Twenty-eight million dollars is slated to be cut from Ontario’s Children’s Aid Society. Some welcome cuts that may result in less children being taken into care, especially if they had a child unjustly taken into care at some point. Others may welcome them as cuts to the “liberal fat” left behind after Wynne.
Be very cautious supporting these cuts. The problems with child protection services in Ontario are structural in nature, meaning standardized risk assessments, unrealistic performance indicators, a lack of regulation and oversight in a privatized sector has left our child welfare system vulnerable to systemic oppression.
A funding cut won’t fix this problem but will instead exasperate it. Less workers administrating the same broken system opens the door to heavy caseloads, ineffective snap decisions by unregulated workers, and more costly open family court cases. Workers just won’t have time to engage parents and mandated performance indicators means some workers may be directed to initiate unnecessary court proceedings if an investigation last longer than 30 days. Couple this with the 30% cut to Legal Aid services announced earlier this year, and it spells certain harm for many Ontario children.
Wynne was on the right track, sort of, when she tabled the Child, Youth and Family Services Act, which mostly came into effect in 2018. However, the new legislation only included regulation for higher level employees and not front-line workers who deal directly with families. It also keeps the sector private, which puts the most vulnerable population in Ontario at arm’s length from the province, away from public sector accountability and transparency. The legislative privacy section in the new child protection law that includes provisions such as being able to request your own personal information, won’t come into effect until 2020. That is, if King Ford doesn’t repeal and replace the new legislation by then.
A complete overhaul is needed to Ontario’s Children’s Aid Societies. This means more funding for the sector, not less. We need better legislation to regulate and protect front-line workers and better recourse for families who may fall victim to systemic oppression by overworked and underfunded agencies. Child protection work is hard and usually thankless work. It takes a strong person to do it and an almost super-human ability to be good at it. Cutting costs will result in devastating harm to children. Supporting these cuts, supports that harm. Our children deserve better.
Author's note: Click here for Reasons for Decision
It’s been over two years since I spent nearly two hours being interrogated by my arresting officer. This after spending some time in a holding cell. I remained silent but that didn’t stop him from irately mocking every aspect of my life. He kept repeating wrong facts in a vain attempt to get me to break my silence and correct him. He kept mentioning this multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit and stressing how I am the defendant, a hacker listed as Jane Doe. I knew that I would soon have my chance to speak with class counsel and present my evidence to those concerned with the facts. My interrogator had no interest in the facts and so I kept quiet.
Judicial proceedings are not quick processes. A whole lot can happen in two years but in this same regard, the opposite can be true. It all still feels the same, like the years haven’t changed, the leaves never fell and Christmas 2016 is still months away. But it’s not the same. The years did change. We enjoyed many seasons, more than once. Christmas 2018 is coming and we are all two years older now. Nothing is the same but it doesn’t feel that way. I’ve spent a lot of time in court rooms big and small and deciphered region-specific practice directions pertaining to the administration of the law. I daydream in material facts and procedural challenges and find solace in the legalese that’s written on the walls.
I hear the notification alarm that I have received a new email. My heart always sinks a little when I hear that sound. Good news and bad news always come by way of email. I’ve had my fair share of both. The subject line reads ‘Reasons for Decision.’ I have been waiting for this email. It is the civil court Judge’s reason for decision on several motions that were before him a few months ago. One of those decisions, I’ve been discontinued as a defendant in that multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit. Many of my friends are class-members and we always joked about hanging out with the opposing party. It’s that kind of dark humor people use to help cope with bad situations. I still face other proceedings regarding what happened but the truth already freed me from one. The truth will free me from the others.
It wasn’t too long ago that I knew the cheapest way to get anywhere from Ottawa to Toronto. I knew which transit companies had student fares, which had youth fares and the time every last bus or train left the city for Smiths Falls. Then I got a car and my commuting adventures changed. Traffic, construction and road closures aren’t nearly as fun as conversations by chance encounters while waiting for the train traffic to clear up. Slowly the schedules and prices of travel faded from my mind, until I was named as a defendant in a $75-million-dollar class-action lawsuit, along with an agency mandated to protect children. After this, and a series of unfortunate events that made me swear I would never drive the 401 again, I began to re-learn my options for commuting to court in Toronto. I was not going to be stuck in Trenton during an April ice storm, having to find a way home so I could collect the money needed for the repairs on my car, find a way back up, pay for the repairs, and then drive it back to my home in Smiths Falls, ever again.
