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Pam Frampton: ‘Symptomatic of a huge problem’

Andrew Abbass is shown outside Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook, 2015. — Western Star file photo
Andrew Abbass is shown outside Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook, 2015. — Western Star file photo

Part 2 of 2   When Andrew Abbass was being held involuntarily at the psych ward in Corner Brook in April 2015, he says he remained “rational and calm and tried to explain the situation.”

Pam Frampton

They took samples of his blood and urine.

A physician came in and introduced himself and asked Abbass if he knew why he was there. After a short time he left and another doctor came in and asked a few questions.

Based on less than half an hour’s worth of “assessment,” the physicians signed the two certificates required to detain Abbass for nearly a week.  

“The certificate itself is supposed to detail the reason for the detainment,” he said. “None of that was there. They just rubber-stamped me in.”

My request to speak to a psychiatrist at Western Health for this column went unanswered.

The Mental Health Care and Treatment Act says certificates must state that as a result of psychiatric assessment, the psychiatrists believe the person being detained has a mental disorder and, as a result, could harm themselves or others, and requires treatment, care and supervision.

In fact, Abbass says he was not thoroughly assessed, was not diagnosed with a mental disorder, did not need treatment and so was given none, and received no medication, beyond a nicotine patch.

He later saw a third physician.

Abbass asked to speak to a rights adviser — which he was entitled to have speedy access to, by law — and eventually got a person on the phone who was of little help, he says.

“(The system) acts on the assumption that the detainment is lawful,” he said. “I think, in the aftermath of Mr. Dunphy’s shooting, I was one of the first people to speak up and question, and to say, ‘This stinks!’” he said.

“The police, the government, were uncomfortable with what I was saying.”

He sees his detainment as a means of shutting him down and silencing his dissent, an action that was improperly empowered by the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act (MHCTA).

Abbass will have the chance to challenge the lawfulness of his detainment thanks to a recent Court of Appeal ruling.

No date has been set yet, but when the case is heard, he will be represented by lawyer Joan Dawson.

She said cases like Abbass’s rarely come to light, since often when people feel they have been detained without justification, once they are let out of hospital they just want to put the situation behind them.

“It’s symptomatic of a huge problem,” she said of his experience.

“The MHCTA can be used as a threat to people. The Act is being used in ways for which it was never intended. The police are ordering assessments with no oversight and no accountability whatsoever. Why didn’t they charge him with uttering threats? There were no grounds, that’s why. The police have to make an application for an order explaining why they are taking them. The police actually do believe and are told that they don’t need an application, and they treat everything like an emergency when it’s not. … This tremendous power of the state is abdicated with no oversight.”

Dawson says one psychiatrist noted tellingly on Abbass’s certificate of detention, “This has been ordered.”

The question is, by whom?

“Some people who go in there may well be certified properly,” Dawson said, “but people’s rights are being disregarded with no consequences. There have been several occasions where no rights advisers were even notified. …

“It would have been obvious that he was not mentally ill,” she said of Abbass. “Why did they hold him for (nearly) seven days? He was examined by three separate psychiatrists and received no treatment — because he didn’t need it…

“The question is, how often is this happening?”

Dawson said the new Act “broadened the grounds whereby someone could be apprehended, but their legal safeguards are not always followed.”

Or, as Abbass says, “Now you’ve got a hammer and everybody’s a nail.”

Dawson said psychiatrists and the police wield a tremendous amount of power, but that power comes with responsibilities as well.

“They have to have legal grounds to take someone in…,” she said.

“I think it’s a lucky thing that Andrew co-operated, because if he hadn’t, God knows where he’d be now.”

Abbass says he has been burdened by the stigma of detainment ever since, and his family and career are suffering.

“I’ve been driven into poverty because of this,” he said. “That stigma is there, it’s real in this province. And yet if everyone just stops speaking out because they’re afraid of what might happen, imagine all the things that will happen. That’s the kind of thing that happened in Nazi Germany. It’s terrifying to see that happening in Canada.

“This should never have happened. But it’s our opinion against the government, the courts, the hospitals, the RNC.”

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

* This article has been corrected.

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