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White Rock knife-brandishing incident ‘highlights gap in mental-health resources’

Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko helped de-escalate situation at café

One man has been charged in connection with a knife-brandishing incident that unfolded outside of a White Rock coffee shop Tuesday (March 21) afternoon, in front of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s newest provincial politician – who just happens to be a former Mountie.

According to police, the incident was reported around 2:15 p.m., after a man pulled out a hunting knife in front of customers at Laura’s Coffee Corner. Located at 15259 Pacific Ave., the café is just a half-block from the White Rock RCMP detachment.

Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko – the former public face of Surrey RCMP and current Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Addiction, Recovery and Education – said she was having coffee with a new friend when she became aware of a man “sort of yelling and being very erratic” nearby.

The man had a cellphone to his ear and began to engage and yell at the coffee shop patrons, Sturko said.

Sturko said both she and her friend, who is a critical-care nurse, felt the person was experiencing a mental-health issue, but it “went from being unsettling to being more dangerous in just a couple seconds” when the individual pulled out a knife.

Instinctively, Sturko stood up and started to talk to the guy, telling him “No one’s going to hurt you, you don’t need a knife,” she said.

When the man accidentally dropped the weapon, she quickly stepped on it and flicked it behind her, and another customer grabbed it and took it inside the coffee shop.

Police arrived shortly after – “within a minute” of the 911 call, according to a news release – took the man into custody and seized the knife.

The incident prompted coffee shop owner Laura Cornale to lock down her business for about an hour, and she told Peace Arch News it wasn’t the first time she’s had to take that step this month.

“Once this month and once a couple months ago,” Cornale said Thursday (March 23).

She described Tuesday’s incident as “scary.”

”I just keep thinking what could have happened.”

Sturko said Cornale and her patrons were clearly shaken by what transpired.

But the incident also highlights the need for better mental-health and addictions resources, she said.

“It points to the fact that even in South Surrey and White Rock, we continue to have a lack of proper resources in order to deal with mental-health issues and addictions issues in our area,” Sturko said.

The issue as a whole is what drove Sturko to leave policing for politics. She won the Surrey South seat in last fall’s byelection.

Earlier this month, she introduced a private member’s bill aimed at averting similar incidents, and related tragedies.

If passed, the Mental Health Amendment Act, 2023 would require physicians or nurse practitioners to gather further information on a person’s psychological history as part of the process of considering whether to involuntarily admit and treat someone under the Mental Health Act.

READ MORE: UPDATED: Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko introduces bill aimed at helping prevent suicides

By reaching out to those with close knowledge of an individual’s situation – which could include family members or first responders – physicians would have all the information and context necessary when they are making the potentially life-saving decision to certify someone.

Sturko noted that a woman who identified herself as the man’s mother told her at the scene that she was glad police were called Tuesday, “because she needed help with her son and she couldn’t get it.”

“How does it come to this?” Sturko said.

Cornale said in her 13 years of doing business in White Rock, the past year has been the worst she’s seen in regards to dealing with people whose behaviour appears related to mental health. At least weekly – and as recently as Thursday morning (March 23) – she is having to ask someone to leave the property, she said.

“It’s a bit frightening right now,” she said.

“People are struggling. We see more people living on the street, even around the Five Corners area. And you do have transients that like to sleep on the street.

“It keeps growing and growing here and there’s no resources.”

Cornale said any solutions need to be collaborative.

“It’s not a single thing. The community’s got to work together,” she said.

White Rock RCMP Const. Chantal Sears encouraged anyone needing support as a result of witnessing the incident to email

The individual arrested in connection with Tuesday’s incident has been charged with “possessing weapon for dangerous purpose.”

A 39-year-old Surrey man appeared in Surrey Provincial Court on March 22.

- with files from Alex Browne
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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