Dear Premier and Ministers of Health, Mental Health and Addictions and the Attorney General:
I am writing to you as an Ontario advocate for the mentally ill who holds the BC Mental Health Act as one that Ontario should emulate. It concerns me greatly that you are facing a charter challenge to allow involuntary patients to refuse treatment (Maclaren v. AG). This would turn your sensible Act into something similar to the very deficient Ontario act. Allow me to explain.
I am a medical writer/publisher and the author of three books on schizophrenia. I also wrote a regular blog on mental illness for Huffington Post from 2011 to 2018, and I also write a blog with a psychiatrist on mental illness and have since 2014. My Huffington Post blog had numerous followers and my current blog is rated in the top 100 blogs, websites on mental illness worldwide.
Through my publishing company I am reasonably familiar with the BC Mental Health Act and systems. Five of my authors are from BC. Susan Inman in Vancouver is the author of After Her Brain Broke; Sandra Yuen Mackay of Vancouver wrote My Schizophrenic Life was given the Courage to Come Back Award from Vancouver Coastal Health and was one of the five faces of mental illness in Canada; Erin Hawkes-Emiru wrote When Quietness Came (see below) and her newest When Neurons Tell Stories. She is also a Courage to Come Back Winner; Marion Gibson of Victoria wrote Unfaithful Mind and Lembi Buchanan of Victoria did the e-book called The Emergence of the Recovery Movement.
As a parent, I became involved with schizophrenia advocacy because I have a son with schizophrenia. My advocacy on his behalf has been extensive because of the many deficiencies of mental illness care in Ontario. Like many family members, helping a relative in the system can become almost a full time job. And like many family members, the personal advocacy led to public advocacy. I became chair of the Hamilton Chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario and then a member of the provincial board. I was also on the executive of the Hamilton Program for Schizophrenia.
As part of my advocacy, I was one of 238 individuals who made a presentation to the Ontario legislature’s all party members Select Committee on Mental Health whose report was released in 2010. As you know, Ontario can commit someone to a psychiatric facility involuntarily, but that person then has the right to refuse treatment. But the Select Committee wants to change that (more below).
As I’m sure you will agree, that makes no sense. If someone is committed to a secure residential facility in order to treat a severe mental illness that, untreated, will cause serious harm to the person or others then surely the person deserves treatment. But treatment can be refused in Ontario now. I understand that so called “rights” groups want treatment refusal to also happen in BC.
In Ontario, and in BC if the Charter challenge to your Act is successful, necessary treatment can be refused if the person is capable of consenting to treatment (e.g. Prof Starson refused and was detained for 7 years); or an incapable person’s substitute decision maker must refuse if the person had a made a wish not to be treated when they were capable (e.g. Mr Sevels – 404 days in seclusion); or the substitute decision maker refuses. This simply prolongs suffering and creates serious problems for the person, staff and family.
By Marvin Ross