A North Island man has endured not only almost five months of separation, but his first Christmas without his son. He is hoping his boy will be returned to him after a court hearing today. John Smith (names will not be published to protect the identity of the minor child) was going through a separation after 20 years of marriage. He and his wife separated three years ago.
In the last two years, his son had been having some behavioural problems Smith attributes to post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by the marital separation as well as other disorders. “He’d get upset and he’d break my windows. He was learning how to vent his frustrations,” Smith said.
Smith went to the Ministry of Children & Family Development seeking help for his boy. “I’ve been working with them for two years. I had a support team and workers working with me.” Smith had booked an appointment with a child psychiatrist down island and had a scheduled meeting with his support team and the Ministry on Oct. 5.
Smith walked into that meeting for what he thought was going to be an update on how his son was doing. Instead, “they said they took my son under a warrant through the Mental Health Act with the help of two police officers.”
The child was apprehended from his school. The warrant was issued under the BC Mental Health Act for the “apprehension of person with apparent mental disorder”. The boy’s mom and siblings are devastated, said Smith. “This is the first time he has been away from my side,” Smith said, as tears began to flow.
Since October, Smith says he has had visits with his son (none since Christmas), who has been placed in numerous foster care homes down island. The boy is expected to be transferred to a foster home in Alert Bay, Smith said.
“The safety and well-being of children and youth are the Ministry’s top priority,” said Bill Anderson manager, Issues & Media Relations Government Communications and Public EngagementMinistry of Children and Family Development – who has since transferred to a different government department. “While I cannot comment on specific cases due to privacy concerns, in cases where a social worker determines the safety or well-being of a child or youth may be at risk, they have an obligation under the Child, Family and Community Service Act to work with the family to develop a service plan that ensures children or youth are provided with a safe and nurturing environment,” Anderson said. “A social worker only considers removing the child from the family home when the child needs protection and the child is in immediate danger or less disruptive options are not available and adequate to protect the child,” said Anderson.
However, warrants under the Mental Health Act, Anderson said, are issued by BC Health. “In certain circumstances under the BC Mental Health Act,” said Laura Heinze, manager, Media Relations for the Ministry of Health, “people with mental illness, including addiction, may be involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility for assessment and treatment if they pose a clear danger to themselves or others. The act is intended to help children and adults with mental disorders receive the treatment and care their physician feels they need, even if the patient does not recognize they are ill. Patients can be involuntarily admitted to a hospital through a doctor’s visit, a court order or police apprehension in an emergency.”
Heinze said if a child is assessed under the Act as being a danger to themselves or others, or to prevent substantial mental or physical decline, parental consent is not required. Involuntarily-admitted patients must be examined by two different doctors, during two separate exams.
The doctors must believe the patient needs to be hospitalized to prevent substantial mental or physical decline, or to protect the patient or others. The patient’s mental disorder must seriously impair the person’s ability to react appropriately to his or her environment or to associate with others. The doctor then completes a certificate to admit the patient, even if the patient is refusing treatment.In the case of a court order, anyone who reasonably believes a person has a mental disorder requiring hospitalization can apply to the court, which can then issue a warrant for police to take the person to hospital for assessment.
If the person requires hospitalization, a physician will complete a certificate to admit them, said Heinze. “Patients may be admitted to hospital for up to one month depending on how they respond to treatment. The act requires a physician to review the patient’s situation after one month,” she said.
Smith has hired Campbell River Attorney Brian Dybwad to help get his son back. The Ministry is allowed to make an application under the Mental Health Act, said Dybwad, however, the process in this case is unusual. “Normally you would want to have consultation with the parents,” said Dybwad, adding that the steps that were followed in this case “is a triable issue” that should go before the courts.