Thu, December 23, 2004

Room demanded for mentally ill

A SUPERIOR Court judge ruled yesterday that the province has a legal responsibly to ensure there is enough space in institutions for mentally ill patients -- even if it causes a funding crisis. "This province has a legal obligation to provide sufficient space," said Justice Bruce Glass. "The old method of placing a person in a facility at the pleasure of the government was ruled out years ago."

The judge ordered a 15-day deadline on the transfer of a patient who has been locked away in the maximum security section of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre.

Alessandro Orru, 28, was ordered to be transferred to the medium security Brockville Psychiatric Hospital for treatment by the Ontario Review Board last July. The judge said Orru's transfer order has been ignored and he is continually being bumped down the priority list.

Brockville authorities have stated there is no room for Orru and have put him on a waiting list, but the judge said that won't do.

"It is not good enough to rely on a lack of space," said the judge. "Withholding his treatment strikes at the fabric of section seven (of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) ... and deprives Mr. Orru of liberty and security of his person."

Orru was detained seven years ago and has been held ever since. His room in Penetanguishene is cell-like with bars on the windows, and the building is encircled in barbed-wire, whereas at a medium security facility he would be allowed walks and get treatment that would integrate him back into the community.

His lawyer, Anik Morrow, said she has had several cases of patients who are being ignored because of a lack of beds.

"It is funny how, when the courts want to incarcerate somebody in a jail, we can always find enough beds," she said. "This is a great decision for ... patients with transfer orders who are being detained without treatment, because the judge has said that's illegal."