For Andrew Abbass, vindication was a long time coming, and it arrived in his inbox Sunday morning.
Three years and three weeks after he was held involuntarily for six days at a Corner Brook psychiatric facility, lawyer Joan Dawson emailed him a copy of the court decision finally affirming there had been no grounds for his detention.
While the court decision can’t erase the past, it puts in writing the truth Abbass has always known, that the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act — which is supposed to safeguard and protect people — had been used to strip him of his rights.
“There were times I wasn’t sure I’d come out the other side,” Abbass said of the difficult years between his detention and this court decision.
His nightmare began two days after Donald Dunphy was shot dead in his Mitchells Brook home by Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Const. Joe Smyth after Dunphy had tweeted comments that were misconstrued as threats to provincial politicians.
When Abbass turned to Twitter on April 7, 2015 to express his own outrage, he soon had the police at his door telling him they were taking him to Western Memorial Regional Hospital under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act (MHCTA).
Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Brian F. Furey points out in his decision that, in his interaction with the police, Abbass “was not provided with any documentation, having been told there was no need for any. He stated he was not advised of his rights, given any caution or given any opportunity to contact a lawyer.”
In an interview last year, Joan Dawson told The Telegram the police are supposed to have proper documentation detailing why someone is being taken for a psychiatric assessment.
“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.”
In his decision on Abbass vs. Western Health Care Corporation, Justice Furey points out that the physicians who saw Abbass in the hospital and signed both the certificates of involuntary admission that were required, provided no evidence that he was suffering from any mental illness, nor any information that justified his involuntary six-day stay.
“The consequences of being certified as an involuntary patient are so profound and serious,” Furey writes. “The detention of the individual deprives that person of the right to come and go as he or she pleases in daily life.”
Abbass says the detention has had profound effects on his life — ruining business prospects, affecting his employability and financial stability, and putting so much pressure on personal relationships that some broke irretrievably under the strain.
And that damage cannot simply be undone.
“The long-term consequences of having that — there’s still information on my file that says I was double certified under the MHCTA,” Abbass said in an interview Monday. “That red-flags me in any dealings I might have with the health-care system, or a social worker. It’s been very difficult. I have a lot of patience and I am an intelligent person, and I hate to think what would happen to someone who didn’t have the same patience and intelligence. I was just a citizen speaking my opinion about the shooting of another person — something you’re supposed to be able to do in a free and democratic society.”
"I felt like I was just a piece of paper, just getting pushed through. There’s no humanity to the process, and the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act is supposed to (help people).” — Andrew Abbass
Abbass said Western Health has 30 days to appeal the ruling, so he’ll wait and see what happens before planning his next steps. But he does not rule out a lawsuit and believes he is entitled to damages for his pain and suffering, and their lingering effects. He cites the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — which Canada is a signatory to — which states: “Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.”
Abbass says, “In the days after 9-11, we said, ‘We can’t let this change the way we are.’ And less than a decade and a half later, we have states willing to terrorize their own populations. Someone’s angry over something the government’s done? Well, just drag them in for a psych evaluation and shut them up. It’s that kind of paranoia and fear in government that means the terrorists have won.
“There’s a dark side to the banality of evil… I felt like I was just a piece of paper, just getting pushed through. There’s no humanity to the process, and the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act is supposed to (help people).”
Abbass says he realizes he sometimes expresses opinions that are uncomfortable for some people to confront, but he does so openly, with his face and name attached.
For now, the 37-year-old is working in Goose Bay, spending as much time as he can with his young son. He hopes he can find a lawyer willing to take on a civil suit, knowing that some lawyers will shy away from anything faintly political.
“There is an anchor to this, to drag around with me,” he said. “I haven’t been able to cut that chain yet. It’s important for me (to try and do that), and because everything centres around my son, it’s for him now, too.
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