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Visual and narrative representations of mental health and addiction by law enforcement

Boyd, Jade; Boyd, Susan


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In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada’s third largest city, the local municipal police force, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), has positioned itself as being at the forefront of mental health and addiction regulation. The VPD problematization of the “mental health crisis” in Vancouver draws on discourses of dangerousness, mental illness, and addiction. This is partially achieved by emphasizing the twinning of mental health with addiction (dual diagnoses) and a focus on illegal drug consumption, and is supported through law enforcement’s role as active claims-makers. Mental illness is thus framed as encompassing addiction. It is also achieved through a framing of Canada’s most impoverished urban neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver, as a deviant space predominantly populated by people with mental health and addiction problems. Drawing from an earlier textual analysis of four Vancouver Police Department reports (from 2008 to 2013) (Boyd & Kerr, 2015), this article extends our focus to images and discursive framing in the first two VPD reports (the last two reports do not include images). The two early VPD reports (Wilson-Bates, 2008 & VPD, 2009) are particularly significant because they introduce the DTES, problems of addiction, mental illness, and dangerousness, as well as policy recommendations. They also provide a framework for later VPD reports on mental health and addiction.

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