Mental Health Act changes tabled after court rules Calgary man's rights were violated
EDMONTON -- The Alberta government is tabling changes to its Mental Health Act after a judge ruled it was unconstitutional.
If Bill 17 is passed, people with brain injuries, like stroke victims, could no longer be involuntarily detained if they do not also have a mental disorder.
A judge ruled in 2019 that a then 49-year-old Indigenous Calgary man had his Charter rights breached when he was detained in September 2014.
In announcing the changes Thursday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the changes, if made, would improve timely access to medical help and the system's efficiency.
The government continues to appeal the ruling, Shandro said, from the position that the act contravenes Charter rights.
"We’re not making these amendments because we’re reluctant or we’re forced to do that. We’re making these amendments because they’re the right thing to do," Shandro said.
"This is the right thing to do for patients and their families and so regardless of what the disposition of the court would be and whatever the appeal decision ends up being, generally we’re committed to these principles that are in the act."
He said more changes could come in the future depending on how the appeal progresses.
Bill 17 would require facilities to provide free, timely access to medical records and information about legal counsel to patients, provide a treatment plan including criteria for release to patients staying in hospital for more than 30 days, and extend the time patients have to appeal a panel review's decision to 14 days.
It would also enable nurse practitioners to provide patient assessments and supervise people receiving treatment in the community, and for rural patients to have first assessments done virtually.
Earlier in 2014, the man had been the victim of a hit-and-run in which he suffered leg and back injuries. After being hospitalized for several months, he lost his apartment and became homeless. In September, before he would be detained, a doctor noted he was experiencing disorientation and had an "unsteady gait."
The man, identified in the ruling only as JH, was not advised of his right to counsel or free legal advice, was treated with medications not medically required without his consent, and was held for a longer time than was fair. Neither he nor a relative were given a written reason for his detention within a reasonable time, Justice K. M. Eidsvik found.
Eidsvik gave government one year to revise the Mental Health Act.