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One Step Forward for Mental Health and One Step Back

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Progress in mental illness is slow as victories are often offset by large failures as was demonstrated by recent events in Hamilton, ON. It was almost a year ago that I wrote about a group of eight young women with various mental illnesses who were being blocked by the City of Hamilton from moving into a new group home in a different neighbourhood from the one they currently live in.

The residence, Charlton Hall, was originally founded in 1919 by the Big Sister Association and is housed in a beautiful old house just west of Hamilton downtown. The young women it treats are struggling with a variety of problems such as eating disorders and self-harm. For some reason, the beautiful old mansion that housed them and is owned by the city was allowed to deteriorate to the point where it required over a million dollars in repairs. The only alternative was for them to move to a new building but that was opposed by the city and by the residents of the area they wanted to move to.

The matter was taken to the Ontario Municipal Board and at the end of August, the OMB decided in favour of the group home and are allowing the teenage girls to move into the new group home against the objection of Hamilton City Council. After blocking the move for well over a year, the city has decided to accept the decision and not appeal.

But, despite that victory, the shooting death by police of a man on leave from the psychiatric wing of St Joseph's Hospital remains shrouded in mystery and refusals to talk.

Steve Mesic was a voluntary patient in the psychiatric unit at St. Joseph's Healthcare for a few days when he signed himself out on the morning of June 7 to go for a walk. Police were called because of reports that a man, identified as Steve Mesic, was seen walking in traffic of the busy Lincoln Alexander Parkway. Officers who arrived escorted him off the road and onto a wooded berm beside the highway. This wooded area actually bordered his home.

Witnesses soon heard shouting and then anywhere from between three to eight gunshots and Mr. Mesic was dead. And, as is the case with police shootings, the provincial Special Investigations Unit is looking into the matter but no one is talking about what happened. Mr. Mesic left behind a very supportive family, friends and a pregnant fiance all of whom are devastated by his death and upset at the lack of transparency from city officials.

The shooting of Sammy Yatim in Toronto received considerable publicity largely in part to the video taping of the shooting. There was a very fast resolution in that the officer was quickly charged with second degree murder. That shooting was on July 27 and the officer was charged on August 19. But, in the Mesic death that occurred on June 7, no information has been released and the SIU continues to investigate. According to Monica Hudon, the communications co-ordinator for the SIU, the Mesic investigation is still ongoing and is taking longer that the Yatim case because there is no video. The SIU has gathered forensic evidence in the Mesic case, she said, that needs to be evaluated and that takes time.

But, another interesting comparison with Yatim is that Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has publicly spoken on the case and with the family. The Hamilton chief, Glenn De Caire, has neither met with the Mesic family nor even offered his condolences. Hamilton mayor, Bob Bratina who chairs the police board, has also made no comments whatsoever or offered his condolences.

And, according to the Hamilton Spectator, Chief De Caire refuses to participate in the review of police procedure to be conducted by the Ombudsman, Andre Marin. De Caire is quoted as saying that he will cooperate with Marin only if the government tells him to. The government, however, will not do that according to Craig MacBride, press secretary for Minister Madeleine Meilleur. Meanwhile, dozens of motorcyclists and cars took part in a memorial ride for Steve on Friday 13.

The Hamilton Police Board will be meeting on September 16 and a group of family members who have lost loved ones shot by police will be attending. Sharon Dorr, Steve's fiancée, will be at the meeting although she is shortly expecting to deliver their child. As reported in the Spectator, she said "I want to send a message to Chief De Caire that his attitude in dealing with me and the public needs to change. The police need to give some kind of recognition. They owe it to me and Steve and his family."

And they owe an explanation to the citizens of Hamilton.

Facts About Mental Health in Canada
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