Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee
Response to the Ontario Human Rights Commission
Public Consultation Paper
“Human Rights Mental Health Strategy”
Submitted by: Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee
December 24, 2009
The Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee (HSJCC) commends the Ontario
Human Rights Commission (OHRC) in its development of a new Human Rights Mental Health Strategy.
We value this opportunity to provide feedback on the OHRC public consultation paper, and we also
welcome the opportunity to engage the OHRC in discussions regarding justice, mental health and
human rights issues.
Based on the Provincial Strategy to Coordinate Human Services and Criminal Justice Systems in Ontario
, the HSJCCs were established in response to a recognized need in the province to coordinate
resources and services, and plan more effectively for people who are in conflict with the law. Priority
consideration is for people with a serious mental illness, developmental disability, acquired brain
injury, drug and alcohol addiction, and/or fetal alcohol syndrome. The HSJCCs are a joint collaboration
between the Provincial Ministries of the Attorney General, Community and Social Services, Children
and Youth Services, Health and Long-Term Care, and Community Safety and Correctional Services, as
well as various community mental health and addictions organizations across Ontario. All Ministry
representatives are ex-officio members of the HSJCCs.
The Regional HSJCCs coordinate communication and service integration planning between health,
criminal justice, and developmental service organizations within specific regions, and the Local HSJCCs
provide input to these regional groups. The Provincial HSJCC, consisting of regional chairs and exofficio
Ministry representatives, functions as a provincial planning body.
The Provincial HSJCC is submitting the following key messages in response to the OHRC public
consultation paper. The purpose of this submission is to share our knowledge and expertise of justice
and mental health issues across the province, and provide our advice and recommendations for the
development of the OHRC Human Rights Mental Health Strategy.
The Provincial HSJCC recognizes the importance of the directions proposed in the OHRC public
consultation paper as a starting point to addressing mental health issues from a human rights
perspective. Individuals living with mental illness who come into contact with the justice system face
unique human rights issues. Below are some areas of concern within the human services and justice
systems that the OHRC should consider undertaking as part of its focus on human rights, mental health
and criminal justice.
Areas of Concern for Justice and Mental Health:
1. Individuals living with mental illness who are in contact with the justice system face multiple
barriers when attempting to access mental health services. The negative impact of stigma
often increases when individuals living with mental illness come into contact with the criminal
justice system. Mentally disordered offenders, as well as offenders labelled “high risk” or
“forensic,” are often perceived as being violent. As a result, they experience increased levels of
overt and covert discrimination. In fact, information from the field indicates that mentally
disordered offenders are often victimized in the correctional system, and once they are
released from custody, they are often screened out of support services by physicians,
psychiatrists as well as community mental health programs. Anti-stigma campaigns and antidiscrimination
initiatives are necessary to educate service providers and to help reduce the
systemic discrimination that exists in the justice system and health care system against
offenders with mental illness. Improved collaboration between forensic programs and the civil
mental health system is required to ensure that forensic clients are integrated into their local
2. Mentally disordered offenders who are on remand are not receiving adequate services and
supports. There are more clients on remand in Ontario than convicted clients, and many of
these clients have a mental illnesses and/or addiction. Corrections services are unable to
conduct psychiatric assessments and provide support for clients on remand until they have
been sentenced by the court. Without a psychiatric assessment, and without a treatment plan
mandated by the court, these clients on remand are not receiving adequate mental health and
addictions services while they are awaiting their trial date. Across the province, mentally
disordered offenders, both adults and youth, on remand are thus being held in correctional
facilities without being given adequate assessments, treatments or supports. There is a need
to improve the capacity of the remand centres and increase the services and supports that are
being offered to mentally disordered offenders. Support from the OHRC is necessary to
advocate for changes in provincial policy to better coordinate services and meet the needs of
clients while they are on remand.
3. Collaborations between police and mental health services are working to reduce the
criminalization of individuals with mental illness. New investments have increased the access
and availability of crisis intervention teams (CITs) and mobile crisis intervention teams (MCITs)
in Ontario. Collaborative police/mental health initiatives are successful; however, pressures on
police, CITs and MCITs are increasing. A high population density is needed to sustain full-time,
around the clock, MCIT services; therefore, MCIT programs often operate out of large urban
centres such as London, Ottawa and Toronto. More community resources must be put in place
in urban and rural areas so that the police are not the default responders to mental health
crises. In rural areas, creative police/mental health initiatives must be supported to offset the
absence of MCITs. In order to reduce the criminalization of individuals with mental illness, it is
necessary to increase community based crisis intervention services and the capacity of mental
health and addictions programs across the province.
