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'Jarring experience' in B.C. psych wards because of 'uniquely problematic' law – Toronto Star

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VANCOUVER – A peer-support worker who helps youth with mental health challenges says being involuntarily detained in a psychiatric facility half a dozen times has given him insight into the lack of legal protections for vulnerable patients in British Columbia.

Rory Higgs said he first sought treatment in hospital at age 18 during a difficult time in his life, but did not know he could be kept there, medicated against his will and placed in a seclusion room.

“It was a very jarring experience. I was not really told what was going on. And I was freaking out quite a lot because it was a shock to me,” he said, adding a second psychiatrist reassessed and discharged him the following day.

B.C. is the only province where the Mental Health Act allows for so-called deemed consent to treatment.

The legislation states that anyone with involuntary status under the law is presumed to have agreed to psychiatric treatment. Family members and other advocates are also barred from challenging prescribed treatments.

Higgs, now 25, is among advocates for the mentally ill who say the law must be changed for patients who need more support in the community.

After his first detention, Higgs was held at a psychiatric facility about five more times over the next three years with a diagnoses of psychosis.

Higgs said he was never formally advised that he could apply for a review of his detention and only learned more about his right to a hearing toward the end of his hospitalizations. He felt powerless to argue against involuntary detention, even with the help of an advocate through a legal aid program for patients, he added.

A major challenge of the system is that reviews are not mandatory, Higgs said.

Unlike in Ontario, B.C. has no independent advisory agency that informs patients of their right to a lawyer.

Patients at B.C. facilities are entitled to a hearing within 14 days of their request.

But the Mental Health Review Board, which conducts the hearings, said in a recent report that it is “concerned” about the number of applications that do not proceed to a hearing.

The report found that only 37 per cent of patients who applied for a hearing had one. It said 54 per cent of scheduled proceedings did not go ahead because the patient withdrew their application, sometimes when they were discharged from hospital and placed on so-called extended leave in the community where they are connected to a mental health team.

“The number of withdrawals may or may not raise an access to justice issue,” the report said.

About a third of hearings did not proceed because patients were decertified after they requested a hearing.

“A decertification may show that treating physicians are being responsive to the needs of their patients,” the report reads. “A decertification may also indicate an abuse of process. The board would like to measure whether a patient is decertified and recertified in order to avoid a review panel hearing.”

Lisa Wong, a lawyer who sits on review board panels, said a lack of funding for legal representation through the provincially funded Mental Health Law Program is a big issue for patients who sometimes show up at hearings without an attorney.

Patients who are on extended leave in the community can also apply for a hearing, but lawyers may not be able to reach those who are living in a single-room occupancy hotel, for example, where phone messages are not always be relayed or received, she said.

Wong said applications are withdrawn in nearly half the cases when lawyers said they did not get instructions from patients, which could also mean there was no contact with the applicant. She noted no reasons have to be provided due to lawyer-client privilege.

Mental health laws across Canada allow people to be detained if they are a danger to themselves or others.

Marina Morrow, a professor at the school of health policy and management at York University in Toronto, said B.C.’s laws are “uniquely problematic” because psychiatric treatment becomes compulsory but there is no oversight of the law, which is considered discriminatory against those with a disability and no mechanism for automatic review.

However, mental health systems across the country are “crisis driven” because psychiatry and acute care are funded while many other mental health supports are not, so ending up in the emergency department before being detained becomes a route to accessing care in the community for many patients, Morrow said.

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“It makes sense to me that a psychiatrist will say ‘Go to emergency and maybe you’ll get some help that way.’ ” she said, adding patients in B.C. could be forcibly administered medications and electroconvulsive therapy.

“There’s been frustration in B.C. for many, many years, with people raising concerns about the act and really little governmental response.”

Jay Chalke, the ombudsperson in British Columbia, said in March 2019 that a month-long audit of all provincial psychiatric facilities revealed a rights-advice form that patients should have signed was not found in 51 per cent of files.

Chalke’s recommendations were accepted by the ministries of Health, Mental Health and Addictions as well as the Attorney General though Chalke, who is expected to issue a followup report in the spring, said some promised timelines for action had passed.

The ministries of Health and Mental Health and Addictions did not respond to requests for comment on whether they would consider dropping the deemed-consent aspect of the Mental Health Act.

The Health Ministry issued a statement saying it established standards last month to support compliance involving the completion of forms as well as auditing requirements to be reported on a quarterly basis.

The Attorney General’s Ministry, which committed in January 2019 to providing a mandate for an independent rights body by November of that year, said such an agency requires “research and consultation with many groups who may be impacted by the delivery of the service.”

The ministry says it has begun consultations including with experts and other provinces.

