Human Rights

It's high time Canada keeps its word: Stop involuntary confinement and drugging of people with psychiatric diagnoses

by Tom Sandborn

“I was held as an involuntary patient for 26 days last summer and forced on anti-psychotic drugs against my will and the will of my family due to the current MHA act and "deemed consent" in British Columbia. When I objected I was confined in a cell and injected.” Barb P.

“I have been in the mental “health” system for many years now because once you are in the system it is next to impossible to get out. You are completely stripped of your rights and self-determination. Being in the mental “health” system is worse than probation because not only is there no end in sight, but your health is coercively destroyed with psychiatric “treatments”. Not only do neuroleptics cause neurological disorders, which is brain damage, they also cause obesity, diabetes, and a host of other horrrific “side effects.” Psychiatry has been more traumatizing for me than the original trauma I experienced that led to me to develop psychosis in the first place and it has prevented me from recovering.” A former “patient who has asked for anonymity.

Canada is not meeting its international obligations to respect the human rights of people who have been saddled with a psychiatric diagnosis, says United Nations Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)  Catalina Devandas-Aguilar. The rapporteur, who visited Canada in 2019 to report on whether Canada was implementing the UN Convention it ratified a decade before, issued her scathing conclusions in a report to be found at

Pull quote Ms.Devandas-Aguilar fournd that "mental health" treatment in Canada often failed to meet UN standards and led to common abuses. These abuses too often include forced drugging, forced electroshock treatments and forced detention on locked wards.Now Canadian activists, many of whom have themselves survived involuntary detention, electroshock and drugging under the cruel aegis of medical psychiatry are organizing to demand that Canada meet the obligations it undertook in 2010. In June of 2021, a petition created by a group of these activist was tabled in the House of Commons by BC MP Jenny Kwan. The petition (to which, full disclosure, I am a signatory) calls on Canadian governments to honor its obligations under the convention and move to end involuntary psychiatric “treatments.” (Currently, Canada has refused to implement the terms of the UN Convention that prohibit treatment without informed consent, and too many Canadians suffer imposed treatment, both within hospital settings and in the community.

While the abuse of the human rights of people identified as “mentally ill” is a serious issue across Canada, BC is a hot spot for such abuse. One study based on data obtained through a Freedom of Information application, revealed that 280 BC residents were forced to endure electroshock against their will in 2017. Another study suggests that over 14,000 patients were involuntarily committed to psych wards in 2015-2016, more than entered such wards voluntarily! BC’s Mental Health Act essentially gives psychiatric doctors and nurses a free pass to treat without permission, suggesting that anyone who has come to the attention of the mental health system and been admitted as given “deemed consent” to any treatment.

Many Canadians like to think of this country as a progressive utopia where human rights are carefully respected. This is a partial truth that hides the horrific ways in which innocent people continue to be abused by our governments. The butcher’s bill that records such abuse is long and ugly- from the Indigenous children who died in residential schools to the racialized communities that suffer from police violence and the structural racism and sexism  that is laced through all our institutions and makes them into killing grounds where lives are marred and ended. Add to that list the damage done by coercive psychiatric treatment and detention. We clearly have a lot of work to do if we want to live up to our cherished illusion of Canadian innocence. One necessary step on that path would be for provincial and federal governments to act immediately to honor our obligations under the UNCRPD. If you agree, you can let governments at both levels know that you want these changes implemented immediately.

I gratefully acknowledge that I live, work, and play on the unceded and traditional territories of the Coast Salish peoples – Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam) nations.

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