- 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
- 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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