Compulsory mental health treatment a 'double-edged sword' for rights of offenders | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Compulsory mental health treatment a 'double-edged sword' for rights of offenders

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

The prospect of compulsory treatment for chronic offenders with mental health issues or addictions raises alarm bells for those working in restorative justice.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby suggested the option could be included in a forthcoming report on chronic offenders in the province, but a restorative justice worker in Kelowna who works with offenders to "break the cycle" says it just takes more rights away from people within the correctional facility.

"It's such a double-edged sword," Michelle LaBoucane said.

Laboucane is the justice services director for the Okanagan and Kootenay John Howard Society. She said compulsory treatment could help people who have had difficulty accessing mental health or addictions treatment, but she struggles with the suggestion because it could take away the rights of people over their own healthcare.

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Eby, the Attorney General and Housing Minister, announced plan to study and find solutions to chronic offenders in the province. The study follows calls from 13 mayors of B.C. cities for the province to address rising property crime in their respective cities.

The B.C. Urban Mayor's Caucus includes Colin Basran of Kelowna and Ken Christian of Kamloops among the 13 cities.

The study is expected to be released publicly within four months and will include suggestions for the province to address chronic offenders that continually deal with police and the courts, seemingly without a change in behaviour.

While any judicial or legislative changes hinge on what the report brings to Eby's office, his ministry suggests it could include changes like electronic monitoring while on bail, supports and programs first responders can refer to and compulsory treatment programs, according to a news release.

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The ministry of mental health and addictions recently scrapped a plan to force youth in the foster system to undergo treatment out of concern for traumatizing them. That plan, however, was not aimed at working through the courts, but instead through healthcare after a youth is treated for an overdose. Meanwhile, involuntary treatment in B.C. is already on the rise, more than doubling within a 14-year period.

More than 28,000 people were treated under the Mental Health Act between April 2020 and March 31, 2021, compared to about 14,000 in the same period in 2007 and 2008.

A 2019 B.C. Ombudsman's report found medical detention in B.C. operates with little oversight or accountability, as it currently stands.

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Rather than a lack of enforcement or involuntary mental health treatment, LaBoucane believes the biggest challenge facing chronic offenders is affordable housing. Through her work with the John Howard Society, she often sees offenders released from their sentence without a place to live. Others may be awaiting their sentence but while awaiting bail, they can lose a job or their home in that time.

"When they don't have a home or a safe space to be, they're still causing havoc in the community, it's because they're still trying to survive," she said. "They're not given tools to change."

To her, simply having the access to affordable housing, along with mental health treatment or help finding employment, would go further than a crime and punishment approach to repeat offenders.

"In Kelowna, we had individuals fighting for the right not to wear a mask, but those are the same individuals that would suggest mandatory treatment for somebody," she said.

Kelowna mayor Colin Basran also suggested that a punitive approach to prolific offenders has not helped address ongoing property crime on Kelowna's streets. The Kelowna RCMP budget has nearly doubled in six years, from $27.9 million in 2016 to $51.4 million in 2022. It's a big boost that seemingly cannot stop a small group of offenders from repeated dealings with law enforcement.

In the first 11 months of 2021, 15 people had 1,039 "negative contacts" with police, according to the City. One person in particular has accumulated 346 police files and 29 criminal convictions since 2016.

Eby's office is expected to release the full report of the study in four months, according to a May 5 news release. He added, however, the report authors are encouraged to make recommendations to the Attorney General before the report is complete.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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