Men­tal health de­ten­tion sys­tem vi­o­lates char­ter rights: re­port

The Daily Courier - - BRITISH COLUMBIA -

VAN­COU­VER — Bri­tish Columbia needs to over­haul a men­tal health sys­tem that al­lows psy­chi­atric fa­cil­i­ties to de­tain peo­ple with lit­tle jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, to deny them ac­cess to a lawyer and to take away their per­sonal cloth­ing as a form of pun­ish­ment, a le­gal ad­vo­cacy group says.

The Com­mu­nity Le­gal As­sis­tance So­ci­ety pub­lished a re­port ti­tled “Op­er­at­ing in Dark­ness” on Wed­nes­day, which de­scribes B.C.’s men­tal health de­ten­tion regime as one of the most re­gres­sive in Canada.

The re­port says the prov­ince’s Men­tal Health Act al­lows peo­ple in care to be put in soli­tary con­fine­ment, strapped to a bed or given in­vol­un­tary treat­ments like drugs and elec­tro­con­vul­sive ther­apy.

Re­port au­thor Laura John­ston said it is “ex­tremely unusual” for a pro­vin­cial men­tal health act in Canada not to pro­hibit the dis­ci­pline of pa­tients who are be­ing held without con­sent.

“Not only does our act not pro­hibit it, but it ac­tively au­tho­rizes it,” John­ston said, adding that dis­ci­plinary mea­sures in­clude the use of re­straints, soli­tary con­fine­ment and with­hold­ing per­sonal cloth­ing.

“You can ‘earn your way’ back up to your cloth­ing ac­cess by good be­hav­iour. But bad be­hav­iour, you can lose your rights to cloth­ing,” she said, de­scrib­ing the prac­tice as dis­turb­ing.

The so­ci­ety, a non-profit group that pro­vides le­gal ser­vices to peo­ple in men­tal health de­ten­tion, has launched a char­ter rights court chal­lenge against the pro­vin­cial govern­ment over the same is­sue.

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