By Kim Mackrael, Globe and Mail, December 6, 2011
Canada’s prisons are facing a growing crisis as they become the “institutions of last resort” for people with mental illnesses, the Canadian Psychiatric Association says.
“Corrections [Canada] is not geared to deal with some of the needs of a vast population of people with major mental illnesses,” CPA board member Gary Chaimowitz told The Globe and Mail.
Dr. Chaimowitz will be on Parliament Hill Wednesday morning to ask the federal government to improve prison services for mentally ill offenders.
More than one in 10 men and nearly one in three women held in federal prisons have mental-health problems, according to 2009 figures from the Correctional Service of Canada. Those numbers represent a near-doubling in the total proportion of inmates with mental illnesses between 1997 and 2009.
“Psychiatric institutions have been closing over the years, and the mentally ill … have now found that the correctional system has become the institution of last resort,” Dr. Chaimowitz said.
He said those prisoners often end up in segregation units and without adequate treatment because the prisons don’t have the staff or resources to properly care for them.
The problem could intensify once the omnibus crime bill becomes law, Dr. Chaimowitz added. The legislation, which includes new provisions for mandatory minimum sentences, is expected to significantly increase the number of people in prison.
The Conservative government says it is expanding prison space and staff to accommodate the anticipated growth.
But some mental health advocates had hoped to see specific provisions in the legislation to deal with treatment for mentally ill inmates. The Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers asked MPs to change the bill to allow judges to exempt some mentally ill offenders from mandatory minimum sentences.
Liberal justice critic Irwin Cotler suggested the amendment during a clause-by-clause review of the bill last month, but his proposal was rejected by the Conservative-dominated committee.
Warehousing individuals for minor offences with longer sentences, without providing appropriate mental health services, because "that is a provincial responsibility" is another way for this government to off-load its duty, without sharing the fiscal and the ethical responsibility for those services, while in the process, creating banner headlines about being "tough on crime" for its political base.
Power, and the addiction to power, for its own sake, is at the core of this government's complete operation. People with talking points, rehearsed in private, including the "I am trying to answer your question" impertinence when a reporter or interviewer interrupts because the member is NOT answering the question but merely reciting the rehearsed talking points, is no substitute for a democratic government. Cotler's appropriate recommendation in committee to permit judges to exempt some mentally ill offenders from mandatory minimum sentences is just one of many examples of professional, responsible and even visionary proposals to which this government turns a deaf ear.
This government is, in a word, without compassion, without a human touch, without a long-range vision that is serving the country's best interests; rather, it is obsessed with its own pursuit of power, the percs of power, the status and appearance of power, the maintenance of its own power and they will do anything to manipulate the opposition, the truth, the fourth estate, and thereby the electorate to achieve that end.
When the Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nations Band declares a state of emergency, after months of inaction by the government, the Harper gang changes the story to "where is the $90 million we spent there?" over the last six years for all of the band's expenses including housing, education, health, and social services. And then they attempt to appoint a "third party manager" as if their indignation will strike a chord of resonance with their political base.
There is a growing and legitimate perception that Harper and his gang have no interest in the people of this country, except when it comes time to place an "X" on a ballot.
They tell the Coptic Christians in one riding that they will establish an "Office of Religious Freedom"" to mollify that group, but then they struggle, as they should, with the purpose of such an office, and its public perception, as indicated by, once again, talking points obtained by CBC and displayed on Power and Politics on Monday, this week. We all thought and believed that Canada was well known and honoured for its historic commitment to religious freedom so we are confused when that freedom needs an office as proof of the tradition.
They turn the human crisis in First Nations reservations into a "where is the money?" chase and agree to meet with the band chiefs for the first time in six years only after a public outcry.
They seek to incarcerate the mentally ill, as their way to depict themselves as "tough on crime".
They buy large numbers of fighter jets, ships both armed and unarmed, as their props for the theatre of "nationalistic pride" so they can beat the drum for patriotism.
They turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the pleas of the UN and its climate conference, hiding under the veil of deception that "only when all countries join" will Canada come on board, thereby demonstrating their allegiance to their corporate buddies in the oil and gas sector.
They tell us the new border deal with the U.S. is to enhance trade with that country, when it will also surrender a chunk of Canadian autonomy to the U.S. in intelligence and security.
They tell parliament they want $50 million to beef up border security and then spend that money on gazebos and cosmetics for the Clement riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, without providing a paper trail for the Auditor General.
They tell the voters in Mount Royal that Irwin Cotler, the respected Liberal member there, that he may not be running in the next election, and that there may be a by-election, when they are doing "voter identification" only to undermine the respected member's credibility with his constituents.
They tell parliament that they will support the export of a deadly substance, mined in Canada, asbestos, when the substance has been banned by all other countries thereby demonstrating their blind and excessive addiction to the power of "trade" and the talking points that accompany that file.
They turn a deaf ear to the respected and responsible pleas from hundreds of the country's best minds to retain the long-form census, as the best way to provide data for long-range planning in various sectors, using the lame and dumb excuse that "it is too invasive" into the private lives of Canadians, where there had been few, if any, complaints on that score.
They turn the Grey Cup game into another "campaign moment" with fly-pasts of military planes, as they do the "pin-the-medal-on-the-general ceremony" in the Senate after withdrawing from Libya.
And they must think or believe that Canadians are either not watching and listening, or really don't care. Neither is the case. We are both watching and listening, and we really do care what this gang of power-addicted ego-maniacs is doing to the long and honoured traditions of the country...in truth-telling, in compassion, in peace-keeping, in honourable hosting of world leaders, in listening to the opinions of the opposition, bringing down crime rates through a balanced approach of judicial discretion, rehabilitation and incarceration, in bringing the country together rather than dividing for the narrow interests of the government's retention of power.
And then to watch Harper and his gang attempt to "own" both the crown and the Arctic as their own political/national symbol is like watching a grade two child tell his parents they don't know what they are talking about when they tell him it's bedtime.