4. Mental health courts and court support programs are working to reduce the criminalization
of mentally disordered offenders. Across Ontario, mental health courts have been established
by dedicated judiciaries, crown attorneys, police and community justice and mental health
service providers to help divert mentally disordered offenders away from correctional
institutions. However, the existing court support programs do not have the capacity to manage
complex cases involving individuals with concurrent disorders and/or dual diagnosis.
Information from the field indicates that an estimated 80 percent of people referred to mental
health services from the justice system have an addiction problem or concurrent disorder. In
order to reduce the criminalization of mentally disordered offenders, further investments are
needed to increase the capacity of the existing court support programs and expand the range
of programs available to individuals with concurrent disorders and/or dual diagnosis.
5. Police records that results from contact with the police under the Mental Health Act pose
barriers for individuals with mental illness. When police officers escort individuals in crisis to a
hospital voluntarily or involuntarily through apprehension under the Mental Health Act, this
generates an occurrence with Police Services and creates a non-criminal police record. This
type of police file frequently has negative repercussions for individuals if they are required to
receive a police records check or a “vulnerable sector screening” for the purpose of working or
volunteering with a vulnerable population. Having a police record also increases the stigma
experienced by individuals with mental illness. As well, people who have mental health police
records may also be refused entry into the United States at the border.
The Provincial HSJCC has high regard for community safety, and understands that police mental
health records provide important information about a client’s history to police officers
responding to mental health crises. However, mental health apprehension records should only
be accessible to police officers to assist them to better respond to mental health crisis
situations. Support from the OHRC is necessary to create law reform to ensure a standardized
protocol across the province regarding the proper use of police mental health records.
6. Individuals from racialized communities are over-represented in the criminal justice system.
Across the province, individuals from Aboriginal and ethno-racial communities are coming into
contact with the justice system and being incarcerated. Individuals from these communities
have unique needs and face multiple barriers to accessing the social determinants of health,
including housing, education, and employment. These communities are vulnerable to mental
illness, addictions as well as criminalization. Support from the OHRC is needed to foster
supportive communities and develop strengths-based approaches to protecting these
individuals from mental illness, addictions as well as preventing them from coming into contact
with the justice system. The OHRC should advocate for improved access to employment
opportunities through the expansion of recognition of foreign trained professionals. As well,
the OHRC should advocate for infrastructure and economic development investments in First
Nations communities. It is recommended that the OHRC also advocate that the Provincial
Government develop targets to improve access to mental health and addiction services for
ethno-racial communities, including improving access to language interpretation.
7. Cross-sector education is needed for all sectors in the human services and justice systems
(i.e. criminal justice, mental health, addictions, acquired brain injury, dual diagnosis and fetal
alcohol spectrum disorder). As part of strengthening the justice and mental health workforce,
it is important to educate human services staff regarding the justice system, and educate
justice staff regarding the mental health and human services systems. In particular, human
rights and cultural competency training is required for service providers to equip them to
address the unique needs of the growing population of clients from diverse backgrounds who
are experiencing mental illness and coming into contact with the justice system.
Comprehensive cross-sector education is necessary to adequately coordinate human services
and justice programs and initiatives across the province.
The Provincial HSJCC appreciates this opportunity to provide feedback to the Ontario Human Rights
Commission. We recommend that the unique needs of individuals living with mental illness who come
into contact with the justice system be addressed and the preceding issues be considered when
moving forward with the OHRC Human Rights Mental Health strategy. The Provincial HSJCC welcomes
the opportunity to partner with the OHRC regarding justice, mental health and human rights issues.
For further information and discussion, please contact:
Co-Chair, Provincial HSJCC
Frontenac Community Mental Health Services
613-544-1356 ext. 2401
Co-Chair, Provincial HSJCC
Kawartha Lakes and Halliburton
705-324-1420 ext. 255