New Canadian Law
Allows Forced Treatment Of
People With 'Psychiatric Trouble'
TORONTO (CP) -- The Ontario government will soon be able to force psychiatric patients to undergo treatment after a new law was passed Wednesday that critics say violates individual rights.
Brian's Law, named after murdered TV sportscaster Brian Smith, is designed to ensure that people with serious mental illness who pose a risk to themselves or others are treated.
The bill, a collection of amendments to the existing Mental Health Act, passed third reading by a wide 82-10 margin, with only a handful of Liberals and the bulk of the NDP caucus opposing the bill.
"What it does is it allows us to provide early intervention for people who are a danger to themselves or a danger to others," said Conservative backbencher Brad Clark, one of the bill's architects. The changes make it easier to commit people to psychiatric hospitals and introduces community treatment orders -- a kind of parole for psychiatric patients after they are discharged.
The province says the new law will make streets safer by preventing tragedies like that which befell Smith, an Ottawa TV sportscaster who was gunned down in 1995 by a man with a severe mental illness.
But critics who gathered at the legislature Wednesday to decry the bill say that's a forlorn hope. "It promotes the use of force, which these politicians don't seem to care about," said Don Weitz, a self-described "psychiatric survivor" who believes the law is a violation of human rights. "You can be forcibly drugged against your will in the community. No other group in society is subject to this kind of force and intrusion into their lives." Under community treatment orders, a person with serious mental problems can be required to undergo a prescribed treatment regime -- such as taking medication -- once back in the community. Government has an obligation to ensure a balance between individual rights and the collective rights of society, said Clark.
"I'm confident we have developed that balance." In cases of seriously mentally ill patients who can't make informed decisions on their own behalf, the law allows a substitute decision-maker -- usually a close family member -- to authorize treatment, although the patient could appeal. The Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs has said the law compromises a patient's "fundamental right" to refuse treatment.
The group argues instead for a well-funded community mental health system.

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