Following a string of subdued protests, organized with the aim of raising awareness about pressing social issues, the actions of Gordon Stewart struck a chord with both the general public and human rights activists. The peaceful nature of these demonstrations made the subsequent events all the more shocking, leading to widespread outrage and concerns about the state of civil liberties.
In recent years, our concern for each other’s mental well-being has skyrocketed. However, the growing trend of individuals dialling 911 to report someone’s behaviour as a mental health concern has had unintended and often disastrous effects. Victims of these well-meaning yet misguided intentions shed light on the unsettling consequences that follow.
Personal Ordeals: Tales of Intrusion and Misunderstanding
John’s Tale: Caught in a Parallel Universe
John, grieving the recent loss of his mother, sought solace at a local recreation center. Little did he know that a chance encounter and an inexplicable turn of events would leave him feeling violated and traumatized. Discover John’s account of a disorienting experience that blurred the line between reality and a surreal intrusion.
Vince’s Ordeal: Betrayal and Mental Violation
Vince Geisler, a victim of corporate downsizing, found himself in a bitter exchange with his employer before retiring to his workshop to find respite. Unbeknownst to him, a simple lunch outing would escalate into a shocking display of force. Uncover the details of Vince’s harrowing experience and the lasting impact it had on his mental well-being.
Surge in Mental Health-Related Police Calls
The surge in mental health-related calls to the police remains a topic of concern. Uncover the unsettling figures that shed light on the magnitude of this issue and its implications for individuals and the community as a whole. Victoria Police Department’s Information Manager, Debra Taylor, provides insight into the staggering number of non-physician calls received daily.
When police respond to mental health calls, critical decisions must be made. Delve into the complex process that law enforcement agencies face when determining whether individuals should be taken to psychiatric hospitals. Gain a deeper understanding of the factors that influence these decisions and their potential impact on the lives of those involved.
Motives Behind the Calls: Unmasking Concern or Hidden Agendas?
In the aftermath of these intrusive interventions, victims are often left wondering about the identity and motives of the callers. Explore the mysterious world of anonymous calls and the unsettling questions they raise. As John sought answers from his friends, he discovered that the person responsible for the distressing chain of events remained a hidden figure.
Seeking Justice and Reform
Individuals like Vince Geisler refuse to accept the status quo. Learn about Vince’s tireless efforts to seek justice and change within the system. By sharing his story and advocating for improved safeguards and respect for individual rights, he aims to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
Story of Gordon Stewart
Gordon Stewart’s case serves as a compelling example of how personal emotions, rumours, and incomplete information can significantly affect the apprehensions made under the Mental Health Act (MHA). Stewart’s encounters with Revenue Canada exemplify the potentially perilous consequences of misinterpretations, subjective perspectives, and the misuse of the MHA as a dangerous tool.
Troubling Ordeal Unveiled
On the fateful day of May 24, 2001, Stewart boldly parked his truck outside Revenue Canada’s Victoria offices, brandishing a banner that accused the institution of dishonesty. Engaging with passers-by, he discussed his forthcoming self-published book, seeking to shed light on his experiences.
Stewart’s tale is intricate and filled with twists that extend to the present. In 1990, Revenue Canada claimed that Stewart’s struggling small arborist company owed approximately $5,000 in taxes—a claim he vehemently disputed. Over the next ten years, Revenue Canada repeatedly seized Stewart’s bank account, garnished his wages, and coerced him into making payments. However, in 1999, the agency issued a “notice of reassessment,” ultimately returning $11,266.03 to Stewart—money they had wrongly extracted from him.
Emboldened by this turn of events, Stewart decided to delve deeper into Revenue Canada’s operations, conducting research that would culminate in a book chronicling his journey. Unfortunately, his pursuit of truth led to new conflicts and encounters with law enforcement.
It is highly likely that Revenue Canada was responsible for alerting the police while Stewart was promoting his book outside their building. The police record even described Stewart as “rational and calm,” emphasizing his peaceful intentions to protest. The following day, when Stewart visited Revenue Canada to discuss a related issue, the agency again alerted the police. However, the situation ended amicably, with the director of Revenue Canada successfully resolving the matter.
On May 29, Stewart made his way to the courthouse, seeking a peace bond to prevent Revenue Canada from confiscating vital document evidence he had obtained regarding their mistakes. In an attempt to navigate the bureaucratic runaround surrounding this process, Stewart requested Crown Counsel’s assistance in contacting the Victoria police.
Stewart maintains that his behaviour was normal during this period. While an unnamed security person made the call, the police records, shrouded in vagueness and redacted sections, only suggest that an “unstable” person needed removal without providing further details. Consequently, when the police arrived, no conversation took place. Instead, Stewart was immediately handcuffed and escorted into a waiting van, despite the absence of any indication that he posed a threat.
Realities of Apprehension
This situation prompts questions about the decision-making process surrounding apprehensions under the MHA. Are callers vetted thoroughly? Could some callers possess ulterior motives, deliberately misrepresenting the situation to cause fear or trouble for others? These concerns raise doubts about the accuracy of information provided to the police and the potential repercussions individuals face based solely on this information.
Constable Brian Montague, from the Vancouver Police Department, sheds light on police perspectives regarding mental health calls. While he acknowledges that the majority of mental health-related calls do not come from physicians, Montague explains that concerned individuals, such as relatives, co-workers, bosses, friends, landlords, or even strangers who witness concerning behaviour, are more likely to report such incidents. The duty of the police is to respond promptly in these cases, regardless of the caller’s identity.
Striking a Balance
Montague acknowledges that the rights granted to individuals suspected of having mental disorders differ from those afforded to suspected criminals. However, he emphasizes the police’s duty of care, which compels them to respond and assess situations to ensure public safety. Under exigent circumstances, the police may use necessary force to protect individuals who might be at risk, particularly in cases involving suicidal ideation or potential harm to others.
Nevertheless, concerns arise when considering the impact of these apprehensions on individuals’ lives. Even if the claims against Stewart were unfounded or exaggerated, the hastily executed procedures and the consequential judgments imposed upon him were far more detrimental than any alleged irrational behaviour on his part.
Stewart’s subsequent detainment and involuntary administration of drugs, during which he was denied his rights and access to legal counsel, shed light on the flawed nature of these processes. After ten days of confinement, Stewart finally had the opportunity to consult a lawyer, who informed him of his right to appeal his incarceration after three weeks. Although he felt a sense of relief upon obtaining legal representation, the unjust nature of his detention remained undeniable.
Call for Change in BC’s Mental Health Act
Stewart, an advocate for mental health reform, has been actively campaigning to bring about changes in British Columbia’s Mental Health Act in order to align it with Canada’s Charter. According to Stewart, detaining a person for their own safety is justified, but the current practices, such as forced removal of clothes and excessive medication, are not. Geisler, another advocate, agrees, stating that there is no urgency in dealing with mental health issues that justifies bypassing due process. Both argue that such expedient measures only breed mistrust and cause more harm than good.
Expanding Committal Criteria and the Challenge of Defining Mental Disorders
Over the years, the criteria for involuntary commitment in BC have expanded beyond dangerous situations. Simultaneously, the definitions of mental disorders have become significantly broader, with the US National Institute of Mental Health reporting that 25 percent of the population is mentally ill at any given time. This expansion, coupled with the increased reporting of concerns to the police, has created a complex situation where distinguishing between genuine disorders and uncomfortable behaviours becomes challenging. It has also led to situations where psychiatrists, despite their intentions, can inadvertently cause harm instead of providing healing.
Advocating for Due Process Rights in Psychiatric Care
Given this context, Geisler and Stewart emphasize the importance of respecting and strictly following due process rights for all potential psychiatric patients. They argue that this approach minimizes the chances of traumatizing mistakes. Their perspective is gaining traction, as demonstrated by the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP’s acknowledgment of the detainees’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Furthermore, a report from the Canadian Department of Justice highlights that upholding Charter rights is not only legally sound but also promotes good mental health by preventing the exacerbation of underlying issues during arrests or detentions.
Implementation of Charter Rights in Other Provinces
Several provinces, including Ontario and the Yukon, have already incorporated Charter rights into their mental health laws. These jurisdictions have introduced separate tests and processes to determine a person’s capacity to understand and make informed decisions before resorting to forced medication. Stewart also advocates for written apprehension records to be submitted to hospitals by the Victoria police to ensure accuracy and avoid third-hand accounts and factual mistakes. While some police departments already practice this, there is a need for a standardized process across the board.
Challenges and Resistance to Change
Despite ongoing efforts, Stewart has faced resistance in his attempts to change the laws and practices in British Columbia. The Victoria Police Board responded slowly to his policy complaint, and the Chief of Police’s involvement with the BC Schizophrenia Society, known proponents of forced psychiatric treatment, raises concerns about a potential conflict of interest. Additionally, the lack of demand from hospital doctors for written police records to aid clinical assessments is a gap that needs to be addressed collaboratively with the local police departments.