Many of us who are mental health patients (although I prefer to call myself a mad activist) are surprised that Doug Ford would declare himself qualified to determine who is really mentally ill and who is not.
If you’re wondering about your mental health, apparently the premier can help you. He’s given up handing out his cellphone number, so you’ll need to drop by the office to get your diagnosis.
In mid-July, after a patient in CAMH’s forensic unit went out on a pass and didn’t return, the premier was angry about it. He telephoned Newstalk Radio 1010 to vent. He called the man a “nutcase.” He was criticized for using that language, but refused to apologize. For Ford, it’s all irrelevant like the Canadian media, so much cheese falling off crackers.
A couple of weeks later, on August 9, Ford was in Kitchener to make a transit announcement. He was asked if he regretted his use of language.
He replied that he didn’t regret it at all. Instead, Ford doubled down. “Nutcase” became “animal.”
Kitchener-area NDP MPP Catherine Fife was there. She called the premier out. Describing people with mental illness as “animals” was something she thought she would never hear a premier say.
That was my thought, too.
“It’s about time politicians stop hiding behind podiums and being politically correct,” he said, standing behind his “For The People” podium.
According to Ford, the “politically correct” view of mental illness is that you don’t go to jail, you go to a hospital where you get treatment when you commit a crime.
Is this view a fantasy of downtown bleeding heart lefties? No, actually. It goes back almost 40 years.
Bill C-30, aka the NCRMD defense, which stands for “not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder,” became the law in Canada in 1992. The bleeding heart in charge at the time was Brian Mulroney.
To be found not guilty under the NCRMD defense an accused must (1) have a mental illness (2) not have the capacity to appreciate their actions (3) not know right from wrong and (4) not be in control of their behaviour because of their mental illness.
Ford believes that NCRMD is a “get out of jail free” card that all sorts of clever lawyers use. That’s just not so.
In Canada, less than 1 per cent of accused persons use the defence. About a quarter of those are successful. Of that quarter, 90 per cent have a previous diagnosis of mental illness.
The premier wants mentally ill people put in jail. He wants the jailer to provide mental health services. He wants the jailer to throw away the key.
There are a number of problems with that idea.
Jails are very bad places to get treatment for mental illness. In fact, a person leaving jail is five or six times more likely to re-offend than a person who receives treatment for their mental illness.
The premier talked about people with “true” mental illness. He has sympathy for them. He has no sympathy for those with “fake” mental illness. History suggests otherwise.
But to be very serious, we hear words like “animal,” “nutcase,” and “crazy” and some of us will apply those words to everybody who has or is thought to have a mental illness. And that’s wrong.
It’s unfortunate the mental health establishment failed to rise up with one voice to condemn Ford’s hateful language.
There was a letter or two, a press release or two, but they talked about the ins and outs of forensic psychiatry and didn’t mention “animals” and “nutcases” at all.
Then there’s Bell and its Let’s Talk campaign. How do “animals” fit with that?
One of CAMH’s fundraisers is One Brave Night. If you go to the event web page, you’ll see that two out of three people are prevented from seeking help because of the stigma attached to mental illness. The site offers other numbers, including the fact that more than 34,000 patients were treated through CAMH programs last year and that 70 per cent of mental health challenges start in childhood or adolescence.
Words matter. But I don’t like the word “stigma.” I prefer “discrimination.” The premier’s trash talk is hate talk.
The premier should watch his mouth.
David Reville is a former city councillor, MPP and adjunct professor at Ryerson University’s School of Disability Studies.