B.C. denies the mentally ill their constitutional rights

“Unlike most of country, B.C.’s legislation does not provide a lawyer for people with mental illness facing involuntary detention,” says Jay Chalke, B.C.’s ombudsperson (Globe and Mail, September 2, 2020)

Image: In These Times

Unlike other Canadian jurisdictions, mentally ill people can be held indefinitely -B.C. does not have an automatic review of ongoing detention.

That means that people, who may or may not be mentally ill, can be held endlessly.

Detention of people under the guise of mental illness can have political overtones. The Soviet Union misused psychiatry to get rid of political opponents. The term “philosophical intoxication,” a pseudo-scientific term for mental disorders, was applied to people who disagreed with the country’s Communist leaders.

I don’t mean to suggest that the government of B.C. is detaining political opponents under the Mental Health Act.  But systemic paternalism and racism can play a role.

And I don’t deny that mentally ill people who are violent need be detained for their own safety and the safety of others. The forced detention of unstable persons under the Mental Health Act is not the issue.

Given the treatment of Indigenous people as wards of the state, the detention of First Nations persons presents a complicating layer.

Take the case of “A.H.,” a First Nations 39-year-old woman who was wrongfully detained for almost a year.

In a court case between A.H. and the Fraser Health Authority, the Supreme Court of B.C. learned that A.H. had been held against her will and that she was not even found to be mentally ill.

It wasn’t a simple case -A.H. suffers from cognitive impairments and mental health issues. She has a history of substance abuse, family violence and sexual abuse. She was also diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

A.H.’s mother sexually exploited her by pressuring her to drink alcohol and take drugs to make her compliant to sexual abuse. She did not have clean clothes or sufficient food.

After she was detained, authorization to hold her longer than 48 hours under the Mental Health Act expired. Despite that, she remained captive. She asked staff to provide a lawyer but staff said they couldn’t help. She was not told why she was being detained and tried to escape. On at least one occasion, A.H. was physically restrained with mechanical restraints that tied her to the bed. She was forced to take medications, including sedatives.

In her ruling of the case in 2019, Honourable Madam Justice Warren said:

“However, the procedures for Mental Health Act certification were not followed and there is no evidence that A.H. was certifiable under that legislation.

“The detention decision deprived A.H. of her liberty, the most fundamental of her rights.  The consequences could scarcely have been more serious.  It is apparent that A.H. did not understand the basis for her detention or the reasons for it.  She expressed, multiple times during the course of the detention, confusion about her ongoing detention, repeatedly asking why she could not go home.”

The detention of unstable mentally ill people under B.C.’ Mental Health Act is necessary for the protection of themselves and others. But the unjustified detention of people under the pretext of doing it for their own good smacks of paternalism, and in the case of First Nations people, colonialism.

Good memorials, bad memorials of residential schools

First Nations show the way to reconciliation. Protestors with other agendas should pay heed.

Tk’emlúps residential school. Image: APTN News

In a transformative move, Indigenous Canadians have designated the residential schools that robbed them of their language, art and culture into historic sites.

Not just the school buildings themselves but the whole residential school system has been designated as an historic significance.

The recent move was a collaboration of The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) and its survivors circle, Parks Canada, and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

So far, just two schools have been named historic sites but more are expected.

Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said that recognition of schools in Nova Scotia and Manitoba as national historic sites is a good starting point. He intends to push to have others recognized as well (Globe and Mail, September 1, 2020).

The Tk’emlúps residential school in Kamloops seems like a good candidate to be next.

The goal of the Tk’emlúps school is to educating Canadians. Their website states:

“Our goal is to make ourselves more accessible to the public and certainly to our membership. Throughout your visit you will have access to information in various departments and corporations as well as gain a better understanding of the complexity of our organization.”

A visit to the residential school made an impression on my son when he visited the reserve while attending elementary school.

