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PAM FRAMPTON: The state locks you up, but no one is to blame

3-D illustration. —
3-D illustration. — 123RF Stock Photo

“Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” ― Franz Kafka, “The Trial”

The statements of defence have all been filed now in Andrew Abbass’s lawsuit against the provincial government, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Western Health.


All three parties deny he has any claim to compensation for the six days he was unlawfully detained at Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook from April 7-13, 2015, after he was taken to the psychiatric unit by the police.

In fact, they argue he should pay their legal costs.

Now, I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t attempt any legal arguments here, just an ethical one.

Whenever I write about Abbass’s case, I get plenty of feedback from readers, both those who feel his rights were infringed and those who see him as someone on the fringes who was carted off to hospital for his own good after posting angry tweets.

But this goes beyond Andrew Abbass, and whether or not you feel for him is immaterial.

What is material is whether his rights were breached and whether proper procedures were followed and diagnoses made to allow the authorities to hold him against his will.

Perhaps you might put yourself in his position — albeit figuratively; you can leave this imaginary hospital any time you like.

You might think it could never happen to you. Perhaps you’ve never posted anything controversial on social media that put you on the authorities’ radar.

Perhaps you just haven’t yet.

In any case, being angry does not mean you are mentally ill, and if you are not mentally ill, then you aren’t supposed to be detained in a mental health facility without cause. That’s supposed to be part of life in Canada.

When Canadians are unlawfully detained in other countries, we are outraged.

Perhaps you might put yourself in his position — albeit figuratively; you can leave this imaginary hospital any time you like.

Western Health’s statement of defense is particularly interesting. The health authority acknowledges that Justice Brian F. Furey found that Abbass’s detention was unlawful, and says it acted according to the provisions of the province’s Mental Health Care and Treatment Act (MHCT Act).

But the act states in part (and I am paraphrasing here) that a certificate of involuntary admission must document the fact that a psychiatric assessment determined the person in question has a mental disorder and, as a result of that, may harm himself or others; doesn’t understand his mental illness; and requires the type of treatment and close supervision that can only be provided to patients kept in the psych unit involuntarily.

Furey pointed out that Western Health provided no evidence that Abbass was suffering from a mental illness.

“It is necessary that the MHCT Act be fully complied with and that the medical practitioner provide written notes with sufficient factual detail to support the issuance of the certificate,” he wrote.

“I am not satisfied that a review of the hospital record relating to Mr. Abbass and the two Certificates of Involuntary Admission show evidence of Mr. Abbass having a mental disorder.”

Provincial legislation is supposed to protect each and every one of us from being locked on a psychiatric unit without justification. That didn’t happen here.

We should all give a damn.

And, should you ever find yourself in the same situation as Abbass did, it may interest you to know that the MHCT Act also allows an attending physician to “administer or prescribe medication or other treatment relating to the mental disorder without the consent of the involuntary patient during the period of detention.”

Fortunately, Abbass was only prescribed a nicotine patch during his detention.

Lawyer Joan Dawson, who represented him after the court ruled his detainment was unlawful, said Abbass’s experience in the psychiatric unit points to a bigger issue:

“Some people who go in there may well be certified properly,” she said, “but people’s rights are being disregarded with no consequences.”
That should worry us all.

If it happened to you, what recourse would you have in a province where your own government denies any responsibility?

Recent columns by this author

PAM FRAMPTON: Andrew Abbass — his fight begins anew

PAM FRAMPTON: Nalcor ate my homework

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email Twitter: pam_frampton

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