Helping Veterans Overcome Crisis

Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit

Over 60 veterans in Toronto, who were in crisis and needed assistance, have received help through the Military Veterans Wellness Program (MVWP) that was launched two years ago.

With the full support of the Community Partnership & Engagement Unit (CPEU) and the Command Team, Constables Aaron Dale and Jeremy Burns – who served in the Canadian Armed Forces – collaborated with industry leaders in mental health, crisis negotiation and veteran social services to best serve veterans with support.

It is the first of its kind program in law enforcement to enhance the wellbeing of veterans and prevent suicide and homelessness.

“The program provides training so all Canadian law enforcement officers can have an understanding of the issues veterans may be facing and provide them with additional de-escalation training and mechanisms to connect to a veteran for help,” said Constable Aaron Dale. “Our goal is to ensure every police officer in Canada understands the veteran population and how to help.”

Chief Myron Demkiw said veterans deserve honour and respect for their service to Canada.

“The Toronto Police Service stands in solidarity with our military veterans, including some of our members with past or present military service,” said Chief Myron Demkiw. “Our goal through the Military Veterans Wellness Program is to continue encouraging and assisting other Canadian police services in their support of military veterans. This work not only improves public safety, but we hope it also plays a role in decreasing veteran suicide and homelessness. Nobody should fight alone.”

The Toronto Police Association has been part of the program from the beginning.

“Not only does this program better equip our members to serve their communities, but it can help any of our own members who, like Aaron and Jeremy, are veterans,” he said. “The wellness of our members is a priority for the TPS.

“Any program that may provide an opportunity for those members to get help when, where and how they need it is an endeavor worth supporting. Aaron and Jeremy have put everything they have into this program and we are incredibly proud of them.”

The program is now part of mandatory training for all Toronto Police officers, which is expected to be completed by all officers by November 11, 2024.

Burns conducted many in-person presentations to Primary Response Unit members.

“Many officers took me aside to share that the training helped them recognize some of their own challenges and it inspired them to seek help,” he said.

The MVWP has been expanded across North America with the goal of having TPS as an industry leader in Community Policing and Veterans Wellness.

Ontario’s Solicitor General Michael Kerzner and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police have thrown their support behind the program.

Kerzner said veterans have lived a life of service over self.

“They have contributed enormously to our province and our country,” he said. “Providing access to mental health, housing and support for substance use problems is critical for those who have given us so much. I applaud Toronto Police Service for their dedication to supporting selfless veterans in their communities.”

Over 80 agencies are in the process of implementing the program into their service and the Canadian Police Knowledge Network (CPKN) training program has trained over 12,000 people.

“It has been a great experience to be part of this team and help contribute to the mental health aspects of the CPKN training,” noted Clinical Psychologist Dr. Genevieve Dale.

The Royal Canadian Military Police launched the MVWP nationally in Halifax; the Ontario Provincial Police is implementing the program across all of their police stations in the province and the Australian Federal Police invited the MVWP team to Washington to present the program.

Person stands beside monument
Constable Aaron Dale at FBI headquarters in Washington where he presented on the program

While in Washington, the team presented the program to several agencies, including the United States Veterans Affairs, the FBI and Homeland Security.

“Australia and Canada are two countries with a great deal in common,” said Detective Superintendent Matthew Ciantar of the Australian Federal Police. “This not only translates to our law enforcement agencies, but also to our veterans. Sadly, many of the issues faced by Canadian veterans are also faced by Australian veterans and the work to improve interactions between law enforcement officers and veterans is a very important one.

“That is why we are working with Aaron, Jeremy and their team to try to introduce the program into Australia. We are extremely appreciative of the cooperation and ongoing work in this space and look forward to continuing to work together.”

Waterloo Regional Police has partnered with Toronto Police to support the MVWP.

They adopted it in February 2023.

“The program has become a valuable resource for our police service, not only supporting veterans, but also complementing existing local community supports,” said Constable David Cassidy. “We are grateful for the hard work of Aaron and Jeremy and the Toronto Police Service in creating this initiative.”

Defence Scientist Dr. Allyson Dale assisted her brother with the design and development of the MVWP.

“I am grateful to have been invited to Halifax and Washington to present the program and its strategic and performance measurement framework, which is based on Director General Military Personnel Research & Analysis PMF development method,” she said.

The MVWP content is part of the Ontario Crisis Negotiators Course run by the Ontario Police College. To date, there have been over 200 referrals for veterans in crisis in Ontario.

The MVWP is now Toronto Police’s fourth risk-intervention program after Preventing Violent Extremism, Engage 416 and FOCUS Toronto.

“Building upon the success and experiences of FOCUS Toronto and operating alongside FOCUS Toronto, the MVWP is unique,” said Acting Staff Sergeant Brian Smith of CPEU.

“It leverages frontline officers to assist veterans in crisis while at the same time creating unique federal partnerships, processes and police crisis training that are being scaled both nationally and internationally.”

CPEU Superintendent Greg Watts said his unit’s role is to collaborate with communities across the city and tackle social issues together.

“The MVWP has not only made a significant impact in addressing the needs of veterans to reduce instances of suicide and homelessness, but it has been spreading across the country to ensure all Canadian military veterans are given the collaborative support they deserve,” he said.

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