Saint John to renew call for suicide-prevention barriers on Reversing Falls Bridge

A suicide prevention sign on the railing at the Reversing Falls Bridge. (Submitted by Jaclyn McColgan - image credit)
A suicide prevention sign on the railing at the Reversing Falls Bridge. (Submitted by Jaclyn McColgan - image credit)

New statistics from the Saint John Police Force are renewing calls for a suicide-prevention barrier on the Reversing Falls Bridge.

Police say the force has responded to 108 incidents at the bridge since 2017, an average of about 20 per year.

At Saint John city council on Monday night, Coun. Gary Sullivan said the province has been asked to install a barrier in 2017, and again in 2019, but nothing has happened.

"It is sad that this was identified by the Saint John Suicide Prevention Committee in 2017 and the data is still showing that we still need it," Sullivan said.

Neville Crabbe/CBC
Neville Crabbe/CBC

"This is so, so, so important. All the data, all the research — this is a science-based thing.

"I guess I'm not preaching to council, I'm preaching to anybody out there who has the ear of somebody who makes the decisions … that these things work."

The numbers from the police are sobering: In 5½ years, 70 people were successfully talked down by emergency responders, 19 were physically restrained to keep them from jumping, one person fell and survived, and another five jumped. Four either died or are presumed dead.

Chief Robert Bruce said in his report that this doesn't take into account several missing persons cases, where "any number of these individuals may or may not have jumped from the bridge."

Police are also recommending security cameras be installed. Bruce said it would allow police to confirm if a person in crisis is on the bridge, whether they have jumped or fallen, and what kind of emergency response is required.

Council agreed to have the city manager consider the camera proposal, but it has added a call for the province to revisit the installation of barriers.

Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC
Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC

The Liberal government of Brian Gallant did set aside $500,000 to find a solution, but Bill Fraser, who took over as minister of transportation and infrastructure put that on hold.

"When I arrived at the department in June [2016], I said that we need to have a broader discussion, a more global discussion, on how we can move forward in a positive way to help the most people that we can," Fraser told CBC in June 2017.

In 2019, a spokesperson said the department had reviewed options at the time, including what is done in other jurisdictions as preventive measures, but a decision was made to not move forward with any barrier projects at the Reversing Falls Bridge.

Coun. David Hickey, who is on the city's public safety committee, brought this latest proposal forward and received unanimous agreement from council.

But Gary Sullivan also had council's full support back in 2019 when he brought forward a proposal to have the province build barriers. It fell on deaf ears.

Saint John Suicide Prevention/Facebook
Saint John Suicide Prevention/Facebook

He's hoping this time will be different.

"This is not a gamble, this is something that will reduce people harming themselves."

Experience elsewhere backs it up. A study of the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto looked at the effects of a barrier installed there.

It concluded that over the long term, suicide-by-jumping declined in Toronto after a barrier was installed, with no associated increase in suicide by other means.