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BC's mental health detention system violating charter rights: report

Last Updated Nov 29, 2017 at 1:44 pm PDT

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Summary

Report finds female patients typically have their clothes removed by male staff

Author says research finds there are more than 20,000 involuntary detentions annually

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A new report says BC’s system for detaining people with mental health issues violates their charter rights.

Report author Laura Johnston, a lawyer with the Community Legal Assistance Society, says the problems with the provincial Mental Health Act include people in care being put in solitary confinement or involuntarily given treatments like electroconvulsive therapy.

The report also says female patients routinely have their clothes removed by male staff, doctors can make detention decisions without conducting in-person exams and there is no legal aid for patients at the time they are detained.

Johnston says despite issues with the system, mental health detentions in BC have jumped over the past decade and there are more than 20,000 involuntarily detentions each year, which might involve some people being detained multiple times.

She says the number of voluntary mental health admissions has remained essentially unchanged over the same period.

The report calls for an independent commission to overhaul the Mental Health Act, and makes a number of recommendations, including better training for health-care providers.

“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 says in a news release. “We need to ask why and take a hard look at what is going on in this detention system.”

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said 20,000 people are involuntarily detained each year, but some of those detentions may involve the same people. It also said patients have no access to legal aid, but they are able to apply for legal aid after their detention.