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Breakdown: Canada's Mental-Health Crisis

Slim chance for parole from a prison of the mind

Continued from Page 2

B.J.A. is 21 now. In February, 2009, his sentence will end and with it regular visits to psychiatrists and monitoring by the courts.

He is living in a basement suite with a family that knows his history and supports him. He follows strict rules about where he can go and what he can do. Skilled at both art and math, he once dreamed of being an architect. For now, he works in a coffee shop.

He's had minor relapses, including marijuana use, that led to time spent back in custody, his lawyer said. But despite his initial diagnosis showing traits of emotional coldness and a penchant for an anti-social lifestyle, B.J.A. has new friends, though he has trouble leaning on them for support.

"How does he tell them?" Mr. Conway said. "He's got this deep, dark secret."

Still, those who have worked with him are optimistic. Mr. Conway describes his client as the "poster child" of the program. "It certainly seems to me it's been beneficial. He's a much healthier person," the lawyer said. "He's not an aggressive person by any means."

B.J.A. carries a heavy burden to prove he's worthy of the last-chance effort.

"After this," Mr. Conway said, "he's sort of on his own."

*****

CASE HISTORIES

Some cases of youths ordered

by Canadian courts to serve intensive rehabilitative custody and

supervision sentences:

Winnipeg, 2008

Two 16-year-old Winnipeg girls - cousins - admitted their roles in the stabbing death of a stranger. Kristi Hall was a 36-year-old mother of two when she encountered the girls, who were 15 and had been drinking and popping pills. One teen, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, came from a troubled home, her father a career criminal and her mother a crack addict; she was sentenced to four years in secure custody and three years under supervision. The other, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, also had a difficult childhood and was at a high risk for suicide. She was given a three-year sentence, including two years in secure custody and one under supervision in the community.

Welland, Ont., 2007

A 15-year-old Ontario girl pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for suffocating Matthew Reid, 3, in the Welland foster home where they were both living in 2005. The teen, who was 14 at the time, was described as displaying signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, had the cognitive age of six and suffered from attachment disorder as well as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anger issues. She was sentenced to four years in secure custody, to be followed by three years under supervision in the community.

Calgary, 2007

A Calgary man, 18 and a U.S. citizen, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the stabbing death of 18-year-old Tui Voegelin, who picked a fight with the drunk and high teen, then 17, at a house party in 2006. Psychiatrists agreed that the offender was remorseful and could be rehabilitated. He was sentenced to three years, the first two likely spent at a forensic psychiatric hospital and the final year under supervision in the community.

Ottawa, 2007

An 18-year-old Ottawa girl pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2006 stabbing death of 52-year-old motorcycle mechanic Pierre Lapointe. The girl, who was 17 at the time of the killing, was raised by an abusive, alcoholic mother and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She was sentenced to 32 months in secure custody at a youth correctional centre and one month supervision in the community.

BLOOD RESERVE, ALTA., 2006

A 16-year-old boy from the Blood reserve in southern Alberta was convicted of manslaughter in the 2003 beating death of 18-year-old Blake (Husky) Bird. The boy, 13 at the time of the incident, had been drinking heavily. He was sentenced to two years in custody and nine months of supervision in the community.

ELMIRA, ONT., 2006

A 17-year-old boy from Elmira, Ont., pleaded guilty to robbery and using an imitation firearm in stealing medical marijuana from a 39-year-old disabled woman. The teen, who had a number of convictions for crimes involving assaults with a weapon, suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression and anger-management issue. He was sentenced to two years in secure custody at a youth correctional centre and one year of supervision in the community.

Dawn Walton

*****

THE SERIES

Saturday

Children and mental illness,

by Erin Anderssen

and André Picard

Today

A last resort for violent teens,

by Dawn Walton

Tuesday

How doctors discriminate

against mental illness,

by Carolyn Abraham

Wednesday

Growing old with bipolar disorder, by Justine Hunter

Thursday

Lonely lives in the institution,

by Erin Anderssen

Friday

Forcing adults into treatment,

by André Picard

Saturday

Faces of the breakdown,

a photo gallery by Charla Jones

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In Breakdown, The Globe and Mail documents the enormous, unaddressed cost of mental illness to Canadian individuals, families and society. The series closes with a search for solutions.

 

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