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Judicial system draws attention to crisis in mental health underfunding

We the North
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Ontario is falling desperately short in its responsibility to protect and rehabilitate mental health patients who find themselves caught in the criminal justice system, says the Ontario Public Service Employees Union.

To address this crisis, OPSEU is calling on the provincial government to provide immediate, designated and sustainable funding that will permit mental health patients to access services they require – away from police cells and correctional facilities.

The problem facing this category of mental health patients was brought into focus in a Nov. 16 Globe and Mail story that reported how provincial judges have ordered hospital officials to stop shunting unfit offenders to provincial jails where they cannot be properly treated.

Judges are now ordering hospital officials to stop their practice of forcing patients who require care into provincial correctional facilities. The judges have awarded legal costs against the Crown for a “serious affront to the authority of the courts and a serious interference with the administration of justice,” according to the Globe story. 

The provincial government has been cutting costs at mental health facilities for years, promising funding to community alternatives but failing to implement these plans while mentally ill offenders continue to languish in correctional facilities.  According to the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, more than one-third of individuals in custody in Ontario suffer from some sort of mental illness.

Lawyers and advocates for mentally ill offenders are hoping that out of this battle between courts and hospitals there will emerge legislative changes to address these issues. While the court-ordered hospitalization for unfit offenders is a step in the right direction, empty beds do not magically appear. Until funding is restored to mental health facilities, patients and offenders will not receive proper treatments and protection.