ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A man diagnosed with schizophrenia who says he was forcibly injected by a health worker in the back of a car is suing Newfoundland's largest health authority.
Marc Arsenault says the forced injection last January is one of many times Eastern Health violated his Charter rights.
He said two Eastern Health workers arrived at his St. John's home, asking if he wanted his monthly shot.
"They were taking me out to McDonald's to have a coffee," Arsenault said in an interview.
Arsenault has been under various community treatment orders (CTOs) since Aug. 2, 2013, including "the compulsory injection of mind-altering medications," says the statement of claim. CTOs force patients to accept treatment or face arrest.
Arsenault said he was not under a CTO at the time that forces injections. But he said they kept asking if he'd take it voluntarily.
"They kept on manipulating me, mentally abusing me," he said.
They stopped at a church while he rode with them to McDonald's, and "they injected me right in the parking lot there, in the back seat of the car."
Arsenault, 59, is seeking unspecified compensation from Eastern Health for negligence, unlawful detainment and battery. The health authority has not filed a statement of defence in response to the unproven allegations.
Arsenault's lawyer, Ches Crosbie, said the incident is "simply intolerable."
"It just illustrates the cavalier approach that Eastern Health seems to be taking toward observing the rights of some of our most vulnerable citizens."
CTOs are designed for psychiatric patients who are otherwise in and out of hospital.
Families and mental-health officials say they offer a lifeline in the most desperate situations when psychosis takes over. But they are also among the most coercive medical interventions, criticized as abuse-prone tools of control.
CTOs are governed by legal safeguards to protect Charter rights and have raised concerns in other parts of Canada, especially Ontario, where orders have drastically increased in recent years.
Eastern Health declined to specifically comment on Arsenault's lawsuit and has not yet filed a defence.
"Eastern Health takes any concerns regarding community treatment orders very seriously and has taken steps to ensure they are administered as per provincial legislation," said an emailed statement.
The provincial government last March announced it had discovered 13 recent cases where patients subject to CTOs "did not receive advice from rights advisers as required by law."
"This is a very serious issue and the regional health authorities are in the process of contacting all those affected to ensure rights are protected and treatment is not disrupted," Health Minister John Haggie said at the time.
He also apologized and said two rights advisers were fired.
The health department said it would improve how community treatment orders are issued and monitored.
As of mid-December, there were 13 CTOs in effect across the province.
Crosbie said his client's case is especially troubling because alleged oversight gaffes and rights violations continued even after a judge admonished them.
Judge William Goodridge ruled in September 2015 that a community treatment order against Arsenault was invalid in part because the psychiatrist did not provide supporting facts that he met required criteria.
Goodridge wrote that legal protections to shield vulnerable residents from "significant state intervention in the context of no criminal activity" must be upheld.
"There is no option for non-compliance or partial compliance with these provisions."
Still, oversight lapses continued, Crosbie alleges.
"Either Eastern Health takes these seriously and follows the procedures that are established before people are compulsorily treated, or they don't," he said.
"If it's necessary to seek punitive damages to make them pay attention, then that's what my client will do."
Arsenault said he was asked in mid-December if he wanted another injection but said no. He will meet again with health workers in January.
Soft spoken and cheerful, he blamed the shots for weight gain, tremors and skin sores.
Arsenault said he's not convinced he was properly diagnosed with schizophrenia.
"My hope is to stop the abuse and the injections," he said of the lawsuit.
"I want it stopped."
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Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press