ONTARIO: Anti-O.P.C. action!

Graeme Bacque (gbacque@idirect.com)
Thu, 26 Nov 1998 05:51:54 -0500


The battle to defeat Bill 78, also known as the Mental Health Amendment
Act, kicked off in Toronto today with a press conference followed by a
spirited protest outside Queen's Park.

Queen Street Patient's Council facilitator Jennifer Chambers started off
by giving a summary of the bill's contents, and the implications
involved in the proposed changes, which would amend criteria for
involuntary committal (which currently  require that a person pose a
danger to self or others, or appear unable to care for themselves)  to
include the 'likelihood that the person will deteriorate significantly
in the future' if not given psychiatric 'treatment.' (Such criteria are
so vague that literally anyone could be affected.)

The bill also provides for outpatient committal (under the euphemism
'leave agreements') for persons who have been admitted to a psychiatric
facility three times within a two-year period. MPP Richard Patten (Bill
78's author) claims that such 'agreements' would be voluntary - but
there is nothing remotely so about an arrangement made under duress,
(Namely, the prospect of continued incarceration) quite possibly entered
into by a 'substitute decision-maker' (who may not even be someone
chosen by the 'patient') and which are a legally binding arrangement
which ultimately could be enforced by the cops.

Next up was psychologist and author Dr. Bonnie Burstow, who spoke of her
nearly twenty years' experience as a therapist working primarily with
psychiatric survivors. Bonnie described the consequences of involuntary
committal and forced 'treatment' as being a traumatic reaction very
similar to that suffered by victims of torture.

Lawyer Anita Szigeti (Chair of the Mental Health Legal Group, and
herself a survivor) spoke at some length of how this legislation
violates several different sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights
and Freedoms - especially Section 9, which guarantees protection from
arbitrary arrest and detention. (Which is definitely the case  with
psychiatric imprisonment since it is based on presumptions as to what a
person  _might_  do at some point in the future rather than any
verifiable actions). She cited an example of how this legislation could
be abused by describing a  potential scenario  of a woman admitted for
'depression' and prescribed Prozac, who could be subsequently
readmitted, then placed under a 'leave agreement' by a controlling
spouse or relative if she opted to forego the drugs.

Author and activist Pat Capponi discussed the class issues related to
this bill, saying that it would be used extensively to victimize poor
and homeless people, and that the bill itself represented an essentially
middle-class reaction to the highly visible issue of exploding poverty
and homelessness. Pat said flat-out that what we needed was affordable
housing, decent employment and caring,    _voluntary_   supports - not
the blatant social control that this legislation would impose.

The last speaker - Steve Lurie of the Canadian Mental Health Association
- proved to be the one mistake  in making out the guest list. When
speaking in glowing terms of the new funding for 'community-based
supports' announced by the Ministry of Health in June (primarily for the
implementation of 'Assertive Community Treatment' teams) Lurie missed
the point that a large portion of this funding would be going to the
very agents who are likely to be playing a substantial policing role
under the new legislation. (He was invited to give 'mainstream
credibility' after the CMHA made a public statement this summer against
outpatient committal).

The protest afterward was excellent! About fifty people came out on very
short notice, and the energy was tremendous. Rally emcee Erick Fabris
kept up the chant of 'Say 'no' to CTO's!' - as did speakers Lillith
Finkler from Parkdale Community Legal Services, and Don Weitz from
People Against Coercive Treatment, (co-sponsors with the Queen Street
Patient's Council of the day's events) among others. I also had a chance
to take the mic, and raised the fact that such laws are in place now in
most U.S. states and at least two other Canadian provinces. I also had
the opportunity to read out a message of solidarity from activist Morgan
W. Brown from Montpelier, Vermont. Musical performances and some street
theater provided by the Glitter Sisters, and members of the Friendly
Spike Theater Band, kept peoples' spirits high.

CBC-TV carried quite an extensive piece on the six o'clock news about
the press conference and protest. (In the interests of 'balance' they
insisted on interviewing Richard Patten (the MPP who drafted Bill 78).
Patten made the ridiculous assertion that his intention was in fact to
'protect' the 'rights' of repeat 'patients' to be 'treated.' His whole
line of reasoning  was basically Orwellian hogwash. Some 'balance.') I
didn't see if any other media covered it although several TV stations,
and at least one of the major Toronto newspapers (the Star) were
present.

Bill 78 receives second reading in the Ontario Legislature tomorrow at
ten AM. If it passes, it goes before one of the provincial government's
Standing Committees (most likely Administration of Justice) where there
may or may not be public hearings where interested parties can testify.
(This would happen at the committee's discretion - the law doesn't
require it.) Unless the bill dies at committee level, it would be sent
back - with or without amendments - to the legislature for third and
final reading before being signed into law.

There's still plenty of opportunities to fight back!

Graeme