12/17/2014 08:30 EST | Updated 02/16/2015 05:59 EST

B.C. Representative for Children and Youth fears for safety of autistic man in forensic psychiatric hospital

B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth says action is needed to protect a young autistic man who has spent nearly six years in a forensic psychiatric hospital as the result of an assault he was charged with as a teen.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said the case highlights a systemic failure in the treatment of children and youth with complex developmental, psychological and medical needs.

"I'm very concerned about the type of trauma that he may have experienced and has experienced, given where he essentially has been placed over the last number of years," said Turpel-Lafond. "We need to get him out of there."

"Significant systemic barriers"

The man, Ben, cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act since he was charged as a youth. His mother, whose first name is Chahna, says her son has Asperger's syndrome and autism. In 2007, Ben was found not criminally responsible of an assault at a group home by reason of mental disorder.

The incident happened when he was 16, but when he became an adult, Ben was transferred to the custody of the forensic psychiatric hospital in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Turpel-Lafond's office took up his case after the mother staged a hunger strike to protest Ben's lengthy stints in isolated custody.

"We've tried to do what we can, but his case represents a problem where even myself as an advocate is coming up against some very significant systemic barriers in British Columbia," said Turpel-Lafond.

Chahna says her son is caught in a dilemma. He's in the same facility as people who have committed far worse crimes, such as murder and rape. As a result, his mother says he's scared and occasionally acts aggressively and that behaviour then prevents him from being released today.

Community Living B.C. (CLBC) has become involved with Ben's case in the past year. Chahna said the Crown agency has set up a home and round-the-clock support for him to live in Vancouver as well as the funds needed to provide constant care.

"If I had my dream wish, it would be that he would be home for Christmas in his program, in the community," she said.

"A rock and a hard place"

The B.C. Review Board has set up conditions that would allow Ben to stay in the home for up to 28 days at a time, but only with the approval of the director of the forensic hospital. Chahna said that's not happening because the director claims Ben's behaviour makes him a risk.

"The hospital has admitted that they're not set up to deal with autism, but they say unfortunately, that just means Ben's stuck between a rock and a hard place," she said.

"I went to town and got everything in place and CLBC stepped up to the table and put in place the funding and the program, and it's a go for him to come home. We just need the hospital to allow him to come home."

Neither CLBC nor the hospital would discuss the case, even with his mother's permission, with the CBC because of privacy concerns. But both say the ultimate decision on release lies with the B.C. Review Board.

Turpel-Lafond says that's not good enough.

"The review board has to decide when he can be released and so on, but his basic rights to demonstrate and grow up in a community appear to not be possible in British Columbia because we haven't developed those community supports."