In 2016, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and two patients who had involuntary treatment challenged the deemed-consent aspect of the Mental Health Act in B.C. Supreme Court, arguing their constitutional rights were violated under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The B.C. government stopped the case from going to trial, saying the council did not have public standing as a non-profit society. The province is now asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the case after the B.C. Court of Appeal issued a decision on standing.

Laura Johnston, legal director of Health Justice, said the underlying issue is that the law does not promote the dignity of patients, who are often injected with medication and placed in restraints as well as solitary confinement.

“People with mental disabilities, including mental illnesses, end up having negative experiences when they interact with our health-care system, sometimes even traumatic experiences,” she said.

She said that prevents them from accessing care or social services in the future.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2021.

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Conservatives accused of 'playing politics' in the House, raising questions about pandemic election – CBC.ca

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All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Conservatives appear to be pursuing a strategy that could give the Liberals justification for calling one.

Liberals are accusing the Conservatives of systematically blocking the government’s legislative agenda, including bills authorizing billions of dollars in pandemic-related aid and special measures for safely conducting a national election.

The Conservatives counter that the Liberals have not used the control they have over the House of Commons agenda to prioritize the right bills, while other parties say both the government and the Official Opposition share the blame.

“They’re playing politics all the time in the House. It’s delay, delay, delay — and eventually that delay becomes obstruction,” Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez said in an interview, referring to the Conservatives.

“It’s absurd. I think it’s insulting to Canadians, and I think people should be worried because those important programs may not come into force … because of the games played by the Conservatives.”

Conservatives blocking legislative agenda, Liberals say

Rodriguez pointed to the three hours last week that the Commons spent discussing a months-old, three-sentence committee report affirming the competence of the new Canadian Tourism Commission president.

That was forced by a Conservative procedural manoeuvre, upending the government’s plan to finally start debate on the pandemic election bill. It contains measures the chief electoral officer has said are urgent given that the minority Liberal government could fall at any time if the opposition parties unite against it.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez, shown last September, says the Conservatives have delayed the government’s agenda to the point of obstruction. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A week earlier, MPs spent three hours discussing a committee report recommending a national awareness day for human trafficking — something Rodriguez said had unanimous support and could have been dealt with “in a second.”

That debate, also prompted by the Conservatives, prevented any progress on Bill C-14, legislation flowing from last fall’s economic statement with billions in expanded emergency aid programs and new targeted aid for hard-hit industries.

That bill was introduced in December but stalled at second reading, with Conservative MPs talking out the clock each time it did come up for debate. After eight days of sporadic debate — more than is normally accorded for a full-fledged budget, Rodriguez noted — Conservatives finally agreed on Friday to let the bill proceed to committee for scrutiny.

‘Modest debate’ warranted: O’Toole

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has argued that “modest debate” is warranted on C-14, which he maintains is aimed a fixing errors in previous rushed emergency aid legislation.

Last December, the Conservatives dragged out debate on Bill C-7, a measure to expand medical assistance in dying in compliance with a 2019 court ruling.

O’Toole says ‘modest debate’ is necessary to review C-14, a federal COVID-19 relief bill that he maintains is aimed a fixing errors in previous rushed emergency aid legislation. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

For three straight days last week, they refused consent to extend sitting hours to debate a motion laying out the government’s response to Senate amendments to C-7, despite a looming court deadline that was extended Thursday to March 26.

Conservatives say they offered the previous week to extend the hours to allow a thorough debate, but the government waited five days before tabling its response to the amendments.

Liberals can’t cut debates short alone

For Rodriguez, it all adds up to “a pattern” of obstruction aimed at blocking the government’s legislative agenda.

Procedural machinations are commonly used by opposition parties to tie up legislation. But Rodriguez argued it’s inappropriate in a pandemic, when “people are dying by the dozens every day.”

If the government held a majority of seats in the Commons, it could impose closure on debates. But in the current minority situation, it would need the support of one of the main opposition parties to cut short debate — something it’s not likely to get.

In a minority Parliament, Rodriguez argued, all parties share responsibility for ensuring that legislation can at least get to a vote.

Opposition parties point fingers

But Conservative House leader Gérard Deltell lays the blame for the legislative impasse squarely on Rodriguez.

“The government House leader has failed to set clear priorities and has therefore failed to manage the legislative agenda,” he said in a statement to The Canadian Press, adding that “my door is always open for frank and constructive discussions.”

Bloc Québécois House leader Alain Therrien agrees that the Liberals have “mismanaged the legislative calendar and must take their responsibilities.” But he doesn’t exempt the Conservatives.

He said their obstruction of the assisted-dying bill and another that would ban forcible conversion therapy aimed at altering a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is “deplorable.”

