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Is YouTube Essential for Police Accountability?

Posted: 01/15/2014 11:15 am

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.

Loading Slideshow...
  • Number of Canadians with mental illness

    20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Anxiety

    Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Bipolar Disorder

    About 1% of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder (or “manic depression”) - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Suicide rates

    Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Men and suicide

    The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Major Depression

    Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Schizophrenia

    Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Youth depression

    The total number of 12-19 year olds in Canada at risk for developing depression is a staggering 3.2 million - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Going to the doctor

    Almost one half (49%) of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Seeking help

    Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Youth suicide rate

    Mental illness is increasingly threatening the lives of our children; with Canada’s youth suicide rate the third highest in the industrialized world - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Percentage of Canadian youth affected by mental illness

    It is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • First Nations youth and suicide

    First Nations youth commit suicide about five to six times more often than non-Aboriginal youth. The suicide rates for Inuit are among the highest in the world, at 11 times the national average, and for young Inuit men the rates are 28 times higher - Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Available mental health services in Canada

    In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them - Canadian Mental Health Association

  • Mental illness in seniors

    Rates of mental illness for adults between the ages of 70 and 89, including but not limited to dementia, are projected to be higher than for any other age group by 2041 - Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Mental Health and the justice system

    The vast majority of people living with mental health problems and illnesses are not involved with the criminal justice system. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators - Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Mental illness and unemployment

    Among those with the most severe and complex mental health problems and illnesses, unemployment is estimated at between 70 and 90 per cent - Mental Health Commission of Canada

  • Cost of mental illness in Canada

    The economic cost of mental illnesses in Canada for the health care system was estimated to be at least $7.9 billion in 1998 – $4.7 billion in care, and $3.2 billion in disability and early death - Canadian Mental Health Association

 

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