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After losing daughter, Squamish mom reintroduces Safe Care Act

Brenda Doherty and MLA Jordan Sturdy unveil bill intended to protect minors struggling with mental health and addiction challenges.
Brenda Doherty with a photo of her daughter, Steffanie Lawrence.

She lost her daughter to a fentanyl overdose. Now Squamish mom Brenda Doherty hopes a newly reintroduced bill, dubbed the Safe Care Act, will prevent that from happening again.

On March 5, Doherty joined local MLA Jordan Sturdy in B.C.’s legislative assembly to introduce the Safe Care Act. It intends to give parents and some authorities the ability to hold a child who is facing serious harm due to addiction and mental illness.

This latest version of the bill is informed by the experience of Doherty’s 15-year-old daughter, Steffanie Georgina-Anne Lawrence, who died over six years ago.

Lawrence was admitted to the emergency department of Lions Gate Hospital by the police on Jan. 20, 2018, but was discharged and Doherty was not informed. Lawrence was given a bus pass to Vancouver, where she died on Jan. 22, 2018. 

Doherty told The Squamish Chief the act could have given her another option, at the very least, to help Lawrence.

“If it was in place, we would have had another option to try,” she said. “We wouldn't have been out of options. I don't think as a parent, you should ever be out of options to help save your kid's life.”

Doherty previously told The Squamish Chief that Lawrence’s family doctor had signed a Form 4, which calls for the involuntary holding of a patient for 48 hours due to the person's inability to make safe decisions. 

When Lawrence’s care was assessed by the Patient Care and Quality Review Board, the review said the form was invalid, because Lawrence’s family doctor had not seen her in the 14 days leading up to her visit to the emergency department.

“It was basically a technicality,” said Doherty on March 5 about her daughter’s care. “So they threw it out, and they let her go.”

A news release from BC United said the goal of the act is to “authorize a parent, adoption director, child and family services director, or safe care director to apply to the provincial court for the limited involuntary apprehension of a child facing serious harm through addictions and mental illness.”

“This bill is a last-resort tool that will provide further options to parents seeking to keep their kids safe, while also respecting the rights and well-being of the youth,” Sturdy said in the release.

In the news release about the act, Elenore Sturko, BC United’s Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Addiction, Recovery and Education, said involuntary care is sometimes needed.

“Any decision to implement involuntary care should not be taken lightly,” said Sturko. “However, we stand firm in our belief that there are times when compassionate involuntary care is necessary to save lives.”

The Safe Care Act has been introduced several times throughout the years but has not been made into law. In 2023, the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Jennifer Whiteside, told The Squamish Chief the ministry was focused on voluntary treatment. 

Moreover, Premier David Eby told The Squamish Chief in 2023 that in his conversations with health officials about involuntary care, there is a concern it may deter people from seeking care during an overdose. Yet, he said if that concern can be addressed, then he’s open to the idea.

Several steps are needed before the current iteration of the Self Care Act can become law, but, ultimately, Doherty hopes it can be a piece to help fill the gaps in care.


-With files from Jennifer Thuncher


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