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Is YouTube Essential for Police Accountability?

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How two institutions, a hospital and a police force, deal with an injustice committed against a man with schizophrenia makes for an interesting contrast. Last year, I wrote two blogs about Douglas Brown of Burlington, Ontario. He is a man in his early 40s with schizophrenia who was beaten and tasered by five police officers from the Halton Regional Police Force in the emergency room of Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington, ON. He was then charged with assault.

In finding him not guilty, the judge lambasted the police and two hospital staff for not being truthful. Mr. Brown is now suing.

After the verdict, the hospital suspended the staff members involved with with pay and arranged for an independent study to be done. That was conducted by an external review team, headed by Dr. Ed Letovsky, the chief of emergency medicine at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga Ontario.

Others on the team were Dr. David Koczerginski, Chief of Psychiatry, William Osler Health System, Karen Gaunt, Clinical Leader/Manager, Emergency Department, St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto and Sue Stemeroff, Clinical Team Leader, Crisis Intervention Team, also from Trillium Health.

Their study focused only on how Joseph Brant could improve without using police force. To its credit, the hospital met with Douglas Brown and his lawyer before Christmas so they could explain to him what efforts were being taken to prevent a repeat of what happened. Mr Brown told me that he was very reluctant to attend that meeting but was encouraged to do so by his lawyer and accepted the hand shake that was offered by the senior hospital staff.

As a result of that meeting, he said that "I hope that in future patients will be treated better than I was although I do not want to go back to that hospital even with my lawyer."

Amongst the recommendations explained to Mr. Brown that are in the report just made public are the following:

  • building a dedicated psychiatric pod for the hospital but, until then, improving the esthetics and therapeutic aspect of the existing unit
  • providing ongoing education for all staff with an emphasis on deescalation strategies through simulated learning to reduce the use of chemical restraints
  • greater community liaison especially with the police
  • develop better care plans focused on team care for the patient

The senior managers of the hospital met with all members of the staff to explain the proposed reforms. The two staff members involved in this incident whose testimony was rejected by the judge have met with the Human Resources Dept of the hospital who reviewed with them. According to Dr. Alan Brown, the chief of psychiatry, their respective roles in the emergency department "updated their awareness" and they will be "transitioned back to work if they so chose".

Asked if the two staff had been reported to their respective regulatory colleges, Dr. Brown said he was not sure but that typically when staff are under suspension the appropriate regulatory college is notified. In this case, it would have been the College of Nurses of Ontario and the College of Social Workers of Ontario.

The public registers for each college do not indicate that any complaints about either have been filed. The College of Social Work stated that all complaints would be on the public register and the College of Nurses did not return my call. The Social Work register lists Ms. Veecock's present employer as the Toronto East General Hospital. Ontario, like many jurisdictions, allows health professionals to self-regulate and discipline their own.

But, aside from the fact that both employees are personally named in the law suite by Douglas Brown, the penalty they have had to endure is suspension with pay and now possible reinstatement. Trivial when compared to Mr. Brown's stress and trauma. The physical bruises are pictured in the Hamilton Spectator but not the emotional ones.

As for the police, well, that is another issue. As I had reported before, the investigation done by the Crown Attorney's office into claims by a judge that their police witnesses lied was done in secret. We were only told that no action would be taken against the officers. No one was suspended, no changes made to how that police force treats psychiatric patients, nothing.

And no apology to or meeting with Mr. Brown. In fact, Mr. Brown told me that he finds the police cold, lacking in remorse and said he didn't "think they should be considered peace officers."

As I reported in my earlier blog, the spokesperson for the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, Brendan Crawley, stated that "Neither the ministry nor the Crown will be making any further comment."

The original response that I got from the premier of the province, Kathleen Wynne, who is responsible for both the courts and the police was this:

I think there is more that we need to do in terms of support for people with mental health issues. And I think it's extremely important, whatever program we're talking about, whether we're talking about housing or whether we're talking about employment programs, that we understand that sometimes, mental health issues can create barriers to success. So part of our mental health strategy has to be integrated with these other programs.

And, when I asked for an interview with the Halton Region Chief of Police this week to discuss the contrasting responses to this incident between them and the hospital, I got this from Sgt. Chantal Corner, the media spokesperson:

due to the present civil suit that is on-going, we are unable to comment at this time. Kind regards, Chantal

It is highly regrettable that no one in the Joseph Brant ER that day took a video of Douglas Brown being beaten and tasered by the police. Had someone done that and put it on YouTube the way it was done with Sammy Yatim in Toronto or the case of Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death by RCMP officers in Vancouver a few years ago, then maybe there would be an outcry.

Police accountability, it seems, is dependent on private citizens, their cell phones and YouTube. Without that, there likely is no accountability based on the Douglas Brown example.

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