OTTAWA, Feb. 12 /CNW Telbec/ - A new court program in the region will
divert accused people with a diagnosed mental illness away from the criminal
justice system and jail cells and into treatment programs.
The official opening of the Ottawa Mental Health Court represents the
determined collaboration of advocates from the justice, health and social
systems, who recognize the tremendous need for humane and effective management
of people whose mental illness causes them to break the law.
"Many individuals whose judgement is hampered because of the symptoms of
a mental illness neither need nor deserve the sanction of the criminal law,"
said The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, who led
the official opening event. "They are simply too ill to live and function in
the community without assistance. They are drawn into the criminal justice
system because of the failings of an over-burdened mental health system."
The Ottawa Mental Health Court will run three times a week in Courtroom
#8 at the Ottawa Courthouse. Offenders are eligible for the mental health
court if they have an identified mental health issue. The Court hopes to
achieve a number of positive outcomes including faster processing time for
individual cases, improved access to mental health treatment, and improved
health among mentally ill offenders which will reduce the risk of
"Our usual work environment is adversarial," said Justice Peter
Griffiths, Regional Senior Justice. "Crowns and defence counsel usually hold
opposing views of the evidence and the application of the law in particular
cases. This project however is the result of all sides coming together to work
as a community not as adversaries. It is an important development in social
justice for this region."
A group of four judges will preside over the Court, providing continuity
and consistency with respect to methodology and outcomes. An Assistant Crown
Attorney has also been assigned and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group has
dedicated a forensic psychiatrist to assist the Court during its sittings. The
Canadian Mental Health Association will provide an outreach worker who will
connect the justice system with the appropriate community supports.
"It is extremely difficult for patients and families with mental illness
to navigate through the justice system," said Dr. Helen Ward, Clinical
Director Forensic Program, Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. "Far too many
end up in jail through no fault of their own because they weren't able to
access appropriate care in the health system. The Mental Health Court brings
us one step closer in providing better care to this vulnerable population by
diverting them from the justice system to the health system where they can be
more appropriately treated."
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