Lorraine Daniels, who attended three different residential schools in Manitoba over the span of seven years, said the designation will be historic for survivors of the schools and recognition of their pain.

“It is a victory,” she said. “It is a milestone in our journey because everyone is on a journey towards healing. … It is very encouraging that the government is taking this step to acknowledge the residential schools and the system. As a residential school survivor, that gives me hope.”

Recognition of the residential schools by Canada’s indigenous peoples is both painful and refreshing. While indigenous peoples still bear the scars of being taken from their parents and being abused by the operators of the schools, their approach is superior to that of the vandalism of monuments to John A. Macdonald.

Statues of Macdonald are seen as bad memorials, at least seen by groups who have highjacked the healing and reconciliation process. As a promoter of residential school system, you would think would think that Macdonald would be a target of indigenous people. Not so.

Most recently, on August 29, 2020, a  statue of John A. Macdonald was toppled in Montreal. The vandals wanted to defund the police. What does the statue have to with defunding the police? It was simple a convenient target sure to get media attention.

Before that, on July 18, Black Lives Matter protestors poured paint on a Macdonald statue in Toronto. Macdonald, no saint, had nothing to do with discrimination of Black people in Canada.

Senator Sinclair, while still chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman, told The Canadian Press in 2017 that tearing down tributes to historical figures would be “counterproductive” to reconciliation efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

As demonstrators of all stripes target public memorials, Indigenous Canadians show what true reconciliation looks like.

 

 

Stories sustain successful immigration

With one exception in the last decade, Canada’s integration of immigrants and refugees has been the envy of the world. Policies help but stories sustain success.

One measure of policies is the Migrant Integration Policy Index. The index comes up with a score after considering eight factors: labour market mobility, family reunion, education, health, political participation, permanent residence, access to nationality, and anti-discrimination.

Canada’s score has been steadily rising since MIPEX started monitoring in 2006 except last year because of the Harper government. “Canada’s lower MIPEX score raises serious questions about the intentions and impact of the government’s new turn on immigration policies,” said Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group in Brussels.

airport-welcome

In spite of the Harper Government, Canada has remained relatively successful. Canada ranks sixth out of 38 countries, compared to Australia (eighth), Sweden (first), U.S. (ninth), and Ireland (ninetieth).

Ryerson University’s Centre for Immigration and Settlement points to areas in need of improvement.

“On the question of whether Canadian citizenship and status is ‘secure from state arbitrariness,’ Canada scores a meagre 23 points, well below Australia, New Zealand, the United States or the European average,” says the director of the centre in the Toronto Star.

The stories we tell ourselves about the immigrant experience are more difficult to measure than policies but important nonetheless. Those stories form a self-fulfilling prophecy that promotes further integration of new Canadians into the fabric of society.

Kamloops city Councillor Arjun Singh told a meeting at city hall that his grandmother became a refugee after the partitioning of India in the 1940s. “I am looking forward in our community to welcoming people from Syria,” he said. “We’re going to be giving them their freedom … a real ability to start again,” Singh told News Kamloops.

As we successfully integrate more refugees and immigrants, the more those immigrants will tell their success stories. It’s the opposite of a vicious circle; it’s a virtuous circle.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city and son of immigrants, told one such compelling story to MacLeans magazine. He tells of a community forum on refugees he attended in which he expected a lot of anger. When a First Nations woman stood up, he thought she was going to point to all the problems that reserves face. Instead:

“What she actually said was, I need some help. Because I need to understand how and when they’re coming because I want to make sure, … we have an opportunity to have the elders there to drum them in and to do a smudge ceremony so we can welcome them to this land… I might have lost it at that point.”

Canada’s new Liberal government faces challenges in keeping us from slipping further. Canada’s MIPEX rating should improve with the 17 Indo Canadians MPs recently elected, five who wear turbans, one who is minster of defense. It will take time to repair the damage of the Harper years but as sure as day follows night, jubilant stories will keep the narrative alive.