So when I had court last Friday, I took the train. I’ve learned that if you buy your ticket on the Tuesday the week before you need to go, you can save almost 50 dollars. It’s about the same price as taking my car but I won’t have to hold my breath and pray to the great train gods for it to start. My bargain-basement self-representation won’t work for very much longer, not fairly anyways. The only thing regarding this case in Toronto, is the lawyers. I may have put forth a motion last week to address this. With the local office shop charging 10 cents/fax these days, something has to give. Quite a few motions were before the Judge last week but I am not allowed to write what they were yet.
I can, however, write about the experience. I had gone up to Toronto the week before to file my materials for the motion hearing. I’ve been to the court services building so many times, I am beginning to know the regulars. At first I thought they were all self-represented litigants. I thought it was pretty amazing to see the same faces every time I came. They dress like me, not lawyers and I was quickly accepted into their circle. Our shoes have holes and our bags are functional, not stylish in any way. They all work for lawyers, but you’ll never see them at the office. They have incredible insight into the law firms downtown. It’s like a little sub-culture of workers in the legal trade. I wonder if the lawyers know what types of conversations occur here. I find it fascinating, watching them trade off documents to whoever is closest to the front of the line. I ask about the firms I am dealing with and receive some useful information.
When I appear in court the following week, I remember what I learned about these lawyers while waiting in line at court services. When I approach the podium, I am nervous and shaky. I begin my submission sheepishly but that sentiment fades quickly as I read my prepared argument. There is just no way to accuse someone of completely undermining the justice system in a tone that is anything less than confident.
I had just cross-claimed against them in civil court. A week later my phone rang. The call display said it was a private number. My heart sank. The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) always calls from a private number. You go into a kind of shock when they call. Oxygen levels drop slightly in the brain as your body instinctively sends it to your other vital organs. I tell my brain to tell my body to send the oxygen back up before I answer the call. I need to be able to think clearly, logically and quickly as I set all emotion aside to defend my family.
I answer the phone. It is the Ottawa Children’s Aid Society this time. Last time they sent Kingston CAS, which forms part my claim against them (the Kingston CAS matter ended with them being ordered to pay my legal costs). The actual agency in my jurisdiction is neither of these agencies. Because of ongoing criminal and now civil matters involving the actual agency, complaints made about me are contracted to surrounding agencies. This is good in a way. I am not legally allowed to write about the actual agency, as per my criminal release conditions, but I can write about the Ottawa and Kingston CAS all I want.
The call begins with a child protection worker telling me about the complaint. She then informs me she is around the corner from my house and that I will have to let her into my house for an inspection. I tell her that I am not comfortable with that as we are suing each other for millions of dollars in civil court and that they are the complainant in a high-profile criminal case against me. I need to get instructions from my lawyer anytime the opposing party engages me. She tells me if I do not let her in, she will have to call police. I remind her that police cannot enter my house without a warrant. I also tell her that I recognize the importance of the agency’s mandate and that surely we can find a middle ground that we can both agree on. I focus on the specific complaint. It can easily be disproven without the worker coming into my home. By working together, we come up with a solution that we both agree on. I meet her and another worker in my driveway a few minutes later and we work to address the complaint together. She tells me she will follow-up once she speaks to her supervisor. I record the entire encounter.
There are important benchmark dates to keep in mind when working with a Children’s Aid Society/Family and Children’s Services. For this case, the 30 and 60-day mark from the time of referral would be important to note. A child protection investigation needs to be complete within 30 days and then either closed, moved to a family service worker through the family’s signing of a service agreement or brought to Family Court. There is also a provision in the legislation to never rush a child protection investigation to meet this deadline and therefore an extension of another 30-days to complete the investigation may be provided. During this time, the worker may ask for additional information, interview your children at school and request consent forms be signed that will allow workers to speak with the family’s service providers. If you don’t respond to these requests or respond after the 30-day mark, you may be taken to Family Court to force your “cooperation”.
