Hillsborough Bridge again in suicide-prevention spotlight, with vigil and calls for barriers

This is one of 75 small wooden crosses inscribed in the memory of people who died by suicide that were collected by Vincent Adams and attached to the railing of the Hillsborough Bridge on Sunday. Suicide prevention advocates and P.E.I.'s Liberal party are calling on the government to install barriers on the bridge. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC - image credit)
This is one of 75 small wooden crosses inscribed in the memory of people who died by suicide that were collected by Vincent Adams and attached to the railing of the Hillsborough Bridge on Sunday. Suicide prevention advocates and P.E.I.'s Liberal party are calling on the government to install barriers on the bridge. (Sheehan Desjardins/CBC - image credit)

Shivering in the cold wind whipping off Charlottetown Harbour, Vincent Adams led a group of about 20 people onto the Hillsborough Bridge's pedestrian walkway Sunday to leave messages of love they hope will prevent suicides.

"Each cross comes from a family who have lost someone, so they are powerful," Adams said of the 75 small wooden crosses the group attached to the railing with plastic ties.

"So when people walk out to that bridge and they see those crosses, I hope that they understand before they do something they are loved by many, and it has far-reaching effects when you do something serious."

The afternoon event followed a week in which mental health advocates and P.E.I.'s Liberal party renewed calls for suicide-prevention barriers to be put up on the bridge that links Charlottetown and Stratford.

"Those deter people from taking their own lives and that's really what this is about," said Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly.

According to Charlottetown Police, 14 people have attempted to kill themselves on the bridge over the last five years. Two have died. That number doesn't include calls the RCMP may have responded to for the same incidents.

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC

Barriers on the bridge have been debated on P.E.I. many times in past, including in past government suicide prevention strategies.

The P.E.I. government's own Suicide Prevention Strategy from 2018 calls for barriers on the bridge, to "reduce availability, accessibility, and attractiveness of means through erecting bridge barriers on the Hillsborough Bridge and including signage and/or helpline phones at other sites (i.e. North River Causeway)."

There are currently two cameras on the bridge, and the province has agreed to install more. But they said physical barriers, like those installed on the Covehead bridge in Stanhope, may not be possible.

Randy McAndrew/CBC
Randy McAndrew/CBC

"Barriers are a bit more of an obstacle, due to the structural engineering, and the [wind] load the bridge can take, so I'd have to go back to the department and get some clarity on that but I know there is concern around that," P.E.I. Transport Minister Cory Deagle said in the legislature.

Deagle also said this may be a good time to look at increasing mental health funding and supports on P.E.I.

"Would our resources be better spent on prevention, before that person gets to the bridge?"

Dave Irish/CBC
Dave Irish/CBC

In 2021, provincial engineers said the bridge was not designed for the higher wind loads associated with the additional rail height.

But McNeilly wants the province to take another look.

In Halifax, three-metre safety barriers were added along the MacDonald Bridge to help discourage people.

The province has agreed to bring together the ministers of health, justice, and transportation to take another look at ways to make the Hillsborough Bridge safer.

Sheehan Desjardins/CBC
Sheehan Desjardins/CBC

Meanwhile, Adams is hoping that despairing people who walk onto the bridge will see the small wooden crosses and think about the impact of their actions.

"They all refer back to love, peace. They want people to know that they are loved and they want them to know that they count. Every life counts."

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