I would not be silent. I would not stop demanding justice. I would not stop talking about - writing about - the crimes committed by Dawn McSweeney and those she proudly called her "partners in crime" on her own blog. I had to be discredited, intimidated, punished, silenced.
The Phyllis Carter Detention
|By Anna Bratulic, The Suburban|
September 5, 2007
Phyllis Carter was ready to step into the shower on June 27 when the doorbell rang.
She says her visitors turned out to be two police officers with a court order authorizing them to take the 71-year-old N.D.G. resident into custody in order for her to submit to a mandatory psychiatric assessment.
Carter didn't argue. She dressed, shut down the TV and computer, locked up the windows and doors, threw some clean underwear into a bag and followed the officers out the door.
On the way to the Jewish General Hospital, Carter says the officers asked her strange questions. Does she wear a big cross or spout quotes from the Bible, for example. Had she ever killed cats by beating them against walls, set fire to buildings for the sheer joy of watching them burn, fantasized about killing her parents in their sleep, or worn a bullet-proof vest to her mother?s funeral? Had she ever danced naked atop her mother's grave.
The doctors at the hospital asked similar questions, she said.
Carter believes a family member made the allegations to cast doubt on her sanity. I can understand that a lawyer would take the case because a lot of lawyers will take any case for money, said Carter during a telephone interview.
But the fact that a judge granted a court order without ever seeing me, speaking to me, had no knowledge of who I am, just on the basis of such outrageous accusations, is shocking.
Carter, a regular at borough council meetings and community protests, believes the family member is resentful of her because of a long-standing family feud that has gone on for 11 years. Her dogged insistence on the justice of her position in that feud has landed Carter in hot water in the past.
Carter admits to having staged a one-woman demonstration to call attention to her plight stemming from the feud about five years ago. Wearing a sandwich board protest sign and holding up a huge cross, Carter paced silently back and forth across the street from the family member's home. Police were called to the scene and Carter was transported to the hospital to undergo a mental evaluation. She says she was released almost immediately after being seen by the doctor.
When asked if it was still worth pursuing this issue after all these years, Carter replied: I'll die for this, and if that's crazy, then I'm crazy because justice is more important to me than anything.
Carter is not sure what prompted her relative to have her committed this time around. Attempts by The Suburban to track down the family member and ask their side of the story were unsuccessful. (NOTE: This is incorrect.)
Psychiatrist Dr. Jason Morrison treated Carter at the Royal Victoria this past June. When asked if Carter was deprived of her liberty needlessly, Morrison said: It's really hard to say whether it's needless. The person making the complaint felt there was something; there was something in the information contained that the judge felt there was sufficient information for having granted [the court order], he said.
However, without getting into the details of Carter's case, Morrison said that after he examined her, he did not think she needed to be in custody and discharged her.
In fact, he seemed surprised that Carter was brought in to begin with. This is the only time I've ever seen this happen [...] Most often when we have people brought in on a court order for an assessment, it's been very important for the person to be treated in hospital. Its not always the case, but it?s often the way, he said.
The Suburban attempted to obtain a copy of the court order for Carter's detention to validate her story. However, a clerk we spoke to at the Palais de justice said that such documents are confidential and only Carter would be able to request a copy of her file. Carter says she has sent away for a copy.
Existing mental health legislation permits family members or people in the community, such as social workers, to request that a person be forced to undergo psychiatric testing if they have reason to believe a person is in imminent danger of injuring themselves or others.
In Quebec, the Loi sur la protection des personnes dont l'état mental présente un danger pour elle- mêmes ou pour autrui permits someone to be held in an authorized medical facility for a psychiatric evaluation for up to 72 hours, after which they must be let go or their further detention must be justified.
A person may also contest their detention, however, Carter says she did not openly object to being at the hospital for fear that it would only make things worse. Nor, she says, did she immediately tell other family members about her plight.
I did not want them involved. I was told afterward, if I had given them [hospital staff] the name and number of any of my relatives or friends who could have immediately told them who I am and what I am, I would have been released immediately. But I wanted this to be played out. I wanted to go on my own merit, without anybody speaking up for me, she said, adding that she did eventually supply the hospital with a name when she thought she might otherwise be stuck there for weeks.
