Campbell River is no stranger to the B.C. mental health and drug addiction crisis, now marking its seventh year.
The victims of the ongoing crisis have families living with the loss of lives and subsequent heartbreak.
Chantal Costaz knows what that is like. She lost her son Santos on June 24, 2022 to an overdose.
But adding to the heartbreak is the fact that Santos was in what was supposed to be a safe place. A decision had been made to have Santos arrested after an attempt to get him to a treatment centre in the Lower Mainland had run out of time.
Santos’ death in the RCMP lockup was the subject of a March 17 B.C. Independent Investigations Office (IIO) report. He was not identified in the report and while Chantal Costaz wants the community to know who her son was, she also wants to see changes to incarceration procedures and more resources for people suffering from mental health and addiction.
“Santos was a bright kid. He had a future…he could have been many things,” Chantal says in an interview with the Campbell River Mirror. “So many things could have been done to not have this happen, you know, and it’s done now. I can’t do anything about it but try and make change. So that’s my goal.”
Chantal wrote a letter to the editor telling the community about her son, saying he was not just a nameless person in a report.
“This man did have a name, Santos. Santos had a family and friends who loved him. Santos was artistic, athletic, loved music, was fashion savvy and wanted to become a fashion designer and a rapper.”
But, Chantal writes, “his struggle with mental health was bigger than him.”
Santos was taken into RCMP custody in an attempt to secure emergency help for him. A rare opening in Coquitlam, B.C.’s Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction had just slipped out of Santos’ hands.
Chantal and their health team had been desperately searching all over Campbell River to find Santos because the space had suddenly become available.
But Santos was nowhere to be found.
Chantal had spent years trying to get Santos the help he needed. There had been many diagnoses but no solutions. Nothing seemed to be available to help him, she says.
In the last year of his life, his addiction seemed to get more and more difficult. Then he was able to get housing at Q’waxsem Place and was doing well for a while. But he was incapable of following the rules and got kicked out but was given a second chance to get back in.
“He was finally kicked out for the last time and back out on the streets,” Chantal says.
The facility was not equipped for nor has the funding to deal with mental health, addiction issues or teach life skills, Chantal says.
Santos was then placed in Comox mental health twice and both times was released after three days because he was not psychotic. He did agree to go to a treatment centre and was accepted to the Red Fish Healing Centre for Mental Health and Addiction but there was a 9 to 12-month wait.
On June 21, 2022, the call came that there was a bed for him at Red Fish but he had to be there by June 23. Arrangements were made to get him there and Chantal tried to find him on the evening of the 22nd with the help of some outreach persons. He had his disability cheque and was probably indulging, Chantal says. Sadly, there was also an alert out about a batch of toxic drugs on the streets.
“We were frantic to find him.”
He had to be on the road by 8:30 a.m. on June 23 to make the 1:30 deadline to get him to Red Fish. He was finally found on the morning of June 23 at 10:30 a.m. but he was a mess. They were also informed that it was too late for his placement, his spot had already been given away.
A decision was made to have Santos arrested so he would be safe and allow for a new start in the morning. He never made it to morning.
Chantal says she doesn’t want to blame anyone but there needs to be some kind change to the systems in place. It was a piling on of a lot of bad circumstances: Putting him in jail so he can be safe was a fateful decision. How intoxicated he was was not recognized. And Chantal has questions about how drug paraphernalia got into the jail. It was also a week where the drugs on the streets were “called out as being very dangerous.”
“There’s so many layers. It’s so many layers and nobody seems on the same page. I think that’s the hard part for me,” Chantal says.
The addiction crisis has been going on for seven years and there is still no plan or approach to deal with it. Chantal points out the contrast with the province’s mobilization to deal with COVID-19.
“I don’t have anything against what they did with COVID. I think it was great. They were able to, you know – boom! – do whatever they needed to do to take care of people,” she says. “And then these people seem to be left out of that sort of urge to help.
“They built hospitals in a day when they needed to … I don’t see why they can’t muster up a detox centre.”
Detox centres alone are not the answer, Chantal says, but rather “they are needed as an emergency initial first step towards saving lives in this emergency crisis.” And following that, mental health needs to change and be more accessible to people who need help.
“That’s my main push here, for me, is to make some changes, you know, for detox, clean drugs and police awareness because Santos isn’t the only one who just died in prison.”
The IIO report into Santos’ death in police custody did not make any recommendations where the IIO has in other situations. This puzzles Chantal.
In the meantime, she promises to push for changes.
“This is not going to disappear until the powers that be recognize this situation as an emergency as we did COVID, for example. These lives are worthy. If the police, mental health, and the liaison ground workers can’t work together then more unnecessary tragic deaths will continue to happen. There are some incredibly dedicated people who are on the streets trying to make change, but there is also so much disconnect that through my experience it’s like riding a hamster wheel, lot’s of momentum going nowhere.”