated cost in 2020 of installing the fencing was between $8 million and $16 million.

“This is an essential component of suicide prevention and part of Vancouver Coastal Health’s injury prevention plans to install means prevention fencing on all high-rise bridges in the Lower Mainland,” Lysyshyn wrote Sept. 2, 2020.

“Means prevention” fencing is a term medical experts use for suicide prevention fencing.

In recent years, Lysyshyn said it has become best practice in B.C. to incorporate fencing into bridge projects.

Fencing added to the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge and Burrard Bridge have had “a considerable impact, with early evidence suggesting that means prevention saved lives and significantly reduced health care and emergency service costs,” he said.

Lysyshyn noted the Granville Bridge was identified by the BC Coroners Service as one of the Lower Mainland’s bridges subject to suicide and suicide attempts. Between 2007 and July 2019, there were 34 deaths by suicide, with many more attempts, he said.

Glacier Media contacted VCH’s media centre Friday for a response to the November 2023 incident investigated by the IIO, but had not heard back before publication time.

Crisis phones

The city’s communications department said in an email Friday that the fencing has been incorporated into the “long-term design” of the bridge. The estimated cost is now between $10 million and $20 million.

“With the high cost to install means prevention fencing on the bridge due to the length [including ramp] and weight limitations, fencing was not included in the first phase, however, the city is in ongoing discussions regarding funding for means prevention measures for Granville Bridge with VCH and senior levels of government,” the city said.

Currently, the city added, it is working with the health authority and the BC Crisis Centre to install crisis phones on the Granville Bridge, which will be in place when the Granville Connector opens next year.

“These crisis phones were not a part of the original plan for this phase of the project but have been added as a measure to deter self-harm,” the city said.

Vancouver city councillor Christine Boyle. Photo Mike Howell

'Lost two friends'

Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle, who lost two friends to suicide from local bridges, has pushed in previous debates for the fencing to be installed and has urged senior governments to contribute to the cost.

In an interview Friday, Boyle said installing fencing is worth the expense.

“Every life lost is one too many, and [this case] continues to reinforce the urgency to be making these investments and keeping people safe,” said Boyle, adding that a broad range of services for people in a mental health crisis are needed.

“We know that installing means prevention fencing and providing more mental health supports will make a difference for people in the future in ways we both can and can't quantify. There's no doubt for me that it's worth doing for whoever it may benefit into the future.”

Added Boyle: “I lost two friends in my 20s who took their own lives jumping off local bridges in separate occasions. It is heartbreaking to me, and the thought that we could prevent other lives from being lost is incredibly important to me.”

'Go to his mother's house'

In the case before the IIO, police were called in the evening of Nov. 23, 2023 to a pizza shop at the north end of the Granville Bridge after a citizen came across a suicidal man on the span.

He offered to buy him some food, so they went to the restaurant.

The citizen called police and two officers were dispatched on a “check well-being” call.

“According to the officers’ PRIME reports, corroborated [by the citizen], the man told them he was feeling better and eating some food and drinking water,” Hentzen said in her report.

“He acknowledged thinking about jumping from the bridge, but said he now wanted to find a warm place to spend the night, and might go to his mother’s house in Kitsilano.”

The man was described as calm and happy, denying any further suicidal thoughts and appearing to be “on the right track,” and planned to take his medications and attend counselling regularly, Hentzen said.

About 30 minutes later, the officers drove across the bridge and spotted the man looking over the edge of the span. The officers turned around, but lost sight of him. They drove to a spot underneath the bridge, where paramedics were attending to the man.

He was taken to hospital in critical condition.

Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available.

In an emergency, call 9-1-1. In a crisis, call 1-800-784-2433. In need of support, call 310-6789 (no area code needed).

A full list of resources are available on the B.C. government’s website.

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