Our Human Rights and Our Experiences of Mental Illness

Mental Health and Human Rights: A Panel Discussion

Discussion on the implications of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Text of the treaty (Canada is a signatory) http://www.un.org/disabilities/convention/conventionfull.shtml

Harvey Goldberg, Canada Human Rights Commission of Canada

Too often human rights are aspirational for people with mental health disabilities.  Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities the objective was to interpret existing rights through the lens of people with disabilities.  The convention is base on a radical concept, a paradigm shift from a medical charity model to a rights based model.

–          People with disabilities have rights, are capable of making choices and are active members of society.

–          Liberty and security of the person, disability does not justify a deprivation of liberty

–          Freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman of degrading treatment of punishment, including medical experimentation

–          Freedom from exploitation and abuse, independent monitoring of institutions

–          Living independently in the community

–          Right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health: same range quality and standard of health care as provided to others

–          Canada can be proud of our contribution to the convention in the concept of legal obligation to accommodate

–          Still early days as Canada implemented the convention a year and a half ago

Nicole Chammartin, MHCC Project

–          Opportunity for paradigm shift to reframe mental health issues as a human rights argument

–          Reality is most mental health legislation is not based on human rights

–          Project objectives: develop an instrument to evaluate the extent to which human rights are addressed in mental health legislation and real world action

–          This is a laborious process, we need to take the time and get it right to protect the rights of Canadian people

–          www.cmhawpg.mb.ca/mhcc for project information and a photovoice

Mark Stephens, Member of the MHCC Projects Consultative Group

–          Reviewing mental health legislation in BC – looking to narrow the definitions of acceptable use of restraint in psychiatric facilities

–          Told his personal perspective as a consumer of mental services in British Columbia

Panel Q&A from Audience(paraphrases):

Q: What is your response to skeptics

A: Harvey – People are right to be skeptical, Canada has a good record in the world, but Canada measures by our own standards and we have a long way to go.  Progress is slow, legislation will not be a panacea.  Movement building in society is important.

Mark – As an individual I like my civil liberties, when I think about personal decision making I see the application of policy is a bureaucrat on the other end of the line making a decision. The unreasonable thresholds a are put in place are a detriment to people living with mental illness.

The Canada Health Act had no mention in the 5 principals of mental health.

Nicole – Human rights approach has huge potential.  Human rights are relatively unstigmatized, Canadians value human rights. We need to let Canadians know that we violate human rights in Canada every day.  –

Q: Is it getting better?

A: Harvey – Yes it is getting better but it is extremely slow. 

Q: What is the potential of this paradigm shift (medical approach to rights based approach)?

A: Mark – Don’t think there was a course for professionals, go back to curriculum development – teach human rights aspects and principles to professional staff.  Change from the bottom, teach professionals and advocates the skill sets for empowerment.

Harvey- the paradigm shift is to remove the ‘article’ don’t define people by their disability, but as people first.

Everyone is one heartbeat away from being disabled.  It is not about us and them it is about us, if we live long enough we will all live with disability at one point.

Nicole – Change the conversation, to basic human rights and it becomes harder for policy makers to say not this year, not your particular human rights.  Who wants to be the person that denies human rights.

Steve Laurie (moderator): Is there real potential in this approach to make sure municipalities, and employers cannot discriminate?

A: Harvey – The largest proportion of complaints to the HR Commission is around mental health issues.  Approach is through alternative dispute resolution, we have had success with that.

Mark – Around housing and NIMBYism, oftentimes the big debate can be as simple as requiring 2 parking spaces for a home where people can’t afford homes.

Nicole – Governments have to monitor and develop policies, standards and more for human rights.  We have to figure out how to create legislation and policies that honour everyone.


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