Mental health and justice

Kathleen Morrison

Dear editor:
On Wednesday, March 4, I and many Canadians watched on CBC TV two news stories that have generated a lot of feelings: the tragic and devastating events of Ashley Smith, who successfully committed suicide on Oct. 19, 2007 while in an isolated cell in Kingston Correctional Centre in Ontario, and the not criminally responsible finding of Vince Li, who was charged with the gruesome death of Tim McLean while travelling on a Greyhound bus last summer.
While the Ashley Smith case seems to bring sympathy and disbelief, as well as many other questions, the Vince Li case directs anger at him and sympathy for the victim and his family as well as the people who witnessed the attack on the bus.
Some of the anger in the Vince Li case seems to be aimed at him and not his disease. It has sparked questions about the Criminal Code of Canada, the uncertainty about the justice system, and misunderstanding/misconceptions of the ruling.
Stigma and discrimination often surround those living with a mental illness—and can stop individuals from going to receive any form of help or treatment if they wish.
The trauma of both these stories has affected so many people in different way. Some are asking for accountability, and advocating for change in how society and correctional and judicial systems treat those with mental illness.
Can-Help is a consumer/survivor and family advocacy network. In 2008, a consumer/survivor and family mental health and justice committee was formed with representation throughout the Kenora-Rainy River districts.
The committee has begun the work necessary to advocate for changes that affect consumer/survivor and family in contact with the judicial system. The committee has identified the work that needs to be focused on are opportunity for people to tell their stories, and training and education for the Kenora-Rainy River District correctional and judicial system, which includes the OPP and Treaty #3, crown attorneys, lawyers, probation and parole, as well as consumer/survivors and family.
Committee members are individuals who are interested in change, and have a personal experience to aid in making those necessary changes in hope we can work in collaboration with the correctional and judicial system in the district.
If you, or a family member or friend, have mental health issues and have been involved with the justice and/or correctional system and would like more information, or if you are interested in being part of the change, please contact me at 274-2347 ext. 28 or toll-free at 1-877-311-0117.
Kathleen Morrison
Peer support specialist
and mental health
and justice liaison,
Canadian Mental
Health Association