Cops rare ally for besieged mentally ill

Police say it's not their job to force crazy people to take their medication


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Just outside the conference at Osgoode Hall, inspector Gary Ellis is hanging with the crazy folks who are smoking and talking about Bill 68, the Compulsory Treatment Act overwhelmingly passed by the legislature and cynically labelled Brian’s Law.

Ellis was up till 2 am trying to understand the bill.

“So we get a call to go out because someone hasn’t returned his doctor’s phone calls, and we get there and he’s OK, he’s taking his meds, but he just wants to go to another doctor. Do we have to arrest him, take him down to the hospital, hang around in the waiting room for hours with him in handcuffs, and the doctor comes out and waves a finger in his face and says, ‘Next time return my call?'” he asks incredulously.

The police seem to be our only hope of sober second thought, an odd development.

This summit is co-sponsored by the Urban Alliance and the Queen Street Patients Council, a huge symbolic leap taking the “mentally ill” out of the realm of sick people needing forced treatment in their best interests and into the civil rights struggle we believe it to be.


Spot check

It gets so tense for people at times, I’m tempted to do a spot check, stop people at random and ask to see inside their mouths — how much flesh has been chewed raw in an effort to keep words back. No one wants to be the person responsible for derailing this initiative, but it’s very hard. And not just for the activists.

Inspector Ellis, in his presentation on Saturday, reminds us it’s a big step for the police to be here. “Talking to Mrs. Williams today — my officers shot and killed her son — but she’s sitting at the table talking to me. She asked if I’ve ever seen a toddler learning to walk. That’s what this conference is.”

Chief Fantino is scheduled to be one of the last speakers here, and we crazy folk are very interested in hearing him. He made statements to the press about his officers and Bill 68 before it had become law, saying, “It’s inappropriate for police officers to be dealing with the mentally ill on the front line.

“Things escalate quickly and often end in a tragic situation or criminalization of the mentally ill. It’s a recipe for disaster for the mentally ill person and the police officers who have to respond.”

In his speech he repeats these remarks, and the survivors in the audience applaud. At first glance it may seem contradictory on the one hand to be trying to abolish the stereotyping of the “mentally ill” by police, and on the other energetically to applaud what could be construed as the Mother of all Stereotypes.

The difference is in the nature of the encounter. It’s one thing to be called to the scene when someone is behaving in a scary manner on the street. We want all the participants in that kind of event to get out safely, and many survivors work with police to ensure that.

But to very deliberately go to someone’s home and arrest them for non-compliance to a pharmaceutical regime, or, as one cop put it, arrest them for being mentally ill — well, we don’t want the cops even going out on those kinds of calls. Only two powerful groups have the ability to fight the law. One of them is the Scientologists, who have a presence at this conference, making a number of us uneasy. The other is the police.

As I said in my own presentation, some prejudices we can live with.

For those of us who can’t afford cynicism, this conference has been a real learning experience. We’ll have to see what comes next.

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