Talks about the possibility of erecting a barrier at the Goldstream Trestle began this week in the wake of a Langford teen’s death.
The Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) says it is working to put together a committee with West Shore RCMP, Langford Fire Rescue and the B.C. Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions to discuss the feasibility of putting barriers in place after the body of Andre Courtemanche, 16, was found Jan. 9 – eight days after he went missing from his family’s home.
Andre’s family says the teen struggled with anxiety and depression, both exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since his death, they have begun fundraising for barriers at the trestle bridge, calling for physical changes to the trestle alongside improved access to mental health resources.
Brianna Turner, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Victoria, says barriers can be effective when it comes to preventing suicide in a specific location.
“A suicidal crisis is a bit like an incredibly powerful wave, and part of the goal with suicide prevention is focusing on people who are in the wave,” Turner says. “If we can buy them a couple hours or a couple days, those feelings are likely to change. I think that’s where barriers can be really effective, it’s really about buying that time to help the person get through to the other side of the wave and engage some of their support.”
Turner says many people who consider or attempt suicide can go on to live full, happy lives without another attempt.
“The tragedy of suicide is that it’s not reversible … It’s an action that someone takes at the peak of those emotions and those feelings.”
Victoria man Vincent Gornall joins the call for barriers and says he wishes he had done so earlier. Gornall’s sister, Breanne Gornall, 32, died by suicide at the trestle last summer following an extensive mental health struggle.
“I would like to see, at the Goldstream Trestle, a suicide prevention barrier built to the best standards in the industry, so that people stop dying at a known dangerous location,” he says. “I heard from several people after my sister died that other people have died there previous to that … I have a social responsibility to try to make things better.”
Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey says rescues and recoveries at the trestle are physically and mentally challenging. He’s open-minded about barriers but says any changes should be balanced with mental health support.
“It’s important we find out the root causes of why people are feeling this level of despair,” he says. “For the sake of my members and for the sake of the community, I strongly want to see some positive change.”
ICF CEO Larry Stevenson notes that the trestle – despite being used frequently as a hiking destination – is dangerous and on private property.
“It’s a fairly complex issue,” he says. “We still need to be able to access that bridge, we still use it for maintenance purposes.”
ICF workers are not allowed on the trestle without proper harnesses and safety equipment.
But Stevenson says the ICF wants to examine the possibilities – and that’s where the committee comes in.
“I think the answer comes when we get people around the table who are familiar with the issue and can provide some guidance … We are not going to run away from it. We need to find a way to move forward.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, call the provincial suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-suicide (1-800-784-2433), or visit crisislines.bc.ca to find local mental health and crisis resources.
Black Press Media has also prepared mental health and overdose prevention resource guides filled with information specific to Greater Victoria, you can find them under e-editions at goldstreamgazette.com.