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PAM FRAMPTON: What price liberty? Andrew Abbass sues for damages

Andrew Abbass finally has the court ruling he was waiting nearly 10 months for, which says there was no justification for his six-day detention at a Corner Brook psychiatric facility in 2015. — Leo Abbass photo
Andrew Abbass is launching a lawsuit over his six-day detention at a Corner Brook psychiatric facility in 2015. — Leo Abbass photo

“Big Brother is watching you.” — George Orwell

Could you put a price on being wrongfully deprived of your freedom?

For Andrew Abbass, who was unlawfully detained on a Corner Brook psychiatric unit for six days in 2015, the cost has been immeasurable.

It’s hard to imagine such an Orwellian nightmare unfolding in our province; the police show up at your door and — poof! You disappear into the confines of a mental ward. All over social media messages.

But happen it did and Abbass pays for it every single day.

Taken from his home by police after tweeting angrily about Donald Dunphy being shot dead by an RNC officer on Easter Sunday, April 2015, Abbass was held against his wishes under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act, despite the fact that doctors provided no evidence he was mentally ill.

The aftershocks of that involuntary confinement continue to reverberate, wreaking havoc in his life, fracturing relationships, interrupting the custody of his young son — who is now back in his life, and damaging his credibility.

Repairing the wreckage is not something money can buy, though it could surely put Abbass in a better position to deal with challenges he still faces, nearly four years later.

This week, a statement of claim will be filed with the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Trial Division, seeking an unspecified sum for the “damage and disruption” his detainment has caused to his life and family.

The statement names Western Health Care Corp., the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the provincial government as defendants, and Abbass expects a fight, even though the court found this past April that there were no grounds for his detention and Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Brian F. Furey acknowledged that “The consequences of being certified as an involuntary patient are so profound and serious.”

With no move by the province to expunge the detainment from Abbass’s record, it dogs him wherever he goes.

“Trying to deal with anyone who doesn’t know me is difficult,” Abbass said Monday in a telephone interview from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

“Employers just have to Google me, and all the stuff will come up, all the controversies associated with me. So that’s causing issues there in long-term employment.”

With no move by the province to expunge the detainment from Abbass’s record, it dogs him wherever he goes.

He says the person who has been most deeply affected by his detainment and who can’t possibly understand the situation is his son, who is now three and a half.

“He has grown up fully in the shadow of this,” he said.

Abbass’s statement of claim doesn’t set out what he feels he should receive in damages, but he says he’s “looking for something in the range of $6 million” — $1 million for each day of detainment.

“It’s really hard to pin down how much we’ve been through and how much it has cost us,” says Abbass, who is currently unemployed and living with his parents. “It’s not just the personal damages to my family and my business, it’s punitive damages, as well. We need to make sure there’s a cost when someone is deprived of their liberty.”

Abbass expects his lawsuit will be tangled up in court for some time, making it harder to put the past behind him.

But he hopes the matter is eventually settled to his satisfaction.

Surely, someone will have the decency to express regret for what he’s been through and acknowledge the damage that’s been caused.

The silence thus far is appalling — and chilling.

“I’ve been pulled through the wringer and there’s not been a breath of an apology from the province,” he said. “No one said, ‘We’re sorry this happened to you.’ They could have at least rectified my medical file issue, but there’s no note there to explain that the detention was unlawful.

“It just shows that there’s a need for further transparency, further accountability in the system. In the private sector, people would be getting fired for this.”

Still, Abbass hopes for justice. Does he believe it’s attainable?

“Ultimately, yeah,” he says. “In this life? Maybe not.”

Related columns

PAM FRAMPTON: Abbass case shining light in dark corners

PAM FRAMPTON: Court rules Andrew Abbass was unlawfully detained

Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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