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Mental Disorder in Canada

Mental Illness and the Law in Canada

Canada, like the US of A is has a Federal System. Laws governing behaviour and social mores are made by the National Parliament while laws governing Health, Education and provision of social programs are made by Provincial Legislatures. Mental Illness thus falls under a series of different statutes. Since I live in Saskatchewan my emphasis will be upon that Province.

The overriding Canadian legislation on the way people treat one another is the Constitution or "the Charter of Rights and Freedoms" This has great significance for mental illness since it forbids the arbitrary detention of individuals and defines a series of measures the person has to assert their rights before the Courts. While the rights are spelled out in details there are two "escape" clauses -

One clause says that some removal of rights of citizens may happen as part of the general rights of others to a free and democratic society. Society has a greater value than the individual in these circumstances which remain largely undefined and therefore up to the Courts to define gradually in precedent.

The second clause - the notorious "notwithstanding...." clause, allows a Province to deliberately opt out of ANY provision of the Charter if it thinks the latter is in conflict with Provincial objectives. Despite not being a signatory to the Canadian Charter, Quebec Province is governed by it and is the only province to have used the "notwithstanding..." clause. So the law in Quebec is NOT the same as elsewhere in Canada and its population is somewhat less secure than the others.

Provincial Laws vary from Province to Province but have some underlying structure. Thus the writers of Mental Health Acts and Child Welfare Acts, governing aspects of the medical and educational management of the mentally ill, will consult other Provincial legislation and try to "improve" on it as they write their own. There is a standard that all Acts written must conform also to the Constitution Act so that too must be considered. Some aspects of geography have to be considered in Provinces with very distant small populations. Here there may need to be delays accepted before a doctor, or psychiatrist can reach and determine the sanity of an individual.

There are Acts on Guardianship of the mentally ill or disadvantaged (retarded) and on Competency in which a person may request the Court to grant an order indicating that the subject cannot handle their financial affairs. In general the principles involved strive for:

  1. Rapid and effective treatment availability as close to home as possible with

  2. Means for the detention and compulsory treatment of individuals who require it but deny this and may be danger to themselves, others or may suffer the consequences of further deterioration.

  3. Some Provinces allow the detention of mentally disordered persons without treatment. They therefore want to provide safety and recovery time for the affected individual if that is their desire ( despite the fact that they are unable to reach rational decisions.)

In summary therefore, there is a web of rules, regulations, laws and precedents as well as social mores guiding the management of the mentally ill persons behaviour in Canada. Authority is slow to come into action, official detention and deprivation of rights are resisted vigorously and there may be a fair amount of untreated or undertreated disorder in the community. There are few hospital beds and still major limitations in the number and reimbursement of physician staff for treating mental disorder. As always there is change but this is dictated more by myth and economics than by the hard facts. I note en passant that Saskatchewan teenagers appear to be the most promiscuous in Canada and suspect that this may well be because of passivity and poor example from their parents who do not practice nor teach self-control.

PCM personal viewpoint

With Thanks to:

Peter C. Matthews MB BS FRCPC
If you want to post a similar page about your country, please e-mail James F. Hooper, M.D.