Lawyer claims clients’ medications withheld at jail

A Toronto lawyer has sounded the alarm about a certain disciplinary tactic at a northern Ontario jail.

Criminal lawyer Devin Bains claims two of his clients, who are inmates at the Thunder Bay District Jail, were denied their psychiatric medications as a consequence for misusing their drugs at the jail.

In one case, a manslaughter trial was postponed after his client was found to be unfit to proceed without his medication.

“We of course don’t want inmates . . . to be denied their right to trial or their opportunity to be heard because their ability to have a voice is interfered with by their psychiatric problems,” Bains told CBC News.

In order to get his client’s medication reinstated, a Toronto psychiatrist had to travel to the jail to independently assess the inmate.

“[What] needs to be asked . . . is why that couldn’t have been done within the jail itself,” said Bains.

According to the office of the Ontario Ombudsman, nine complaints regarding psychiatric medication have been filed by inmates at the Thunder Bay District Jail in the past two years.

In an e-mail to CBC, Ontario’s Ministry of Correctional Services spokesman Brent Ross wrote: “Just like in the community, medications are prescribed by doctors. The medications are then administered to the inmates by a nurse. Ministry officials do not interfere with medical decisions or direct medical professionals to provide specific courses of treatment.”

This isn’t the only issue on the mistreatment of Canada’s mentally ill prisoners that has surfaced recently.

There’s the now infamous case of 19-year-old inmate Ashley Smith who committed suicide in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., in October 2007 after she was repeatedly transferred between institutions. Videos depicting how she was treated by prison staff were recently made public.

The International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law published a damning report earlier this year on Canada’s treatment of mentally ill female inmates.

“Smith’s death was a direct result of the interaction between her mental health issues and the prison environment, and the failure of the Correctional Service of Canada to respond appropriately to her mental health needs,” states the report.

Renu Mandhane, IHRP director and editor of the report, told Legal Feeds one of the problems is that the public doesn’t hold Corrections Canada liable for its mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners.

“Corrections tend to operate outside of the public view. They aren’t accountable in the same way as some of the other parts of the justice system,” she says.

“[T]here’s so little public understanding of what goes on in our prisons that we don’t hold the government to the same standard as we do in terms of the protection of rights of, for example, accused people in criminal court.”

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