The author of a new book is speaking out against the push for more involuntary care in the rush to deal with the opioid crisis and the rising number of people living with homelessness in B.C.
Rob Wipond’s latest work is titled “Your Consent Is Not Required: The Rise in Psychiatric Detentions, Forced Treatment, and Abusive Guardianships.”
Wipond says his own father was detained against his will and forcibly treated at Kelowna General Hospital in the late 90s, and that was the genesis of the book.
The investigative journalist spent years researching mental health laws and says B.C. has the most broad-ranging mental health act in North America.
“Virtually anyone can be made subject to this act. Also, B.C. has some of the highest rates already of forced treatment in North America,” says Wipond.
“If we start saying, well we need more of this, we should back up and go, is what we’re doing helping? Is it making a difference? If it is helping, who is it helping. How is it helping them?”
He says there is very little data showing that it does good, but there is evidence that it does harm.
“We need to talk about what forced treatment is. It means security guards and police officers. It means handcuffs, locking people up behind bars and locked doors and barred windows,” said Wipond, who points out that it can often mean physical assault, when someone is restrained and given drugs.
He suggests that talk of forced treatment is an easy way to deflect from a lack of housing.
Last week, Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon released his party's plan to both overhaul the delivery of mental health services and build a recovery-oriented system of care for those suffering from addiction.
Falcon said a BC Liberal government would also implement involuntary care where necessary, although it would be a last resort. Premier David Eby also spoke about doing the same during his leadership campaign last year, but has since backed away from those comments. The Kelowna RCMP has advocated for some type of involuntary care.
“I would say, so far as the homeless problem, we’ve got an affordability problem, a housing affordability problem, and governments are using this as an excuse," Wipond responded.
Wipond does see some value in the expansion of Integrated Crisis Response Teams that pair a front-line RCMP officer and trained mental health worker to respond to mental health and addictions emergencies.
He says the teams can de-escalate a situation and help find a solution.
“Because sometimes there is something that is actually precipitating it. We have this tendency to go, oh well they’re crazy, that’s the problem. Well, that’s actually rarely the issue.
“It’s usually that there’s something else going on that has increased stress, increased difficulty. There’s conflict going on between two people. These kinds of issues.”
Wipond points out in his book that anyone can initiate a wellness check by calling 911. His research found about 80 per cent of wellness check calls result in police taking people to psychiatric hospitals.
A high-profile Kelowna case shows what can go wrong with a wellness check.
Last November, RCMP officer Lacy Browning pleaded guilty to assault for dragging and stepping on the head of UBC Okanagan student Mona Wang. Const. Browning had responded to a Kelowna apartment building on Jan. 20, 2020 after Wang's friend reported he was concerned that she was experiencing a mental health crisis and may be a danger to herself.
“Often we blame police for the wellness check going awry and really it goes back to the laws. The laws have been written in such a way that we’ve given police extraordinary leeway to behave in virtually any way they want during a wellness check. In ways that they’re utterly not allowed to do if it’s a criminal suspect,” he says.
Wipond hopes the book will help people understand the dangers of forced treatment, what it’s like to go through it, what the science says about it and the economic impact.
“It actually costs an extraordinary amount of money to forcibly treat someone. It would be far cheaper to give people free food and housing.
“If we’re talking about the homeless population maybe that’s what we should be looking at then – housing first.”
Wipond, who lives in Calgary, will be setting out on a speaking tour with stops in Vancouver and Victoria. He would be open to coming to Kelowna, if a local organization wanted to sponsor his visit to this city.
Your Consent Is Not Required is available through Amazon or directly through distributor Penguin Random House.