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A B.C. Human Rights Commission and mental health

Photo: Homeless Hub/flickr

In B.C. the human rights of people experiencing mental illness are routinely violated through the use of Section 28 under the B.C. Mental Health Act which is implemented when a person is thought to be a danger to themselves or others. A recent Globe and Mail article indicated that these apprehensions in B.C. (frequently initiated by police) have grown alarmingly year after year.

When a person is apprehended under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act they can be forcibly detained and treated. Forcible detainment can include physical and chemical constraints, and forcible treatment includes the use of powerful psychiatric drugs and/or electroconvulsive therapy. Forcible detainment has been shown to have lasting psychological impact (see Large & Ryan, 2014) and psychiatric drugs and electroconvulsive therapy have been found to have serious and long-lasting side effects including brain damage and loss of memory (Breggin, 2012, 2008). Indeed, lawyers have argued that the B.C. Mental Health Act violates the Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms. Canada is also a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRDP) and yet Canada has not yet developed a national plan for how the principles and rights in the UNCRDP will be implemented and monitored.

In B.C. we have seen rising poverty and homelessness for persons experiencing mental illness and yet the B.C. government continues to strip funding from community-based mental health supports, especially those providing advocacy and peer support. Thus, people are unable to get their basic needs met and the avenues for getting advocacy and legal support (including access to the Mental Health Review Board) are diminished.

In B.C. there is currently no organization that consistently monitors legislation, policy and standards regarding the human rights of persons living with a mental illness. In this context, a B.C. Human Rights Commission is critical to assist with independently monitoring the use of the Mental Health Act and in evaluating the new mental health and human rights evaluation tool recommended by the Mental Health Commission Report on mental health and the law. Ultimately, the B.C. Human Rights Commission should be a conduit for research and evaluation in order to make recommendations for changes to the Act that would align it with the Charter and the UNCRDP.

Marina Morrow is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Gender, Social Inequities and Mental Health at SFU and a research associate with the CCPA.

This blog post is part of a series on human rights, based on the new report Strengthening Human Rights: Why British Columbia Needs a Human Rights Commission. Find other blogs in the series here.

Photo: Homeless Hub/flickr

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