“These are files that require compassion and rigour. It is inexcusable to hold the House hostage on such matters,” Therrien said in an email, suggesting that O’Toole is having trouble controlling the “religious right” in his caucus.

NDP House leader Peter Julian says he feels the Liberals are angling for an election, while the Conservatives focus on blocking bills. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

As far as NDP House leader Peter Julian is concerned, both the Liberals and Conservatives are trying to trigger an election.

“We believe that is absolutely inappropriate, completely inappropriate given the pandemic, given the fact that so many Canadians are suffering,” he said in an interview.

Julian accused the Liberals of bringing forward unnecessary legislation, such as the election bill, while “vitally important” bills, including one implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and another on net-zero carbon emissions, languish.

The intention of the Liberals, he said, is to eventually say there must be an election because of “all these important things we couldn’t get done.” And the Conservatives “seem to want to play into this narrative” by blocking the bills the government does put forward.

Rodriguez must be at ‘wits end’: May

Veteran Green Party MP Elizabeth May, however, agrees with Rodriguez, who she says must be “at his wits’ end.”

“What I see is obstructionism, pure and simple,” she said in an interview.

She blames the Conservatives primarily for the procedural “tomfoolery” but accuses both the Bloc and NDP of being “in cahoots,” putting up speakers to help drag out time-wasting debates on old committee reports.

“It’s mostly the Conservatives, but they’re in league,” May said.

“They are all trying to keep anything orderly from happening that might possibly let the Liberals say we’ve accomplished a legislative agenda. Whether the bills are good, bad or indifferent is irrelevant in this strategy.”

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Politics Chat: Former President Trump To Speak At CPAC – NPR

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Former President Donald Trump speaks today at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida. As Trump’s grip tightens on the GOP, President Joe Biden continues to address U.S. border policy.



LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

* And there he was…

(CROSSTALK)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: …This time in the form of a golden statue rolling through the Hyatt Hotel last week in Orlando, Fla., as the Conservative Political Action Conference kicked off. The gleaming figure of former President Donald Trump looks like a cousin of Shoney’s big boy, except with a red tie, stars-and-stripes swim trunks, flip flops and the Constitution in one very shiny hand and a wand – maybe a wand – in the other. The real Donald Trump speaks today as CPAC wraps up. Meanwhile, the man who beat him in November, President Joe Biden, is himself courting Republicans in an effort to ensure the success of his political agenda. Joining me now to talk about all this is NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe.

Good morning.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The speech by the former president is unusual for former presidents – not so unusual for this former president, who has made it clear he plans to try and remain relevant.

RASCOE: Yeah, Trump never adhered to norms as president, and he’s still not doing it. But we should say it is really unprecedented. Presidents who lose reelection and even those that don’t generally try to stay out of the spotlight after leaving the White House. The reason why it’s worth paying attention to Trump at this moment is because he has so much influence on people who are still in power and those running for office.

There are some high-profile Republicans, like Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who have said that it’s time for the GOP to move on from Trump, but it doesn’t seem like Republicans are ready to quit him just yet. And people like Senator Lindsey Graham have basically said, yes, Trump’s a handful, but there’s no way Republicans win without him. Most Republicans seem to agree with Senator Graham. So this is the first time that Trump is making this sort of speech since he left office. And it’s a big deal because he’s able to really dictate the direction of the Republican Party.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are we expecting to hear from him?

RASCOE: We are expecting him to declare himself the leader of the Republican Party. Beyond that, he will almost certainly lay into his perceived enemies. I mentioned Liz Cheney, who voted for his impeachment. He’s already come out against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. So expect to hear him on the attack. He will almost certainly want to relitigate the 2020 election, especially considering he never stopped talking about the 2016 election, and he won that one. So everyone will be waiting to hear whether he teases a 2024 run.

With Trump in the picture, he’s really freezing the Republican field right now. And I should remind everyone that it was at CPAC a few years ago that Trump talked for almost two hours and hugged the flag and did all of that. So it would not be surprising to see Trump do something like that again. With no social media megaphone, he probably has a lot to get off of his chest. But what his advisers and probably a number of Republicans will want Trump to do in this speech is to go after President Biden, especially on the issue of immigration, which is sort of – which is the sort of issue that can really rally the base. We will see whether that happens.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So not exactly healing the divides within his own party. Let’s turn to the actual president, Biden. He’s set to meet virtually with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Border policy is on the agenda.

RASCOE: Yes, this meeting comes as Biden has been facing pressure from the left because of the surge in unaccompanied minors at the border. The White House has defended its handling of the situation, but some progressives have raised concerns about the conditions of the facilities where these children are being held. So this is an issue that’s going to be on the agenda when he talks to Lopez Obrador in Biden’s second virtual meeting with a foreign leader.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That’s NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe.

