Almost two and half years of hell ended for Douglas Brown, a 40-year-old man with schizophrenia from Burlington, Ontario, when Justice Stephen D. Brown of the Ontario Court of Justice on April 8, 2013 found him not guilty of assault against hospital staff and for attempting to steal a police officer's weapon. In his ruling, the judge stated that "this case is an indictment of the treatment of mentally ill individuals in our public health system and in our judicial system."
But the suffering is not over for Douglas Brown. As he said to me in an email on April 12, "I still fear the sirens of police, fire and ambulance. I sometimes worry about being in public, but not horribly enough to prevent me going outside, non-agoraphobic." The Minister of Health, Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington and the Halton Regional Police all need to apologize publicly to Mr. Brown and to the people of Ontario. And, those responsible need to be held accountable.
To back up for a minute, I first came across Douglas in 2005 when he had a very good op-ed piece published in the Hamilton Spectator on his experiences with schizophrenia. I arranged to have it reprinted on the schizophrenia.com website which I wrote for at the time. He would email me occasionally and I knew that he had taken a writing course at Mohawk College in Hamilton and he is now studying criminal justice and psychology at Athabaska University and has a GPA of 3.7.
On April 9, he sent me and one of the senior editors at the Spectator, the judge's decision in his criminal trial. We were both stunned with what happened to him. His problems began on December 15, 2010 when he was taken to Joseph Brant because of a suicide attempt -- not unusual for someone with schizophrenia. Unfortunately, things escalated due to what appears to be the inappropriate handling of him by the hospital social worker, Carol Veecock and the ER nurse, Katherine Szostak. Both are presently under suspension with pay.
They called police and a total of five Halton Region cops attended and, while the evidence is sketchy, Mr. Brown was tasered a number of times and beaten about the head. During the altercation with the police, it was claimed he tried to grab for the officer's weapon and was charged with that as well as assault. The testimony of the hospital staff was dismissed by the judge as being "replete with inconsistencies" and their demeanour unsatisfactory. The social worker, Carol Veecock, he said had breached her professional responsibilities and he described her testimony as ludicrous. In my opinion from reading the transcript, she may have precipitated it all, but more on that below.
The judge also stated that the two senior police officers also failed to testify truthfully and, as a result, the junior officers felt compelled to follow along. The judge stated that he was disappointed in them for doing so. The most condemning statements made by the judge in a lengthy list of condemnations was reserved for officer Carroll, the now retired police expert in dealing with the mentally ill. The judge stated that Stephen Carroll was called because:
"He was held out as an officer who had considerable expertise in dealing with people with mental health issues but I believe that his views and procedures were more suited to decades long past. I truly hope that the standard that he has passed is to officers who have a better understanding of the delicate needs required in dealing with enforcing the law in a more humane and understanding way towards people with mental health issues than were employed in this case."
How this was botched was explained by the psychiatrist on call that night, Dr. Don Colonne. Of his testimony, the judge said "his candour and truthfulness was a welcome relief from the parade of witnesses that preceded him."
When Douglas Brown was admitted, Dr. Colonne was called and he ordered that he be given oral medication and that the nurse should explain what is being offered, why, and the benefits and side effects. The patient would then have to agree to this. If the patient became quite disturbed, acutely psychotic, aggressive or threatening, then he had ordered intramuscular injections which could be given on an emergency basis and consent would not be required.
There was a two stage treatment plan. First, offer the oral medications and, if Douglas Brown became or was acutely psychotic and dangerous, then he could be given without permission the injections. But, what seems to have happened is that either the nurse or the social worker, and Dr. Colonne could not remember who he gave these instructions to, went and told Douglas that he was going to be injected whether he was willing or not. And that set him off understandably.
In his judgement, Justice Brown said:
"Both of these health care providers knew that they had contributed to a situation that had escalated out of hand and I suspect that they thereafter enlisted the police to administer chemical restraints to this individual whose basic human care and safety they had ignored up to the point in time when the police were called."
And so, this writer calls upon Ontario's health minister, the Hon. Deb Matthews, to launch a transparent, public investigation into how to finally improve the treatment for those with schizophrenia. You have quite a number of reports going back for years that as I've said previously, have all been mostly ignored to act as background. It is about time that the shame of our deficient mental health system was listed among the other problems in our health system from the overspending on e-health, to the waste in the Ornge fiasco, to the wrong does of chemotherapy drugs given to patients.
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