B.C.’s mental health detention system violates charter rights: report

Community Legal Assistance Society calls for Mental Health Act overhaul

A report by the Community Legal Assistance Society is calling for an independent commission to overhaul the Mental Health Act, saying B.C.’s mental health detention system violates charter rights.

The report, released Wednesday by society lawyer Laura Johnston, said mental health detentions in B.C. have increased dramatically over the last 10 years, but the number of voluntary mental health admissions has remained virtually unchanged.

“Disturbing practices” within the provincial Mental Health Act are to blame, Johnston wrote, such as female patients routinely have their clothes removed by male staff, including security guards from private companies, and people in care being put in solitary confinement or involuntarily given treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy.

READ MORE: Justice reform tightens release rules for dangerously insane

The report also highlights what Johnston called “deep flaws” in the legal process for those detained, including the act of permiting indefinite detention with no mandatory periodic oversight, and a lack of independant legal aid for detainees specifically in regards to their detention.

“Our mental health system is increasingly interacting with people with mental health problems in an adversarial way by removing their rights, rather than in a voluntary way that promotes autonomy and collaboration in the recovery process,” Johnston said in a news release. “We need to ask why and take a hard look at what is going on in this detention system.”

The report calls on the ministries of health and mental health and addictions to create an independent law reform commission to overhaul the Mental Health Act – a practice Johnston said is already underway in other provinces.

“B.C.’s mental health detention system has been operating in darkness for too long,” she said.

The province has not yet commented.


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