In this case, additional information was requested. They wanted a picture of my child. My lawyer for criminal court advised me not to send the picture. I also did not feel comfortable sending a picture of my child to an agency that has knowingly lied about me to news media and in four different types of proceedings in the last two years. I never sent the picture and in the weeks leading up to this 30-day mark, I became increasingly worried and prepared myself to be brought to Family Court again.
On March 27th, 2018, I got the call from Ottawa CAS. They are closing the file. I receive the letter in the mail a few days later. This experience with a CAS was unlike any I have ever had. If not for the extremely exceptional and unprecedented situation, I am not so sure my hesitation to service would have been seen as reasonable. Because my hesitation was seen as justifiable from their viewpoint, it gave them reason to work with me. But because they worked with me, we were able to come to an agreement. My hope with this article is that other CAS’s take note. We can help a lot more kids if parent concerns are taken as seriously as the child protection concern. It should never be assumed that a parent does not know what is best for their kids. With a child protection and Family Court system that is widely known to be severely flawed, there is justification for concern and hesitation for any parent that takes notice. Protecting kids always comes first but working with parents instead of threatening police involvement if you don’t do what they say, can achieve that, as demonstrated above.
Pretrial eve. This only happens once a month for Perth Ontario’s accused criminals. I scroll through the list of criminally elite on the online docket. These cases haven’t taken a deal. At least not yet. That may change tomorrow. The purpose of a judicial pretrial is to either resolve the case (plea deal) or narrow issues for trial (agreed statement of facts.) This will be my fourth pretrial in the case but this time I get to speak to the Judge and Crown directly.
Pretrial day. I spend the first half hour speaking to the Judge and Crown. I spend another 45 minutes speaking to the Crown alone. I am not allowed to share our discussions, but he does say he reads my blog. I assure him it’s nothing personal and I truly believe he is trying his best to protect the public’s interest. He says he doesn’t think I’ll write that in my blog. I accept the challenge. Though I cannot share what was discussed, I can share the outcome. Two of my charges are withdrawn, which reduces the time for trial to four days instead of ten. I appear again a few days later, to set my trial date. The trial is set for September 19, 20, 26 and 27, 2018. A trial confirmation hearing is set for July 26, 2018.
Meanwhile in civil court…
Right after my criminal court appearance, I head down to the local office supply shop for some help with faxing documents. This store has been like a second office to me for years. This is how I serve my statement of defence to the agency’s crossclaim against me in civil court. This is probably the most important document in the civil case for me to file. There is a case conference and a motion happening this month. I’ve done a lot of work and travelling to Toronto to make sure nothing stalls the process. The plaintiff made a motion to request my criminal crown disclosure. I, of course, consented to this. I will be relying on the evidence within as well. The Civil Crown, however, said no as it may jeopardize my fair trial rights. I am preparing to argue that it will actually safeguard my fair trial rights, not impede them. I sense another blog series may be necessary.
Criminal court today. I will also be serving documents later today for civil court so while I am in Toronto later this week for the third proceeding involving same matter, I can file everything at the courthouse where the proceedings were started, as per the Rules of Civil Procedure.
I am in courtroom one. There is a mom with her baby sitting in the back. The baby is quiet until the first matter is spoken to. The Judge stops and asks the mom to wait outside for duty counsel. It is her second appearance and the mom begins to explain that at her first appearance, she was sent outside the courtroom and waited for four hours with her baby, only to be told that duty counsel had gone home for the day. The Judge tells the mom she is being aggressive. I think to myself, yeah of course she is. The court decides to speak to her matter now. She is facing jail time and qualifies for legal aid. I think to myself, she is lucky. I am not facing jail time, so I do not qualify for legal aid.