Thank you so much.

RASCOE: Thank you.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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An American dystopia: QAnon represents perfectly the paranoid streak in US politics that Trump embraced – Economic Times

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In 1964 Richard Hofstadter, a noted historian from Columbia University, published an essay in Harper’s Magazine, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. In this essay, which has become justly famed over time, he argued that a strain existed in American politics that was akin to the clinical diagnosis of paranoia.

This deranged view of politics saw a conspiracy amongst a swath of the country’s elite composed of international bankers, Jesuits, Freemasons and others. And this unhinged perspective had a peculiar appeal to those on the fringes of the American political right.

Objectively, those on the right had little to fear in a mostly conservative country where social and political change only occurred in small, incremental steps. Nor, for that matter, barring under exceptional circumstances, such as in the wake of the Great Depression, did the country even contemplate any substantial, let alone radical, transformations. Nevertheless, those on the hard edges of the American right feared dispossession.

Hofstadter attributed these fears, especially in the postwar era, to three pervasive beliefs: that President Roosevelt’s New Deal had undermined free market capitalism, that officialdom was infiltrated with Communists and the “whole apparatus of education, religion, the press and the mass media is engaged in a common effort to paralyse the resistance of loyal Americans”. It is necessary to include that direct quotation from his essay because it has an eerily contemporary ring to it.

Illustration: Ajit Ninan

The issues he had highlighted in that sentence came to the fore over the course of the past four years when Donald Trump was at the helm of the presidency. Despite his defeat, and the emergence of a seasoned, centrist Democrat, Joseph Biden, as president, this paranoid style that Hofstadter had identified nearly 60 years ago still remains a significant force in American politics.

Even as a prospective presidential candidate, Trump had started to give currency to this propensity. It started with his so-called “birtherism” when President Obama assumed office. Any number of Trump’s followers accepted his ugly and baseless claim that Obama was not a natural-born American (and was also secretly a Muslim according to many of them). In an attempt to quell this growing chorus of distrust Obama released his birth certificate from Hawaii.

Sadly, these bizarre views did not subside as the 2016 election campaign went into gear. Instead, they gained greater steam. One of the more absurd such conspiracies held that Hillary Clinton (and by extension, the Democratic Party) was running a child sex and human trafficking ring from the premises of a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC. Despite acquiring considerable traction amongst members of the right-wing media, this episode, popularly referred to as “pizzagate”, was bereft of any substance. Nevertheless, it attracted such a substantial following that a man actually drove up from North Carolina and fired a shot inside the restaurant. The owner of the restaurant was also subjected to death threats.

It’s widely believed that this conspiracy theory was the forerunner to another, QAnon. This has acquired an even wider following in American politics. Launched on an internet platform in 2017, it asserted that President Trump was engaged in a concerted effort to end a vast, sprawling network ranging from Hollywood elites to high government officials who are involved in global sex trafficking. The anonymous individual who posted this outlandish claim also stated that he was someone who possessed the highest levels of security clearance in the US government. Astonishingly, this theory quickly gained ground as it coursed through the internet and became the fodder of many chat rooms across the country.

The attraction of this grotesque idea amongst members of the lay public was bad enough. More disturbingly, however, it also started to attract support amongst aspiring politicians who either tacitly or even explicitly endorsed the allegation. Few politicians, however, have acquired as much notoriety for their flirtation with this conspiracy theory as Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected representative from the southern state of Georgia.

During her campaign, when QAnon endorsed her, she made little or no effort to distance herself from it. Even after the brutal assault on the two Houses of Congress on January 6 of this year which, amongst others, involved QAnon believers, she refused to promptly disavow any ties with its adherents. Only when faced with censure from her House colleagues and being voted off all committee assignments did she make a lukewarm effort to distance herself from the movement.

She may be the most prominent case of a politician who has traded in this outrageous conspiracy theory. However, she’s hardly alone. A host of Republican Congressional candidates from across the country have either endorsed QAnon or have offered varying degrees of support for its twisted claims. Among them is a first-time House member, Lauren Boebert, a restaurant owner and an unrelenting gun rights advocate from Colorado, who has made only half-hearted attempts to distance herself from her initial attraction to QAnon beliefs.

What’s striking about the vast majority of QAnon advocates is that they are overwhelmingly if not exclusively white, they are not especially well-educated and have a decidedly right-wing political orientation. Needless to say, when in office, Trump studiously refused to publicly disavow QAnon, thereby granting it a certain stamp of credibility if not legitimacy. Even with him out of office, many of his more avid followers still remain its faithful adherents.

Hofstadter, decades ago, had accurately unearthed a strain in America’s political culture that had no moorings in reality. His views have, tragically, proven to be altogether prescient.

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