People Flee British Columbia to Avoid Involuntary Psychiatric Imprisonment

By Bruce Boyer

According to a recent story by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), a constant flow of people are fleeing the Canadian province of British Columbia to escape its mental health laws. The laws of the province state that a person can be held against their will for psychiatric care.

One woman, only identified in the article by her first name, Sarah, said that a year ago she sought treatment for what she thought was depression. She was told to sign a form without an explanation of what it was, and was then informed she couldn’t leave the hospital. After being held for a month, she was told she was being switched to an injected anti-psychotic medication, at which point she says she knew she had to leave. She managed to escape during a smoke break, and fled the province. Now living in Ontario and afraid to return home, Sarah has filed a lawsuit charging that the laws allowing psychiatric patients to be held against their will violate Canada’s bill of rights.

Currently a number of other such legal cases in British Columbia are pending, cases that directly forced-psychiatric-treatmentchallenge the constitutionality of these laws. One suit on behalf of two plaintiffs, treated with electroconvulsive therapy (shock treatment) and injection medications while they were involuntarily detained, asserts that what is referred to as “deemed consent”—consent of a patient assumed by the treating psychiatrist without the patient’s actual consent—and forced treatment violate specific sections of the Canadian Charter (Canada’s bill of rights). If, in British Columbia, a person is involuntarily detained for mental health reasons, they are presumed to have consented to the psychiatric treatment recommended by attending doctors. There is no legal requirement for their decision making ability to be assessed, and they cannot appoint a substitute decision maker such as a spouse or family member.

The lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the suit, Laura Johnson, said, “It flies in the face of every other form of health care we have… in no other circumstance is a doctor allowed to propose and impose treatment with no other recourse.”

Ruby Dhand, an associate professor of law at Thompson Rivers University, and co-author of a comparative and legal analysis of mental health laws in all of Canada’s jurisdictions, said, “It’s actually very devastating for people and the right to refuse treatment is a fundamental common law principle…I myself have seen and talked to a number of clients who have had to flee to different provinces because they understand they will be forced into psychiatric treatment here against their will if they’re found to be an involuntary patient.”

Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights has been reporting on psychiatry’s human rights violations since 1969.

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