Something to infuriate you

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Tue, 28 Dec 1999 08:41:53 -0500


Seems like there's no winning for psychiatric survivors - if someone with 
any kind of diagnosis does something violent their diagnosis is pawed all 
over by the media vultures, and if (in the more likely scenario) one of our 
folks is the _victim_ of violence... well, you guessed it - the same thing!

The following obscenity appeared in today's edition of the Globe and Mail. 
Letters should be sent to <Letters@GlobeAndMail.ca>. Let's flood 'em!
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The Globe and Mail, Tuesday, December 28, 1999

Assault raises issues regarding mentally ill

By Sean Fine

Toronto -- Michael Wilson liked to keep to himself. Tall and thin, unkempt 
yet respectable-looking in his well-worn dress pants and jacket, the 
47-year-old schizophrenic lived quietly in a subsidized apartment building 
in downtown Toronto.

But the man who was set ablaze in a shocking attack three days before 
Christmas had stopped taking his medication in recent months, and he had 
deteriorated sharply, neighbours say.

A week ago Sunday, three days before the attack just a few blocks from his 
home, the usually quiet, private man had been walking naked in the 
ninth-floor hallway of his city-owned Scadding Avenue apartment complex, 
near Parliament Street and Lake Shore Boulevard. The police were called.

The attack may have been a hate crime against the mentally ill; Mr. 
Wilson's illness would have been obvious to his assailants, his neighbours' 
comments suggest.

Mr. Wilson's deterioration in the days and months before the attack raise 
questions about the actions of police and mental-health authorities, and 
about what community support is available to people with severe mental illness.

Did the police take Mr. Wilson to a hospital when they responded to the 
call three days earlier? If so, did a hospital assess him as a possible 
danger to himself or others? Did they attempt to treat him, did they hold 
him for a time under mental-health legislation, or did they simply release 
him?

     No answers were forthcoming yesterday. Toronto police Detective Chris 
Downer, the 51 Division officer heading the investigation, was off duty and 
could not be reached. And hospitals with psychiatric facilities would not 
comment, citing privacy laws.

In the incident where Mr. Wilson was naked in his apartment-building 
hallway, he had accosted a neighbour. "He asked a guy -- he wanted to go 
with the guy's wife. There was no wife but he didn't know that," said 
Natalie Ross, 53, who lives down the hall from Mr. Wilson.

Another neighbour said she called police. "The police came but I don't know 
what happened," she said.

She has known Mr. Wilson for the two years she has lived on his floor, and 
said she was very upset by what happened to him. "He was fine up until the 
summer. Since then he's been out of control."

She said she had never seen anyone visit Mr. Wilson. "I never saw him look 
happy -- just different. Not happy. Not sad. A very quiet man," she said.

Ms. Ross said he told her that his elderly parents live in Scarborough, and 
that his father is a veteran of the Second World War.

Mr. Wilson suffered burns to 40 per cent of his body in the attack near 
Sherbourne Street and Lake Shore Boulevard. He was saved by District Fire 
Chief William Knaggs, who happened to pass in a command car, and who used 
his coat to smother the flames. Mr. Wilson said then that he was set on 
fire by five men. Statements from at least four people in passing cars 
support his story. They said they saw young men standing over him before he 
was engulfed in flames.

He was in critical condition in the burn unit at Sunnybrook and Women's 
College Health Sciences Centre's. He underwent eight hours of surgery on 
the weekend, police said.

It is not clear whether anyone has visited him. A hospital spokeswoman said 
she did not know and because of privacy laws would not say even if she did. 
She said a reporter could not visit Mr. Wilson -- only relatives could.

Staff Sergeant Stan Belza of 51 Division, who called the attack bizarre and 
the first of its kind in Toronto, described police procedures when 
responding to a call about a man naked in a hallway. The man's nakedness 
would typically be viewed as a breach of Ontario's Mental Health Act 
(unless the officers investigated and found other circumstances such as 
drunkenness), and the officers would then have to decide whether the man 
was an immediate danger to himself or others, he said.

"Immediate is the operative word," Staff Sgt. Belza said. "That's a 
judgment call that the officer has to make. The threat has to be so 
immediate as to be a concern to the officer that he wouldn't be able to leave."

If the man was viewed as a danger he would be taken to a psychiatric 
facility, probably St. Michael's Hospital, he said.

Michelle Brazier, a spokeswoman for St. Michael's, said that because of 
privacy legislation the hospital could not talk about whether Mr. Wilson 
had been a patient.

One Toronto doctor experienced in the mental-health field said that police 
probably would have taken him to a designated hospital. "I haven't heard of 
a case where the officer saw a guy walking around naked in a building and 
said, 'Why don't you put your clothes on?' and then left the scene. I think 
the officer would be hard pressed to explain that."

The doctor, who asked not to be named, said the hospital could hold the man 
for up to 72 hours for assessment, not only if he is an imminent danger to 
himself or others but also if he is so unable to take care of himself that 
he is vulnerable to imminent harm.

After 72 hours the hospital would have to decide whether to continue to 
hold him as an involuntary patient, keep him as a voluntary patient or 
release him.

"Walking around naked is a situation where you could be raped or taken 
advantage of in any of a number of ways," the doctor said.

The physician added that the definition of imminence has been tested in 
many cases brought before review boards, which have put the period of 
potential harm at a month to six weeks.

Dr. Sylvia Geist, the former president of the Schizophrenia Society of 
Canada, said that the mental-health system fails the neediest people.

"People are not hospitalized because they're ill. They're forced into 
hospital because they're dangerous, which is not the best way to treat a 
sick person.

"For the people who need it most, it fails. It fails because making people 
understand that they are ill and need treatment is difficult when they're 
delusional and sick. You can't reach them."

She added, "This man is a victim of his disease and also of society."


Copyright 1999 The Globe and Mail