Release: Community groups disappointed provincial mental health and addictions strategy neglects law

VANCOUVER – Community groups joined together to express disappointment in “A Pathway to Hope” – the provincial mental health and addictions strategy announced yesterday by the Premier and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. The strategy sets a 10-year course for transforming the BC mental health and addictions system with new investments in mental health and addictions services, but does not address law reform.

The BC Mental Health Act takes an outdated approach that prioritizes detention, coercion, and discipline over dignified and effective health care services. Mental health detentions under the BC Mental Health Act have increased dramatically, rising by approximately 71% over the last 10 years. BC has the highest rate of hospitalization due to mental illness and substance use in Canada.

“We were looking for substantive change in this new strategy,” says Laura Johnston, a lawyer with Community Legal Assistance Society. “But you can’t transform a system without addressing the law that governs it.”

The open letter, from the BC Civil Liberties AssociationCommunity Legal Assistance SocietyPivot Legal SocietyTogether Against Poverty Society, and West Coast LEAF, notes that the BC Mental Health Act has come under repeated criticism for violating rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international human rights law. The BC Mental Health Act:

  • authorizes detaining facilities to “discipline” patients in detention with no statutory limits on disciplinary measures and no review process.
  • has no criteria governing the use of restraints and seclusion, so patients are tied to their beds using mechanical restraints and solitarily confined in small, locked rooms with no statutory limits on when it can be used and how long it can last.
  • provides no patient rights to access counsel, to receive visitors, to same sex clothing removal, or to access means of communication with people outside detaining facilities.
  • permits indefinite detention without mandatory, independent, periodic reviews.

“The current law has devastating impacts on the well-being of detained persons,” says Raji Mangat, Director of Litigation at West Coast LEAF. “Women in mental health detention can be especially and uniquely harmed by seclusion and other coercive practices that strip them of autonomy and exacerbate trauma.”

The organizations urge the BC government to establish an independent review and law reform process to overhaul the BC Mental Health Act.

The open letter is available here.

Media Contacts:

Laura Johnston, Community Legal Assistance Society


Raji Mangat, West Coast LEAF

604-684-8772, ext. 218