ONTARIO: Mental Health Consultation Report

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@arcos.org)
Fri, 05 Jun 1998 17:25:59 -0400

I received a copy of the report arising out of this winter's 'consultation'
on mental health changes carried out by the government of Ontario in
today's mail. 

This report was accompanied by a letter detailing the immediate changes
taking place, which were announced by the Ministry of Health at a news
conference on Wednesday. Among these will be the addition of 21 new
Assertive Community Treatment Teams, bring the total to 31 across the
province. In addition there will be an increase in the number of beds for
children, adolescents and forensic inmates, and increased court diversion
of offenders with a psych. history who are facing minor charges. (In fact a
spercial court for those deemed 'mentally ill' has already been established
at Toronto's Old City Hall courthouse.)

The Assertive Community Treatment Teams described have already met with
considerable criticism owing to their invasive nature and the quasi-police
role they appear to play in the lives of psychiatric survivors. Such units
can be expected to play a major enforcement role when/if community
treatment orders become a fact of life here. The idea of 'diverting' people
charged with minor offenses into the mental health system is scary because
it refers to offenses which are extremely unlikely to result in loss of
freedom being shifted to a system which can result in indefinite
incarceration and forced treatment, all on the say-so of a psychiatrist. 

While I personally feel court diversion programs (which generally  provide
the opportunity for minor offenders to offer restitution or community
service in exchange for withdrawal of charges) are a positive thing,
people in this instance will be forced into a situation of potentially
losing their freedom and right to choose what is done to them. In the same
vein, this report goes on to decry the situation of 'patients' faced with
an extended period of incarceration in a correctional setting while
awaiting forensic beds, while ignoring the fact that persons in this
setting have far greater legal protections available to them than someone
in a psychiatric setting. 

The report itself (which was authored by MPP Dan Newman) is rather vague
and contains little concrete information. It states that all participants
in the consultation feel that changes to both legislation and 'service
delivery' are needed (this is to some extent true) but the strong
anti-force message delivered by survivors on February 19 this year was
entirely ignored. No reference was made to the many people who testified
how employment in the supportive atmosphere of survivor-run businesses has
been pivotal in keeping them out of hospital and generally improving
quality of life. 

 I also noticed that the phrase 'continuum of care' appeared frequently
throughout this document, which is alarming in light of how such an
approach is being applied in certain places in the United States. (Ontario
has indicated it favors this model as a 'solution' to the issue of
homelessness.) The alleged need for 'improved access to the newer
medications' is cited over and over again, and nothing is said about the
need for alternative (especially survivor-run) resources. Under the subject
of actual legislative changes, the 'need to preserve public safety' was
referred to as a major factor. Sounds like once more stereotypes have won
out over truth. (Initially, the sensationalistic series of articles
appearing in the Toronto Star this winter was cited as a major factor in
prompting this 'consultation' to occur).

All in all this report, and the immediate changes which were announced on
Wednesday, appear to be the thin edge of the wedge leading to much harsher
changes in the near future. I have learned that the same Provincial
Government people engaging in this consultation on 'mental health'  have
been rather intimate with Toronto's Task Force on Homelessness, and that in
fact a body of people involved in New York's 'continuum of care' are to be
participating in a Task Force meeting next Wednesday. I fear for the future...

Dan Newman's report is available online at <http://www.gov.on.ca/health/>
Graeme Bacque
(#2226799 on ICQ)
++Question and challenge *all* human 'authority'++