A mental health court*1 will be in operation soon in Saint John.
When Premier Brian Gallant was asked why the mental health court is in only one location, he has replied that once it proves itself there, other parts of the province may get it. But they want to see that it is viable in Saint John first.
Nice idea, this government should have done pilots with many of its other initiatives before implementing them.
But, but, but, we’ve had a pilot project mental health court already. In Saint John! From 2000 to 2004, after which the provincial government made it permanent, since the court only had rave reviews.
Everyone was happy with it except regions outside of Saint John who did not have a mental health court.
Other jurisdictions copied or studied our model. New Brunswick was doing good. Many accused, especially women, have a mental health diagnosis. Treatment is the better option. Especially where current prisons are not good for anyone’s mental health.
Then the government dropped the mental health court in 2013 because it could not be bothered finding a replacement for the retiring judge. Lawyers and citizen groups protested. Whatever.
Last week, when the Premier announced the mental health court pilot, he said, “We did not dare call it a pilot because there was already a pilot. So we’re starting over the initiative. We’ll see whether this can be a success once again and if it is, we’ll see about extending it.”*2 (my translation)
It’s a pilot.
And as he said in Acadie Nouvelle : “Nous espérons que ce programme qui sera recommencé ici à Saint-Jean sera un succès, et si c’est un succès, nous allons certainement regarder à voir ceci dans d’autres régions de la province. » *3
New Brunswick does love its pilot projects when elections are coming up. No, that’s not fair. We love them all the time, as long as they have to do with marginal issues such as violence against women, mental health, poverty reduction*. Oh, the number of successful pilots done in New Brunswick that proved themselves but never went anywhere. There’s a thesis there.
In New Brunswick, when pilot projects are NOT about rights or equality, when they’re about “entrepreneurship”, we call them start-ups. And we invest in them bigly.
Last week’s announcement is dissatisfying:
Mental health courts have been shown to save lives and money, to free up emergency rooms, first responders, holding cells and prison cells. Only in Saint John? Pity.
The government is not speaking to the rest of New Brunswick, citizens, families, public servants and professionals, who deal with mental health cases daily on the streets, in homes, police cars, courts and jails.
The premier is minister for Saint John.
The government is doing one pilot project. In a bicultural, constitutionally bilingual, province. Will the minister responsible for official languages, Premier Brian Gallant, lay a complaint?
The government made no mention of the solid reports by Bernard Richard and Judge Michael McKee on mental health issues in the last decade, which urge more access to such services. *4
The media is not following this issue.
Social justice, citizens’ groups and women’s groups have not reacted.
Apart from that, it is great that Saint John has a mental health court pilot project.
*1. In the mental health court, people with mental illness or intellectual disability who are accused of breaking the law are given the option of treatment. As the independent evaluator said of the New Brunswick program, it “has the ability to really change the things that drive the criminal behaviour” (Mentally ill offenders get court program back in Saint John, CBC News, September 19, 2017). About 80 per cent of those that complete mental health courts do not commit a new offence in the three years after they leave the program.
*2. Téléjournal, Radio-Canada Acadie, 18 septembre 2017. PM Gallant speaks at 1m05 : http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1056529/sante-mentale-intervenants-cour-provinciale-saint-jean .
*3. Acadie Nouvelle, 21 septembre 2017. Après 4 ans d’inactivité, le tribunal de la santé mentale est rétabli.
*4. Ashley Smith: A Report of the New Brunswick Ombudsman and Child and Youth Advocate on the services provided to a youth involved in the youth criminal justice system, 2008 https://www.ombudnb.ca/site/images/PDFs/AshleySmith-e.pdf . Together Into The Future: A transformed mental health system for New Brunswick, 2009 https://www.gnb.ca/cnb/Promos/MentalHealth/NBMHS-e.pdf