I am sitting in the front row as usual, waiting for my matter to come up. When it does, my lawyer tells the Judge we need to set a date for another judicial pretrial. The Crown says there have already been a few but if we really want to, she says okay. My lawyer reminds her that it was the Judge that requested another pretrial, so that I could participate in it. The pretrial date is set for March 20, 2018.
Sometimes my life feels like an episode of Law and Order. I always loved that show, but my brain is starting to hurt. There are three different proceedings and three different versions of events being presented to me, all regarding the same incident. I only want to tell the truth but there is a ton of law I need to read and understand to be able to do that. I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights reading the different legislation, lawyer guides and truisms that apply to each type of proceeding I face. I am self-representing in civil court, but had a lawyer review my materials. That moment when your lawyer on another matter looks impressed and asks you how you learned to prepare these documents and you tell them you googled it. Because justice is equally accessible for all, right?
“Happy adjournment day,” my husband says to me as I walk out the door. I have criminal court this afternoon and humor has always been a helpful coping mechanism for my family. I will be having a judicial pre-trial today, my third in the case. We set the date and time for it at my last appearance. I have to be there at 1:00pm.
The courthouse is much quieter in the afternoon. I am waiting outside courtroom one with some supporters. The Crown on my case comes out of courtroom two and goes into an office. Two very upset people follow him out. You can tell one of them has been crying. I give them a sympathetic smile and out of courtesy, my friends and I head outside for a smoke so they can have some privacy. Anytime you go to a courthouse, there is a good chance you will be witnessing someone’s life-changing moment. Since my arrest in 2016, I have seen so many.
I head into courtroom one at exactly 1:00pm. The room is mostly empty. The court clerk tells me how it will work but I already know. Soon after, I see the Crown on my case head to a back room in the court. I know the pre-trial is beginning now. I can hear my lawyer’s voice but can’t make out what’s being said. Another thirty minutes pass by. My friends are chatting but I am just not there anymore. I keep looking at the door, then the clock, then the door and back to the clock again. My trial was cancelled last summer, on request of the Crown and I just want to set my new trial date. The evidence hasn’t changed and neither has my position. I don’t understand why there needs to be this many pre-trials on the case.
The Judge and Crown finally come back. We are adjourning to Feb. 12, 2018, when we’ll finally set the date for the trial. The Judge begins to explain that we will also be setting a date for yet another judicial pre-trial. He tells me that he thinks it would be beneficial if I participate in it this time. Pre-trials are almost always done without the accused present. I am a little annoyed at first, wondering if they are going to try to convince me to take another deal. Then I realize that it will be my chance to speak directly to the Crown about the merits of the case. I won’t lie, I am a little excited. I have been fighting the complainant in three different proceedings and have observed and learned a lot about the law. Through the anxiety of so many court appearances, I take great comfort in the learning I gain from each experience. After all, there is no such thing as bad learning.
Smiths Falls, that small town in Ontario that’s been making some big waves. That small town known for sports heroes Brooke Henderson and Bailey Andison. Also, the town where freed Haqqani Network hostage Joshua Boyle made his return and where his parents still reside. Also making headlines are accused criminals, like Blair Cathcart, school teacher charged with sexually assaulting his students, and even an accused hacker (me) whose alleged post in the town’s local swap shop prompted a $75-million-dollar class-action lawsuit that was recently certified.
What is it about Smiths Falls that is pumping out all this good and bad press? What exactly is in the water (though locals will laugh at that question and say “Blinky”). I wish I could tell you. I wish I could put my finger on what exactly makes Smiths Falls’ residents so unique. We don’t have the arts and culture scene like the neighboring small town of Perth. But our mayor is never caught with his “negligence” hanging out like another neighboring town, Carleton Place. We’re not quiet and quaint like Almonte but also not booming in growth like Kemptville.
Whatever it is making our residents newsworthy, it is clear that the people of Smiths Falls are making an impact. Whether you rise, or rise up “at the falls” know that we each have a unique power in us all. We can use it for good or we can use it for bad, but never underestimate the potential in each of us.
It’s a normal day for me. Wake, feed and dress my kids for school and then head out the door for another court appearance. My nineteenth appearance since I started writing about it. You would think by now that there would be progress in the case. That surely the end must be drawing near. These are my thoughts anyways.
