There has been considerable media coverage regarding two patients who did not return from off unit privileges on January 22, 2015 at the Mental Health and the Law Service of the North Bay Regional Health Centre. The first media release from the North Bay Police on January 23, 2015 did not reference mental health status or where they were missing from and received only local coverage.
They were missing six days before a second media release from the North Bay Police resulted in widespread coverage alerted the public to the fact that these 'dangerous' individuals were on the lam from a facility for "adults with serious mental illness who are in conflict with the law."
They have been seen at a gas station in Hanwell, New Brunswick (pop. 4,266), looking to rent an apartment in Doaktown, New Brunswick (pop. 793) and later in Truro, Nova Scotia (pop. 12,059) at a public library and also looking for an apartment and in a vehicle with New Brunswick plates, as opposed to the one they were reported in when their story first hit the press.
Atlantic Canadians are being told these individuals are 'dangerous', 'a danger to the public' and 'missing mental health patients' messages that are intended to warn the public to be afraid. We are being told to call 911 if they are spotted and the public is being urged not to approach them, presumably because they are dangerous.
Without disputing that they are in fact dangerous (how could anyone dispute the label without any knowledge of what caused it to be applied?), members of the public are engaging with them as the escapees fill up their car at gas stations, meet with landlords to view apartments, try to check into motels and visit local libraries etc. Yet the public doesn't have any real information about who it is they are dealing with and what danger they are in by being around these guys.
Obviously the authorities understand the public needs to be warned where these individuals are, who they are and what to do if they encounter them, but they do a disservice to the public by not telling us what 'conflict with the law' makes them dangerous, which creates more danger for the public at large.
I believe label the of 'dangerous' when associated with anyone who also is considered to have a 'serious mental illness' creates additional stigma and fear relating to mental illness more generally, which is why it is so important to clearly articulate to the public the 'conflict with the law' element, that actually poses a legitimate danger to the public. The fact that the first media release that did not reference the word 'danger' or 'mental health' did little to generate media attention and the subsequent one that did, set off a national frenzy, indicates this to be true.
Daily, the media names and shames people who are charged with offences, even before we know of their guilt and considering the extraordinary lengths the police are going to find these individuals and the attention it has caused, it seems the responsible thing to tell the public what makes Cara Duval (or Cara Donnelly) and Joseph Pepin a danger to the public.
As it turns out, residents of Doaktown, New Brunswick agree.
This from from CTV News in Atlantic Canada:
"We should know what type of danger we're in actually," said Doaktown resident Gilbert Thibodeau.
"Like, what can they do? What did they do? What were they in there for?"
I'm sure folks in Truro and Hanwell and beyond share Thibodeau's sentiments.
I know I do.