EDMONTON -- The issue of police responding to mental health calls or welfare checks has been a topic of debate in Canada for years, but in light of recent discussions on defunding the police, it has surfaced again.

On Saturday in Mississauga, ON, a schizophrenic man who called for help was shot and killed in his home by an officer, leading many to ask why police were the ones to respond to the call instead of a mental health professional.

As part of the Edmonton Police Service, a unit already exists that pairs officers with mental health professionals.

“Our focus is on getting the mental health therapist to the scene, to assist the person in the safest manner possible,” said Sgt. Jake Montgomery, who is a supervisor with the Police and Crisis Team, or PACT.

The unit was started in 2004 and is a partnership between police and Alberta Health Services.

Officers are paired with a social worker, psychiatric nurse or psychologist.

Tanya Anderson is one of those psychologists.

“It’s one thing we have in Edmonton that is really quite progressive, and we’ve had that model for a long time,” she said.

On an average day in Edmonton, four PACT pairs are on duty. They respond to calls that might require a healthcare professional.

“This isn’t about being in trouble, this is, how can we help?” Anderson said.

And while the discussion about defunding police continues, advocates of the PACT program say more funding is needed, so they can continue to help people in the most appropriate way.  

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson