Intervention Raises Questions About Whether Alberta's 'Mental Health Act' Strikes Appropriate Balance Between Treatment and Patients' Rights
Calgary Legal Guidance (CLG) is a non-governmental non-profit organization that provides legal assistance to low-income and disadvantaged people. Volunteer lawyers provide free legal advice to low-income individuals, provide free legal education presentations and materials to members of the public and take on cases for free (pro bono). CLG staff lawyers provide marginalized Albertans with free legal representation while non-legal staff do outreach to community organizations and coordinate social & cultural supports for CLG clients.
CLG’s work includes non-partisan advocacy for legal issues affecting disadvantaged Albertans. Many individuals contact CLG with complaints about how they have been diagnosed, hospitalized and/or treated for mental health/psychiatric reasons in Alberta. This has included complaints about being taken to or kept in hospital against their will, being forced to take medication, and not receiving the kind of treatment or mental health support they would prefer.
CLG has received “intervenor status” in the case of JH v Alberta Health Services, 2017 ABQB 477 (CanLII). This is a lawsuit by a former patient against Alberta Health Services for the way he was treated in hospital under Alberta’s Mental Health Act. JH (whose name is under a publication ban) is also challenging the constitutionality of the Mental Health Act. CLG asked for the judge in the JH case to allow CLG to participate in this hearing to speak on behalf of our current and former clients who have also raised concerns about the Mental Health Act. JH’s lawyer has argued that the way JH was hospitalized and treated using the Mental Health Act violated his rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that the law itself is written in a way that leaves it open to misuse. The Mental Health Act gives doctors the authority to be able to hospitalize and treat people with mental disorders even when the person does not agree to treatment/hospitalization. CLG agrees that the Mental Health Act is an important law that supports psychiatrists, police, and others in helping people with mental health issues. However, CLG has also raised concerns about whether the Mental Health Act, as it is currently worded and used, adequately protects patients’ rights. This case is ongoing, and CLG is grateful for the opportunity to share our opinion with the court about the balancing of mental health treatment with patient rights on behalf of the people we serve.
For a more detailed discussion of this case at earlier stages, please see Lorian Hardcastle “Is Alberta’s Mental Health Act Sufficiently Protecting Patients?” (18 September, 2017), online: ABlawg, http://ablawg.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Blog_LH_Mental_Health.pdf