I get to the court house and wait for my lawyer. He shows up just a little while after me. We chat a bit before going to court room one. Two very good friends of mine accompany me. Carol Anne Knapp is one of them as usual. She engages my lawyer in a very good discussion. Some names are dropped, and some plans are made. He tells her who we need to petition and how. The judge comes in and speaks to some other matters first. Then my lawyer, the Crown and the Judge meet for my pre-trial and court is in recess.
I small talk with my friends but have a hard time staying focussed. Thirty agonizing minutes pass by before my lawyer comes out. He says that the Crown has changed their position. He tells me they are offering yet another plea deal and that the matter is being adjourned until Jan. 31, 2018, for another judicial pre-trial, my third. I am in exactly the same position now, as I was this time last year and I don’t intend to do things any different. I go find some free Wi-Fi and begin my blog.
I have two other court dates this week but in civil court. I will be required to attend in person. I swore an affidavit in support of a discontinuance of a multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuit against myself. The class action suit should be certified this week. I have been working with the plaintiff’s lawyer for the last two months. I want to help in any I can, even though I am one of the defendants right now. These people deserve the truth. The plaintiff’s lawyer goes to the media with my consent (and encouragement.) The Recorder and Times, a newspaper in the city of Brockville, publishes a lot of the information from my affidavit. The truth is beginning to trickle out.
It’s a cold and snowy Monday morning. The notes, which led to my trial cancellation, have finally been disclosed. The blame game begins. There are only a few pages. They say what I thought they would say, but I can’t write about that yet. My lawyer can’t speak to my criminal matter here in town today because he is busy speaking to my civil matter in Toronto. I am on two dockets, in two different kinds of court, in two different parts of Ontario, at the same time.
I will have to speak to my own matter in criminal court. I checked the docket online and it did not look busy, so I won’t have to show up early for a parking spot. I’ve got this down to a science now. I have some very specific instructions from my lawyer, to set dates for my pre-trial and trial. None of my lawyer’s available days will work for my pretrial. My matter is stood down, so I can propose some other dates to my lawyer by phone.
There is a little office downstairs in the courthouse. It is a room with expectations of privacy, but little guarantee. Most days, it is for Family Mediation but when I am there, it is my self-proclaimed office. Over the years, I have done a lot of work in this little room. From family court, to small claims and even a private prosecution, this room is very often the final stop along the way for all my documents before they get officially filed with the court. I always go into this room anxious, but leave empowered. I go here to call my lawyer. I know he is in court, speaking to my other matter but I leave a voicemail anyway. Then I call my lawyer’s secretary, to check his availability on these other days, suggested by the Judge. We find a date that will work, and I head back to court room two, where my matter is waiting.
The pretrial is scheduled for Dec. 19, 2017. The Judge tells me that I will be required to be there as well. There is a discussion between the Crown and Judge about bringing in another Judge from outside my community, to preside exclusively over my trial. They tell me that the trial dates cannot be set until they find one. I thank them for their time and go on my way.
In civil court, a motion by the plaintiff to exclude me as a defendant in a 75-million-dollar class-action lawsuit is heard today. The other defendant, has different plans which halt the motion. Things are getting interesting as my lawyer explains Anti-SLAPP legislation to me while we update each other by phone. It doesn’t matter how hard they kick and scream at this point. Justice is coming.
Meet me under the bridge. Anyone who grew up in Smiths Falls knows exactly which bridge I’m talking about. That first time you explored the town, at whatever age your parents finally permitted you to roam alone, you came here and climbed the railing or ran across the frozen canal to the other side.
