CORNWALL Ontario – The dramatic bail hearing this morning for former Canadian Forces Sgt. Collin Fitzgerald was an interesting insight into how our court system; justice system, policing, and society are failing those with Mental health issue.
It was wonderful that after we broke the story that some members of the local Legion and the Friends of Vets group attended; but what about those with mental health issues that were not in the military?
The crown this morning tried to gain a publication ban, but the defense attorney argued successfully that CFN had already published and that it was in the public’s interest that some of the information be available.
I won’t go into the sad minutiae of what Collin Fitzgerald’s life has deteriorated into as he sat visibly upset and apprehensive in the witness box this morning wearing a brown Guinness beer hoodie.
While the CBC and other media showed up; again for most with mental illness facing similar situations there are no media present.
And once charged a single time and caught in the maw of the justice system the cycle begins.
Should anyone with mental illness really be in a prison? While there has been some criticism of the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre are they truly prepared and trained to fully serve those with mental illness?
Brent Ross answered some questions for CFN:
1) Do you have many soldiers incarcerated at the OCDC?
The Ministry does not track whether inmates have a military background.
2 & 3) Do you see many cases of PTSD or other mental illness? Are there special challenges of mentally ill inmates?
The ministry takes its responsibility to ensure the safety and security of those in its custody very seriously. We do not track diagnoses of mental illness however, alerts will be placed on an inmate’s file which indicate concerns about an offender’s mental health. These alerts are generally self-reported by the offender but are also identified by other sources (i.e. court, clinical staff, police etc..). The presence of a mental health alert does not indicate a formal diagnosis of mental illness.
Corrections officers are also trained to detect possible signs of mental illness, and how to refer these inmates to health care or other professional staff that can provide the appropriate level of care they may require. In fact, there are ten facilities across Ontario, including the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre, with a mental health nurse and other professionals on site to assist patients and ensure they get the supports they need. There are also four specialized treatment centres for individuals with mental health needs. The ministry also partners with various social service agencies to provide inmates with needed programs and services while they are in custody, and to assist them to continue to access supports when they are discharged.
4) Are special care and needs given when it comes to medications and issues?
All inmates have access to healthcare, including mental health services, while incarcerated. All medical decisions, including those related to mental health or the provision of medication are made by medical staff in consultation with the inmate. The Ministry does not direct the medical care of any inmate.
5) Does the government need to do more to help facilities and staff at a facility like the OCDC deal with the needs of mentally ill inmates?
The ministry takes its responsibility to ensure those in its custody are treated fairly, respectfully and with the same access to services as those in the community very seriously. The province has invested an additional $50 million since 2004 to expand the continuum of community services like crisis teams, dedicated beds, mental health court workers, case managers and supportive housing. All inmates also have access to a variety of supports including psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, regardless of a diagnosis of a specific mental illness, and corrections officers are trained to detect possible signs of mental illness, and how to refer these inmates to health care or other professional staff that can provide the appropriate level of care they may require. In fact, there are ten facilities across Ontario, including the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre, with a mental health nurse and other professionals on site to assist patients and ensure they get the supports they need. There are also four specialized treatment centres for individuals with mental health needs. The ministry also partners with various social service agencies to provide inmates with needed programs and services while they are in custody, and to assist them to continue to access supports when they are discharged.
The ministry is also working with the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group on Mental Health to address the recommendations from the Mental Health Strategy for Corrections in Canada report. For more information on the provincial mental health strategy, we recommend you contact the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.
6) What options to inmates or their families have to ensuring that mentally ill loved ones are cared for? IE many times it’s not so much a criminal issue as a mental health issue. What options are there for families with concerns about loved ones in your facility who have mental health issues that they feel are not being addressed?
We recognize that treatment and medical care is normally a confidential matter between the patient and the treating physician, we also recognize that the support of families and others advocating for and offering care and support to the mentally ill is something that is critical to positive outcomes and we strive to find balance. Families who wish to express concerns related to the care of their loved ones may contact the Superintendent of the facility or write directly to the Minister, Deputy Minister or other senior officials in the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services. These concerns will be raised with the medical staff at the facility who will then review the inmate’s treatment to see whether any change in treatment is warranted. The Ministry does not interfere with or direct the medical decisions of its doctors or healthcare staff.
Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services
Listening to the OPP testimony this morning of Collin’s background of incidents with law enforcement it screamed out that this was a person who needed help and treatment and didn’t seem to be getting it. In today’s world that treatment more and more simply seems to be drugs. But what happens when a patient doesn’t take their medication properly or impacts his medication by the use of alcohol or other drugs?
From the officer’s notes it sounds like the OPP and police tried to be empathetic to Sgt Fitzgerald; but multiple incidents including Collin calling them eventually landed him in jail repeated times. Are front line officers really trained enough to handle situations like this or do they need more support and assistance?
Do we simply have an acceptable amount of violence that occasionally explodes like the tragedy in Moncton? Is there some actuary that has wrangled the numbers? Or is this penny wise; pound foolish policy where we save some in treatment and then spend tons in the courts cleaning up the messes of lives destroyed simply because those with mental health needs simply do not get the help and support they need.
From his Wiki page:
Medal of Military Valour
Master Corporal Fitzgerald deployed with 5 Platoon, B Company, 1 PPCLI Battle Group in Afghanistan. He is recognized for outstanding selfless and valiant actions carried out on May 24, 2006, during an ongoing enemy ambush involving intense, accurate enemy fire. Master Corporal Fitzgerald repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire by entering and re-entering a burning platoon vehicle and successfully driving it off the roadway, permitting the remaining vehicles trapped in the enemy zone to break free. Master Corporal Fitzgerald’s courageous and completely selfless actions were instrumental to his platoon’s successful egress and undoubtedly contributed to saving the lives of his fellow platoon members.
Clearly Collin Fitzgerald needs help much more than he does imprisonment. He gave to his country and locking him in a prison really should not be the solution even if he did commit criminal offences while in a state of mental disarray.
This writer isn’t even sure of what the solutions should be for people like Collin; or those who from the military who committed suicide needlessly from PTSD; or simply those with mental illness without support.
They say you can judge a society by how it treats its weakest links. Today in that court house, watching Collin Fitzgerald endure his bail hearing I’m not sure we proved ourselves noble.
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