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President Thomas’s letter to Minister Michael Tibollo re mental illness

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sent the following letter to the Honourable Michael Tibollo, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, regarding comments made by Premier Doug Ford relating to Zhebin Cong, a patient who recently escaped from CAMH.

July 25, 2019

The Honourable Michael Tibollo
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions
77 Wellesley Street West
Toronto, Ontario  M7A 1N3

Dear Minister:

A July 24 Toronto Star editorial quotes the Premier as saying, in connection with the recent escape of Zhebin Cong from CAMH: “You can’t let guys like this loose. You throw away the key.” The editorial goes on to point out the Premier’s apparent lack of understanding when it comes to the concept of “not criminally responsible,” as well as our justice system’s approach to the possibility of parole.

Minister, I have no doubt that one of the reasons for your recent appointment as Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions is your long experience with mental health issues. Indeed, I understand you are a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. You have already demonstrated your enlightened approach to mental health by authorizing physicians to write “social prescriptions” – a measure I warmly applaud.

I myself spent most of my working life as registered practical nurse in a mental health setting. So I, too, have some knowledge of the subject, and I find the Premier’s remarks on NewsTalk 1010, including describing Mr. Cong as a “nutcase,” shocking.

A large number of people do not understand the judicial principle that an individual, because of mental illness, can act completely out of character, and therefore not be responsible for their actions. Some see this as an “out” – a means to avoid incarceration for their crimes. The Premier’s comments only fuel that perception, which fuels stigma and discrimination around mental health.

That is why I write you today. In your capacity as Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, as an expert in mental health, and as a member of the bar, what is your take on this matter and the Premier’s comments recorded on radio? Do you believe that mental illness is a valid defence against a criminal charge? Do you agree with the Premier that the possibility of parole should be denied to individuals who have been placed in an institution after being found not criminally responsible? 

I await your response.

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union


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