Every year, you can see the footprints in the snow and think you should try it, or you murmur under your breath, “idiots.” I know you’ve been here. You heard parts of conversations, as people walk by above, unware of how much their voice echoed below. You wonder where exactly that camera is pointed and imagine where its blind spots must be. Maybe at an older age, you exchanged some goods and services here, constantly looking up to make sure no one was coming. You maybe had your first drink here. Maybe your second and third too. You stumbled down the path and rested a moment before scaling the stairs back above ground. You smoked here. You shared here. Maybe you hid from cops here. You learned the sounds of foot steps coming your way and car doors closing in the nearby parking lots. It was the perfect spot, out of sight with no road access and beside the water where incriminating things can be easily tossed. Maybe you found friendship or love here. Maybe you reflected on life here. You always came here looking for something and you always left here a little more grown up.
Then you did grow up. You came back here and it looks the same. You walk your children through here. You learn how to explain the giant water elevator for boats is here. There’s no Facebook or Twitter handle for this place but it’s the most familiar spot in town to locals. It keeps our secrets, shares our dreams and all you need to say is, “Meet me under the bridge.”
I wake up and look out my window. My street is pitch black. The rain and wind have knocked out power to the streetlights. I love the rain so I take this as a sign that it is going to be a good day. I have court this morning and I have already been told that the notes, which lead to my trial cancellation, are still not ready. At my last court appearance, they said they would be ready that week. I am not surprised at all and resist the urge to speculate. Based on past experiences, I already have a pretty good idea of what those notes will say. When my trial was first cancelled, months ago, I remember thinking that there was no way they would hand over those notes.
I head off to court, knowing that my matter will be adjourned. I leave at a time that will get me there a few minutes before it starts. I had a supporter at my last appearance. This time I have two supporters sitting beside me. Carol Anne Knapp is one of them. She quite proudly and publicly stands with me. I am really lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. They make the experience a lot less awful. They have more confidence in me than even I do. I am the first one to walk into the courtroom, as usual. I go straight to the Crown and ask what is the new timeline for disclosing these notes. He tells me they have asked for an additional two weeks. I give him my lawyer’s availability. Court begins shortly after our exchange.
My matter comes up. The Crown explains that the complainant has asked for another two weeks to get these notes ready. The Judge makes a face that can’t be described with one word. His cheeks puff up and then he exhales, almost like he just swallowed the words he really wanted to say. It is a look of annoyance mixed with frustration and anger, all while still trying to look impartial and unbiased. For a moment, I wonder if the Judge is about to throw the case out. Part of me wonders if this is the intent of the complainant, to avoid these notes becoming public record. I have waived my 11B charter right to a speedy trial, under the advice of my lawyer. They can have all the time in the world. The matter is adjourned to Nov. 20, 2017. This will be my fourth adjournment, waiting for this disclosure.
I have court today. It is the third year in a row I have had court in October. I’ve learned how to get out of there by lunch time now. To get a parking spot, I show up an hour early. I light a cigarette and by the time I’m done, the lot is full. I’m in no rush to go in. I know the court room doors won’t unlock until 9:30 and there will be no where to sit until then. I go in at 9:00am. People are squished together, sitting on the stairs and in various other creative spots. Everyone is either waiting for their lawyer or waiting to speak to duty counsel. I squeeze by all the people and position myself right in front of the court room door. I will be the first one in when it unlocks. I need to speak to the Crown and will be the first to do so. I need to give him the instructions that my lawyer gave me. This will be my best chance of getting out of there by noon.
Someone smells bad and my toes are stepped on twice. An old friend notices me and asks why I am there. I chuckle and respond by asking him why he is there. Everyone in that small space is listening to us and watching. I sheepishly say that I’m accused of being a hacker. Someone says I must be Russian and everyone laughs. I feel a lot more welcome here than I do in other social situations. It’s eerily comforting being here right now, aside from the mental anguish associated with being accused of crimes that could land me in jail for ten years. I don’t quite understand why I feel so relaxed.
The door finally unlocks and I am the first one in. I see the Crown and go directly to him, before any lawyers get a chance and I have to wait. I give him my lawyers instructions and he agrees with them. Neither of us have the notes yet but they are supposed to be ready sometime this week. My trial was adjourned because of these notes, a week before it was going to start. We are adjourning to give both parties time to review these much-anticipated notes. I sit directly behind the Crown and wait. I hear the Crown tell another lawyer that he is going to speak to an adjournment first.
