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Class Action Lawsuit Seclusion In Mental Hospitals

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The legal battle against solitary confinement in Canada has moved beyond the
prisons in a proposed class-action lawsuit against a high-security psychiatric
hospital for its alleged use of prolonged isolation on patients.

The lawsuit accuses the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene,
Ont., of causing “irreversible psychiatric harm” through the routine use of
solitary confinement or “seclusion,”
as the hospital calls it, lasting weeks,
months or even years at a time.

The court action is filed in the name of Ruben Stolove, a 25-year-old with
schizophrenia, and his litigation guardians – his father Micha Stolove and
grandmother Linda Hindrea. Since he arrived at Waypoint nearly five years ago,
Mr. Stolove has been placed in seclusion dozens of times, the lawsuit alleges,
and given no more than an hour each day out of isolation, usually in restraints
that strap his wrists to a waist belt.

Waypoint denies the allegations, which have not yet been proven in court.

The United Nations has published Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of
Prisoners, known as the Mandela rules. They target penal institutions, and
prohibit prolonged solitary confinement, defined as 15 days or more with
less than two hours each day of “meaningful human contact.
” No one with mental
(or physical) disabilities should be subject to solitary confinement where
it will exacerbate their condition, the rules say.

In the past two years, appeal courts in British Columbia and Ontario have
declared solitary confinement unconstitutional, as practised in the federal
prison system.
Separately, in class actions brought on behalf of prisoners
with severe mental illness, Ontario’s highest court this year upheld
lower-court rulings granting millions of dollars to groups of inmates
subjected to solitary confinement.

Prodded by the courts, the federal government has passed legislation promising
that prisoners held in isolation receive at least four hours daily out of
their cells, including two hours with human contact.

But psychiatric facilities such as Waypoint, which is not a jail, have
not faced a class action focused on their use of solitary (though some
individual lawsuits have been filed), says Golnaz Nayerahmadi, a lawyer
involved in bringing the class action.

“He doesn’t deserve to be locked up like an animal,” Ms. Hindrea said
in an interview.

Micha Stolove, the patient’s father, added: “This is not just about Ruben.
This is about everybody.”

The lawsuit, filed in Ontario Superior Court, says:

Waypoint’s use of solitary is unethical, abusive and inhumane, and
contrary to accepted medical and international standards.

“As observed in the medical literature, the most severe, florid psychiatric
illnesses caused by solitary confinement tend to be suffered by those with
pre-existing brain dysfunction,
the very population … that Waypoint exists to treat,” the lawsuit says.


Jessica Magonet, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which is
not involved in the case, said that many Canadian courts now deem prolonged
solitary confinement unconstitutional, and recognize the “uniquely devastating
effects” of solitary on prisoners with mental illness.
Yet “patients in
psychiatric facilities continue to be subjected to this cruel practice. It is
time to recognize that psychiatric patients need care, not prolonged solitary
confinement,” she said.

The proposed class action needs a judge’s approval to proceed. It covers the
period from 2000 until now, and claims damages of more than $200-million on
behalf of patients and their families. The hospital was run directly by the
Ontario Health Ministry until 2008, when Waypoint, run by a public-health
corporation sponsored by the Catholic Church, took over.


The law firm that filed the proposed class action, Rochon Genova LLP of Toronto,
won a court victory in July against the Ontario government and two medical doctors
over events at the Oak Ridge division (which closed in 2014) of the Mental Health
Centre in Penetanguishene. During the years 1966 to 1983, a judge found, patients
were subjected to the heavy use of mind-altering drugs such as LSD, and to being
chained together naked in an unfurnished room for days on end. Damages have not
yet been awarded.


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