Margaret Somerville, founding director of McGill's Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, says that though there have been significant reforms in mental health law in the last few decades due largely because of abuses in psychiatric cases, it is possible for the law to be used in a vengeful way, citing the case of a doctor who had a friend commit his wife, who later won a suit against her husband for false imprisonment.
Sure [it's possible to abuse the law], but it's very unlikely you'd succeed. The other thing is you could turn around and sue the person who did it. In Quebec I think it would be highly likely that the law would consider this (in terms of moral damages). And in common-law, you'd think things like defamation. Just making the allegation that you're insane and should be locked up could be defamation.
Somerville says a judge would have to be presented with clear and convincing evidence before authorizing a commitment order. Can you imagine if I just marched into court before a judge and I say I'd like an order to lock you up. You can imagine judges don't give those orders very readily.
Susy Landreville, a lawyer for the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, said that obtaining a court order for a psychiatric evaluation is usually a last resort for family members, who are often very concerned about a loved one's welfare and torn up about the decision.
Landreville said that those taken in for an evaluation may not be aware that they need help and are often very upset at family members for doing what they did.
When people ask us what they should do, we tell them to try to get [their loved one] to go to the hospital of their own accord. Otherwise, it's very traumatizing for them.
Carter was released on the third day of her detainment, but she doesn't feel vindicated because the stigma of having her sanity questioned will remain, she says.
She also fears her relative will make more complaints and she will be taken into custody again.
There are some people who might like to see me in a little padded cell, she said, noting that the only time she was ever hospitalized for psychiatric reasons was years ago when she admitted herself for a bout of depression after her husband died and she was diagnosed with cancer. Once you are accused, there are always going to be people who are going to doubt your sanity. And because I'm outrageously outspoken, I can expect that, but I'll be damned if that's going to stop me.
September 12, 2007
Tribunal took four minutes in Carter detention
Contradictions on face of court order
|By Anna Bratulic, The Suburban|
However, Carter, 71, was neither present at the hearing nor did she know such a petition was being made against her.
According to provincial court documents obtained by The Suburban, closed-door proceedings in Carter?s case began at 10:03 am on June 27, questioning of the petitioner (a member of Carter's family) took place at 10:05 am, and an order for her to be taken to hospital for an evaluation was given at 10:07 am.
Later that day, she was taken by surprise when two police officers showed up at her door to escort her to hospital for a mental evaluation. She was kept for a few days until a psychiatrist at the Royal Victoria released her on the grounds that she did not pose a danger to herself or others.
This all happened to me based on something that somebody looked at for four minutes. [...] If it could happen to me, imagine what it would be like for an immigrant, a shy person or someone who's not educated. Imagine what it would be like for someone who really had had some mental problems in the past, and somebody comes knocking at the door and you haven?t done anything, she said.
Caroline Stewart, coordinator at Action Autonomie, an organization that advocates on behalf of rights for the mentally ill, suspects the judge was probably convinced to issue a dispense de signification.
This exemption allows proceedings in such cases to carry on without the defendant because it is felt that if they knew they might do something rash, like harm someone or run off.
Stewart says it is not difficult to persuade a judge to issue an exemption. According to a study published by Action Autonomie in 2005, of the 391 requests to put someone in interim custody for clinical psychiatric examinations, only three people were given notice to attend their own hearings.
The court ruling in Carters case refers to an 'absence of consent' as one of the reasons why an exemption and subsequent mental evaluation were ordered, yet at the same time states that it waives questioning of the respondent and exempts the applicant from serving the motion on the respondent. Carter insists no one ever gave her an opportunity to consent, or for that matter, to refuse to consent to anything.
"It's one of the things we denounce", says Stewart. "Too often an exemption from service is issued and people cannot get their voices heard... From the moment that a person concerned is not involved in the procedure, such as by being present, for example, it creates a situation where the law can be applied too broadly[...] We ask that people always be present at court in order to be heard and be represented by a lawyer. When that does happen, we see that, sure enough, the applications are rejected."
Quebec's Mental Patients Protection Act states that a person may have to undergo a mandatory psychiatric examination if there is reason to believe they might be a danger to themselves or others.
Stewart estimated that, on average, proceedings last about six minutes. "There are some that are two minutes, some that are a minute and a half, some four minutes. [Short hearings] are frequent, but criticized because it's too little time to assess someone's level of danger [to self and others]."