“All rise. Court is now in session.”
The Crown brings my matter up first. The Judge wants to keep my matter in his court and is unavailable on the day my lawyer gave me and so it is adjourned to different day. This is okay as the next court date will be to set a date for a judicial pre-trial. I can do this on behalf of my lawyer and bring a list of his available days. My matter is adjourned to Oct. 30th, 2017. Now it’s 9:38am and I am done with court for the day.
I am writing in response to the recent article about bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, by Evelyn Harford, published on Oct. 11 by the Smiths Falls Record News. I thought people may also like to know the perspective of us low-wage earners on this topic.
“ “I think we’ve got a big problem,” said Coun. Dawn Quinn.
“We need to speak up,” said Coun. Jay Brennan.” As I read these quotes, I wondered to myself if it even occurs to these councillors that us poor people read the newspaper too. At first, I was highly offended, but then I remembered that oppression isn’t always intentional. It is also often born from ignorance.
These councillors are obviously speaking for their constituents that will be facing high tax hikes and loss of jobs and hours as businesses make cuts to absorb the extra costs of an increased minimum wage. The last thing the town needs is lost jobs. They are right in that regard, people will be hurt in that way.
However, I don’t hear any councillors speaking for the 43% of town that lives below the poverty line. An increase to minimum wage is welcome news to the rest of us. I don’t think people realize how costly poverty is and how much money would actually be saved through eradicating it. Violent crime could go down, hospital wait times may decrease and kids will be less hungry.
Lost jobs and increased taxes will hurt, but not as much as children living below the poverty line hurt right now. I don’t understand how a council that voted to send a delegation to lobby for the basic income pilot, can also encourage people to “speak up” against the more livable wage bill 148 will provide. We, the poor people, are not your political football. Thank-you.
Imagine, you have a family member experiencing dangerous psychiatric symptoms. Fearing for your safety and theirs, you call the police. You are then told you will be charged with mischief if you call again about this family member. Or let’s say you recently discovered that your apartment key unlocks several other units in your building. You go out one day and return to your home and notice some items missing. You call the police and report that you believe someone, who perhaps also discovered they had identical keys, entered your locked unit and removed these items. The responding officer then transports you to the hospital’s emergency room, for a psychiatric evaluation. An ambulance may or may not transport you to a Schedule One hospital where these psychiatric evaluations actually occur. The hospital in Smiths Falls does not have such designation under the Mental Health Act, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
These are just some of the stories about mental health experiences I have heard around town recently.
Mental health resources in Smiths Falls are in crisis. These agencies are overworked and underfunded, also reflective of the state of mental health services across the Province. People are suffering and cannot afford to wait for governments to decide they are a priority. Something needs to happen now. Someone needs to do something, now. We, as a community, need to fill the void right now. Besides these people and their families needlessly suffering, improper resources are also often diverted to help these overwhelmed mental health agencies cope with demand. Ambulance and emergency room visits tend to fill the gap, if not shelters in neighboring cities or some form of police custody.
Other cities and towns have implemented their own efforts to help people. I have worked in mental health in Ottawa for the last five years and have seen first-hand some of the measures the city has put in place to help those living with a mental health issue. One helpful resource I have seen in action, is the Ottawa Police Service’s Mental Health Unit. It is comprised of four police constables who work with the Ottawa Hospital to respond to calls for crisis involving mental health. These calls can then be diverted from using other resources not suited to helping those experiencing a mental health problem.
The Smiths Falls Police Service should consider having their own Mental Health Unit. We have a Community Service Officer, why not also have an officer trained to handle someone experiencing a mental health crisis. These officers would know and understand the Mental Health Act, outside of just its scope on the policing mandate. There are forms family members can access through the courts to help a loved one seek medical treatment. There are other agencies and processes that some may not know about. A Mental Health Unit within our own police department could act as a liaison between families and these services. Mental health resources in Ontario are a labyrinth of services that families sometimes just need help to navigate through. A designated first-responder that can handle such a call, 24/7, could take a crisis bound for danger and turn it into an opportunity to connect people to the resources they really need.