Human Rights

“The only really bad thing that has ever happened to me is psychiatry.”

-- Sept 2020 - Part 1 of 2

CPPNews Vancouver- 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 Catalina Devandas-Aguilar. The rapporteur, who visited Canada last year to report on whether Canada was implementing the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities it ratified a decade ago, issued her scathing conclusions in a report to be found at
According to a Canadian treatment’ survivor  “The only really bad thing that has ever happened to me is psychiatry. It has damaged my body and mind, fractured my self-esteem, and forced me to re-invent myself, again and again, every time it tore me apart.”

Ms.Devandas-Aguilar found that "mental health" treatment in Canada often failed to meet UN standards and led to common abuses.

Now Canadian activists who 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. The document that follows details some of the abuses they have endured, the commitment Canada made to eliminate these abuses and our country's ongoing failure to do so.

Canadian Mental Health Legislation and the CRPD


By Irit Shimrat and Erick Fabris


CRPD an International Agreement   

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)* is an international agreement designed to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of disability. It states that disabled people have the same human rights as everyone else, and instructs governments on how to ensure that disabled people are able to enjoy those rights in practice.People in Distress

The CRPD was adopted by the UN on December 13, 2006, and Canada ratified (became bound by) it on March 12, 2010. Canada also acceded to the Optional Protocol (OP) to the CRPD on December 3, 2018. The OP allows Canadians whose rights have been violated on the grounds of disability to make their complaints directly to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (
the international committee of experts that monitors CRPD implementation).

Disability defined by the CRPD

The CRPD supports a social and human rights-based view of disability: that the challenges faced by people with disabilities are caused not by their own individual limitations but rather by barriers such as physical obstacles, discriminatory behaviour, practices, policies, or legislation. Under the CRPD, persons with disabilities must be recognized as holders of human rights, rather than as objects of pity, charity, or the decisions of others with respect to their lives.


Protection under the CRPD for  people with psychosocial disabilities

Canadians with psychosocial disabilities face discrimination based on stereotypes associated with their differences (often labelled “mental disorders”).

Canadian society’s standard responses to emotional, social or individual differences or difficulties are often experienced as instances of discrimination and as rights violations. Many people with psychiatric diagnoses would prefer social or peer-based support systems, which generally receive little or no funding, to biomedical and institutional interventions.

Psychiatry is the only branch of medicine that routinely treats patients against their will. Diagnoses and treatments are based on the theory that emotional distress and behavioural differences are caused by abnormalities in the brain, which can be corrected with drugs and/or electroshock. The medicalization of extreme emotional states ignores not only the spiritual and emotional dimensions of human life but also the sociopolitical conditions that are often at the root of problems faced by marginalized individuals. It can result in a flagrant disregard for human rights, especially when a person is drugged or electroshocked against their will, or without their free and informed consent.


The human cost of rights violations

Consider the plight of many “mental health care consumers” who end up in hospital not because they have chosen to seek help but because they have been taken to the emergency department by police – often in handcuffs – after a third party complained about their behaviour. Once in hospital, if they struggle against this abrogation of their freedom, they are likely to be stripped naked and forced into a hospital gown (sometimes by people of the opposite sex); tackled and held down by orderlies; tranquillized with a painful intramuscular injection; forced into physical restraints (immobilized on a gurney or bed by means of shackles); and/or confined in a “seclusion room” (solitary confinement cell).

Using drugs and/or electroshock to alter a person’s behaviour constitutes an act of violence. Patients are not only unable to defend their bodies against these intrusions, but are coerced into accepting and participating in this violence against them, on pain of more restraints, injections, and solitary confinement if they refuse. What would you, or anyone, feel like under such pressures? Now imagine what those pressures must feel like to someone in an emotional crisis.

Terry Fox RunPeople in distress often languish in restraints or isolation for days or weeks, deprived of fresh air, freedom of movement, and human contact (other than the few minutes a day required for the provision of food and the administration of drugs), before a psychiatrist decides they’re ready to be released into the general population of the ward for further treatment. Imagine what this does to a person’s sense of self, and to any expectation that they will be treated with care, respect and responsibility when they need help.

And the violation of one’s rights may not end even after release from hospital. “Community treatment” legislation permits treatment teams to monitor and enforce medication compliance. Many outpatients go through a humiliating ritual of “witnessed meds” at their pharmacy, being made to take tranquillizers while a pharmacist watches them swallow. And “treatment team” members regularly invade patients’ privacy to medicate them against their will in their own homes, under threat of being returned to hospital if they fail to comply.

The degree of a patient’s willingness to acquiesce to a treatment regimen may determine eligibility for housing or other basic human rights. What does this do to a person’s perception of human relations and civic society? How can they hope to complete their education, or find employment, when forced to take often incapacitating drugs?

Such egregious human rights abuses are standard procedure in Canada (as elsewhere), despite the fact that they violate the obligations of our country as a state party to the CRPD.


Irit Shimrat and Erick Fabris:

for the Mad Canada Shadow Report Group, May 10, 2020

End of Part one of this report - Part two


* The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

Guidelines on the right to liberty and security of persons with disabilities (in the Appendix)

Concluding Observations on the Initial Report of Canada (May 8, 2017)

End of Mission Statement by Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (April, 2019)

Mad Canada Shadow Report (with additional research)


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