scales gavel

An extension was granted, albeit reluctantly, for a court-ordered mental health assessment in Georgetown Provincial Court last week.

Judge Nancy Orr first ordered an assessment on August 12 and heard in court earlier this month it would be October 1 before it could be carried out.

Currently the province has a contract with Forensic Psychiatrist Hyundai Bloom of Ontario to carry out court ordered assessments via video conferencing.

This has been a stopgap measure put in place since the province’s contract with the Nova Scotia Forensic Hospital wasn’t renewed in 2019, according to Trish Cheverie, Director of Legal Aid who provided some insight into the delays last week in court.

“The solution long term is not to be relying on charity,” Ms Cheverie said, referring to the fact Dr Bloom took on the contract with PEI because the province has nowhere else to turn.

Judge Orr agreed.

“Long-term issues need to be fixed,” she said.

“We need more than one person to take care of assessments.”

Back in 2019 then Chief of Mental Health and Addictions Dr Heather Keizer said the best solution would be to hire a general psychiatrist to specifically deal with mental health cases in the justice system.

A statement from Health PEI sent to The Graphic states HPEI is working with the Medical Society of PEI and Recruitment and Retention to seek the necessary psychiatric expertise for a more local solution. However, no further explanation was given.

A court-ordered mental health assessment is issued for one of two reasons: to determine if the accused is fit to stand trial and it determines whether they were criminally responsible at the time the offense was committed.

In this case Judge Orr ordered the assessment when the accused, who has had past appearances in court, was acting out of character at his August 12 appearance.

It was obvious to the judge the accused was not fit at that point to give direction to his lawyer.

Judge Orr said her immediate concerns for the accused have been satisfied now that he is being treated at Hillsborough Hospital, but the assessment is still important.

“My level of concern is not as high, but a court order cannot be ignored,” the judge said.

This is the second time since July the court has had issues in having an assessment carried out.

The accused in this case was incarcerated for 45 days before it came to light his assessment had not been carried out.

Judge Orr signed the order for an extension with a deadline of October 10 and it is expected a report will be filed within seven days of that date.

She said the continuing delays don’t make it any easier to move forward with mental health services.

“How are we going to set up a mental health court in the province when we can’t even get an assessment?”

Justice and Public Safety Minister Bloyce Thompson spoke in the legislature this spring of exploring the options for a therapeutic court.

A spokesperson for the department said the preliminary work is already underway and an interim update for the public is expected to be released later this year.

That work includes exploring court types, models, partners and stakeholder needs, challenges and interests before coming to any determination of what a suitable Island-made approach and model would be.

According to the spokesperson the next step will be to analyze the information collected for planning purposes.

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