Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been slammed by critics for throwing their weight behind a Canadian phone company criticised for its role in the death of a vulnerable man.
On Wednesday, the pair shared images on their official Instagram page, Sussex Royals, promoting ‘Bell Let’s Talk’, which is run by phone provider Bell.
The initiative, in which high profile participants including the Sussexes and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were not paid to take part in, aims ‘to raise awareness and combat stigma surrounding mental illness in Canada.’
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex (seen at Canada House this month) posted an Instagram story announcing a their new mental health charity collaboration
The campaign shows people from around the world holding up signs with positive messages emblazoned on them, and was previously supported in a tweet by Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate Middleton in 2017.
Sharing pictures of people taking part in the annual #Bellletstalk Day, they wrote: ‘We are so happy to be supporting Bell’s mental health campaign.
‘Each time you watch @bell_letstalk official video on Instagram, Bell will donate 5 cents towards Canadian mental health initiatives.
Sharing pictures of people taking part in the campaign, they wrote: ‘We are so happy to be supporting Bell’s mental health campaign
‘So please share, please talk and be part of the solution’, adding an emoji of the Canadian flag.
The campaign is the first they have promoted on their account since they stepped down as senior royals and announced they would be splitting their time between London and Canada.
However, Bell has been widely criticised for its high costs and its role in the death of Canadian prisoner Cleve Geddes.
The campaign, called Bell Let’s Talk, shows people from around the world holding up signs with positive messages emblazoned on them
He was found unresponsive in his cell in Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on February 8th 2017, having hanged himself. He died two days later.
An inquest heard that he had been attempting to make a call to his family but couldn’t get through because the service, run by Bell in a string of prisons across the country, doesn’t allow prisoners to call mobile phones, only landlines.
Geddes, a paranoid schizophrenic, had been arrested the week before by police investigating a threats complaint made by his father – and should have been in a hospital for a psychiatric assessment.
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However, there weren’t enough beds so Cleve was ‘thrown in with the wolves,’ as a former fellow inmate put it during an inquest into his death.
Bell has also been criticised for making calls too expensive for prisoners, cutting them off from crucial counselling sessions and chats with family members.
Calls start at $1 per call for local calls (58p), and up to $30 (£17.50) for a 20-minute long distance call, the same as public calls, The Sun reported.
The coroner at the inquest into the 30-year-old’s death called for reform to ‘make it easier for inmates to make outgoing phone calls’.
But changes are yet to be made by the huge company. They say the current contract expires in June this year and they have ‘submitted a new proposal in response to the government’s request.’
The campaign appears to be the couple’s first new venture since they stepped down as senior royals and announced they would be splitting their time between London and Canada
A spokesman for The Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project said Bell contributes to ‘making it so much harder’ for inmates to get help.
Speaking to The Sun, they said: ‘In 2017, Cleve Geddes committed suicide in an Ottawa prison after trying to reach out during a mental health crisis. He was unable to contact his support system via phone.
‘So why does Bell, a company that promotes itself through mental health initiatives, contribute to these conditions and make it so much harder for those in prison to get help?
‘What use is Bell Let’s Talk Day if Bell is making things worse the other 364 days of the year?’
The campaign was previously supported by Prince Harry, Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2017 from Kensington Palace
They added that the company should end ‘this inaccessible phone contract’ or ‘it’s clear to all of us that what you actually care about is profit.’
Bell said the Let’s Talk Day saw $7,719,371.25 (£4,459,404) more Bell funding for Canadian mental health.
Criminal lawyer Michael Spratt said Harry and Meghan, who said they were ‘so happy’ to be involved, should do their research into local issues before wading in.
‘I would urge Meghan and Harry to talk to experts, talk to service providers and talk to the people who are in the trenches and who live in the country they want to call home for half the year,’ he told The Sun.
Bell Canada is a Canadian telecommunications company headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It is the incumbent local exchange carrier for telephone and DSL Internet services in most of Canada east of Saskatchewan and in the northern territories
Bell’s $50 million mental health campaign was founded in 2010 with a view to create a ‘stigma-free Canada’ and ‘drive action in mental health care’, before being renewed in 2015 for another five years, with a target of raising $100 million.
The initiative encourages social media platforms to engage individuals in raising awareness of mental illness.
The annual ‘Bell Let’s Talk Day’ sees the corporation donating money to mental health funds, depending on the number of messages and social media posts shared that day with the hashtag #bellletstalk.
Wikipedia cites Twitter as claiming ‘the #BellLetsTalk hashtag was the most used Canadian hashtag of 2018 on Twitter’.
Buckingham Palace have been approached by Mail Online for comment.