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Minds that matter: asking questions about human rights, mental health and addictions

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In late 2010 and 2011, the OHRC embarked on the largest public consultation in our history, to hear directly from people with mental health or addiction disabilities. We wanted to learn:

  • The types of discrimination that happen based on mental health disabilities and/or addictions in the areas of housing, services and employment
  • If there are laws, policies, procedures or systemic practices related to housing, employment or services that disproportionately disadvantage people with mental health issues and/or addictions
  • The kind of information housing, service providers and employers need to know to help protect the human rights of people with mental health disabilities and/or addictions
  • What the OHRC and other bodies can do to prevent and address these human rights issues, and raise public awareness.

We conducted several focus groups and interviews with people with psychiatric disabilities or addictions, and with employers, housing providers, and organizations that provide services to people with mental health issues or addictions. As well, hundreds of people attended both public and private sessions for persons with mental health disabilities and addictions, employers, service and housing providers. These were held in North Bay, Ottawa, Windsor and Toronto. We also invited individuals and organizations to complete a survey or make written submissions. In total, we received more than 1,500 verbal and written submissions.

“Being a mental health patient seems to give people the right to do whatever they wish to you because you will not be seen as a valued member of our society. My mental health issues should not define me as an individual.”

– Written submission to the OHRC consultation on mental health and addictions

We are now reviewing the enormous amount of information and will report later this year on what we have learned. That information will form the core of a new policy on human rights and mental health, which we plan to release next year.

Finding out who is doing what

There is growing awareness of the need to respond to discrimination faced by people with mental health issues or addictions. We are working with others to identify priorities and raise awareness. Finding out “who is doing what” is an important step. For example, we:

  • Made presentations about mental health and addiction issues to organizations including the Canadian Mental Health Association (various branches)
  • Attended a session hosted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, in concert with several community organizations, on the mental health and human rights of African Canadian men in the corrections system
  • Worked with the Landlord Tenant Board and the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR) to deliver a one-day training workshop to adjudicators and administrators from over 15 different boards and tribunals. This training explored how tribunals can apply the Code when addressing the needs of people with mental health issues and addictions, and involved presentations from Neighbourhood Legal Services and Voices from the Street
  • Provided similar training with the Consent and Capacity Board
  • Together with the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace and other human rights commissions across Canada, held a one-day forum to discuss human rights in employment for people with mental health or addiction disabilities

The OHRC continues to meet with other groups and provide updates on our progress. We created a mental health rights theme page on our website and issued a “Top of Mind” newsletter to update individuals and groups on our activities. We also provided training to staff at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on human rights and mental health in employment and housing.

Putting mental health on the “police records check” radar

For a long time now, and again during our consultation, people with mental health illness and their advocates have been raising serious concerns about the adverse effect of interactions with police along with related provisions of the Mental Health Act. One area of concern, among others, has been the adverse effect of police records checks.

This work resulted in a new LEARN Guideline on Police Record Checks, released by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police in July 2011. This guideline provides a human rights perspective with a focus on people with mental health issues. It shows police services how to conduct police record checks for people seeking work or volunteer opportunities.

The guideline has been endorsed by police services, mental health advocates and vulnerable sector agencies alike as a positive step forward – although all groups agree there are related issues that still need to be addressed. We will continue to look at the interactions between police and people with mental health or addictions issues, to make sure that human rights are built into decision-making.

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