The Lethbridge Herald
Saturday A, Saturday, March 10, 2007, p. a3
Legislation for treatment orders drawing mixed reviews
Proponents say proposed change to Mental Health Act will enable
schizophrenics to get the treatment they need
By NORM LeBUS
Legislation allowing doctors and family members of mentally ill patients to
force them into treatment is receiving mixed reviews from stakeholders in
The provincial government plans to amend the Mental Health Act to facilitate
Community Treatment Orders in the current sitting of the legislature.
The change comes in the wake of the February 2004 death of RCMP Cpl. Jim
Galloway, who was killed by a schizophrenic Edmonton man in the throes of a
paranoid, delusional episode before the man killed himself. A subsequent
inquiry learned Martin Ostopovich had walked out of an Edmonton psychiatric
department against medical advice, refusing treatment for what Ostopovich
described as voices inside his head urging him to kill.
The inquiry also learned Ostopovich's psychiatrist could not continue
therapy she felt was required because no legislation existed to compel
Ostopovich to continue treatment.
Currently, section 10 of the Mental Health Act allows law enforcement
officials to apprehend mentally ill people only when they are an imminent
danger to themselves or others.
Advocates argue CTOs would not only protect the public, but also those most
sick with mental illness - schizophrenic and manic depressive (bipolar
disorder) individuals - from themselves.
"A lot of times people are ill and unable to make coherent decisions that
are good for them, but they're not a danger to themselves or others, so we
can't help them," says Diane Herrick, director of the Schizophrenia Society
of Alberta's Lethbridge chapter.
Because many with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder don't have insight into
their conditions, CTOs would allow family and caregivers to intervene when
required. However, civil libertarians argue such legislation strips
individuals of their rights and freedoms.
"This is a very, very tough decision, and we're very empathetic toward the
government having to make a decision like this," Merrick says. "Taking
people's rights away from them is something that we don't consider lightly.
We're only hoping to have it passed for the safety of our clients."
Lethbridge native Austin Mardon has taken medication for schizophrenia for
14 years. Blessed with a high-level intellect, Mardon earned a doctorate in
geography online via Greenwich University and last month was awarded the
Order of Canada for his advocacy on behalf of schizophrenics.
"If I wasn't taking my medication, I'd be eating garbage downtown on skid
row," Mardon says.
"That's what scares me about the fact there are not CTOs currently, there's
no way for the medical authorities, if something goes wrong with my
treatment, to make sure I can get back onto medication and get my mind back.
I've seen that happen to other people, some quite prominent."
No details about how the province would administrate and enforce CTOs are
Mardon views them as interventions which force patients to take medication
while still living in the community.
"It's not social control," he says. "The focus isn't on incarceration. It's
on treatment in the community to try and make sure that people's lives
Meanwhile, provincial Liberal Health critic Laurie Blakeman laments the
current level of services for the mentally ill.
"What's really at the base of this problem is that the provincial government
has never come through with the community support for people with mental
health problems since deinstitutionalizing mental patients (in the '80s),"
Blakeman has found no empirical studies of the efficacy of CTOs. She
advocates a free vote in the legislature, given the convoluted nature of the
"This is too hard to be black and white about," she says. "If you get a CTO
but you still can't get enough treatment for your loved one, how are we
further ahead here except for having curtailed somebody's rights?"
One in three Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their
lives, Blakeman says.
Herrick knows this fact all too well. Because those most sick with mental
illness cannot decipher their condition, the inevitable occurs too often,
"We go to so many funerals, especially lately," she said. "A lot of them are
needless reasons why these people are no longer with us. Hopefully, CTOs
will help them get help."