A brief presented at the inquiry regarding people involuntarily detained under the Act noted, “There is no evidence that there is any consistency in the manner in which persons are informed of their status, reasons for detention or the manner in which the review board process is accessed.”
Well, guess what? There’s been a new Act in place for 10 years, but things haven’t changed in that regard.
Just ask Andrew Abbass, who was taken by police to the psychiatric unit of Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook on April 7, 2015 for nearly a week-long stay after tweeting angry messages about the police shooting of Donald Dunphy in Mitchell’s Brook.
I’ve seen Abbass’s tweets, and one or two taken in isolation could be interpreted as being threatening — “How about this @PremierOfNL: I’m going to bring down Confederation and have politicians executed. Ready to have me shot, coward?”
Angry, yes, and provocative, but it’s theoretical, not an indication of anything Abbass actually planned to do.
His tweets at that time, read in order and in context, reflect the fact that he was extremely upset at Dunphy’s death, which he saw as retaliation for Dunphy’s vitriolic social media posts about the lack of compassion and lack of help he was getting from the system as an injured worker.
As someone with his own qualms about the policies of some politicians, including Stephen Harper, Abbass could relate to Dunphy; he shared his zeal in defending freedom of expression and was outraged by the idea that Dunphy might have been deliberately silenced.
“Newfoundlanders make a plea for everyone to remain peaceful sheep while the #NLSecretPolice execute dissenters,” he tweeted April 6.
But watching social media in the days after Dunphy was killed, Abbass was far from alone in making such a suggestion.
In an interview this week, Abbass recounted the phone call he got from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary telling him to go to the police station to discuss his tweets, or else they’d show up at his home.
“I was concerned about the Dunphy shooting and the defence of it, how it was described as ‘a clean shoot,’” he recalled. “It was concerning. There was no threat there (in Dunphy’s tweets). I made clear I was uncomfortable with the RNC handling it by bringing a gun into the home.”
Abbass says he didn’t feel he had tweeted anything that required him going to the police station, so he stayed put. Shortly after, three officers arrived at this door, with a fourth waiting outside in the car.
“They said, ‘The doctor wants to see you,’” he recalled.
He was not charged with uttering threats. Ironically, if he had been, he likely would have been freed on bail sooner that he was released from the hospital.
Abbass asked for documentation justifying his apprehension, but there was none.
The Mental Health Care and Treatment Act says the police must disclose the reasons for detention, the fact that the person is being taken for an involuntary psychiatric assessment and that he or she has the right to talk to a lawyer without delay.
That didn’t happen.
Still, Abbass’s girlfriend was there and six months’ pregnant. He says he “didn’t want to cause a scene,” and so he went with the police.
Two additional officers were waiting at the hospital, where he was told he had been brought in “for observation.”
“I had a vague suspicion that something unlawful was going on,” he said.
He would be kept there against his will for almost a week.
MONDAY: Police, psychiatrists, power
Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton