Re: OPSEU says save Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital: Ont

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@arcos.org)
Wed, 27 May 1998 22:19:30 -0400


At 07:23 PM 5/27/98 -0500, you wrote:
>
>
>FWD  Press Release - Ontario Public Service Employees Union
>     CC Rplies to Ken Patience <Ken.Patience@opseu.tor250.org>
>
>May 20,1998
>                        "OPSEU says Minister Witmer must save HPH"
>                        ------------------------------------------
>
>HAMILTON - OPSEU will continue to fight to keep Hamilton Psychiatric Hospital
>open said union President Leah Casselman. She was responding to the final
>directions for Hamilton Wentworth, issued today by the Health Services
>restructering Commission.
>
>"The Hamilton community is gainst the closure of HPH. thousands of
>people have signed a petition asking the government to set aside plans to
>divest or close HPH," said Casselman. "We'll be taking our concerns to
>minister Witmer, who must now make her decision."
>

Personally I am in favor of closing such oppressive institutions, which
isn't going to win me too many friends within the left in Ontario who are
as subjective to bias and misinformation on 'mental health' issues as
anyone else. The issue is the way in which the governemnt  is going about
it, and is much the same situation which has resulted in the catastrophic
failure in the process of deinstitutionalization. 

When people spend time in a place such as a psychiatric facility their
lives are subject to complete regimentation and a dependency develops upon
the institution for all the essential needs of life, such as food, shelter,
and community (Such as it is in that environment). When someone is then
abruptly released back into the community - without the resources being in
place to assist in the transition - the person is left to fend entirely for
themselves and becsuse of the artificial dependency which has been created,
lack even minimal coping or living skills. Add to that the stigma faced by
psychiatric survivors in every aspect of life, the lack of affordable
housing, suitable employment and/or adequate income supports, or simply a
caring, supportive circle of friends, then you have a recipe for disaster. 

We need to be building *real* community, with *real* supports for people
around the issues they themselves identify as important - but the approach
to 'community resources' being advocated by government, psychiatrists and
'family advocacy' groups such as the Schizophrenia Society of Canada and
the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in the U.S. involves
legally-mandated forced compliance with psychiatric drug treatment. Such an
approach damages people both physically and emotionally and ignores the
real needs of food, shelter and meaningful society with others. It is based
on a drug company agenda of maximizing profits at all costs, and on
psychiatric professionals' never-ending quest for greater and greater
power. Finally, it promotes a 'personal deficit' explanation for
homelessness and poverty which provides politicians and corporate execs
with a convenient pretext for evading responsibility.

I support fully the right of workers to organize and struggle for their
rights, and in fact I spent considerable time supporting OPSEU picket lines
myself during their strike in February and March of 1996. But I do not
support the actions of anyone who's job description involves oppression or
rights violations of more vulnerable persons. Such people are in these
fields by choice - and they must choose whether or not they will continue
to make their living through the oppression of other people. I'm cetainly
unable to compare the jobs of prison guards or psychiatric personnel with
those of cafeteria workers at Queen's Park,  the people who type
correspondence for the Ministry of Agriculture, or the people who clear the
snow from our highways. All these diverse groups and more belong to OPSEU
but as far as I'm concerned their situations are as different as day and
night. 

At the day of action protest held last September in North Bay (Ontario)
members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty found themselves in the
uncomfortable position of being redeployed at the last minute onto picket
lines outside North Bay's city jail and at the local psychiatric hospital.
(Our original plan that day had been to spend the day with members of the
Canadian Union of Postal workers.) This proved very uncomfortable for
OCAP's membership, which includes a number of ex-prisoners and quite a few
psychiatric survivors. 

At our subsequent membership meeting this was discussed at length, and we
decided in future (in a statement which reaffirmed our support for
organized labor in general) that because these places were oppressive
institutions which had negatively affected many of our members and others,
and because workers in such settings (unlike the people they supposedly
'care' for) are there by their own choosing and could just as easily have
pursued other fields of employment, that we would not be supporting job
actions at any such sites in the future. 


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