Lawyer outraged by mishandling of mentally ill inmates

Rosie Gillingham
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Judge agrees to allow suspect to stay in custody at Waterford Hospital

The lawyer for a man facing sex-related charges expressed outrage Thursday at what she says is the provincial justice system’s mishandling of mentally ill prisoners.

Elijah George will be back in provincial court Dec. 16 for the resumption of his trial. A St. John’s judge agreed to have George remain in custody at the Waterford Hospital in order for him to get proper psychiatric treatment. — File photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

“It’s appalling how they treat (mental-health) patients,” Joan Dawson said.

She made the comments Thursday following proceedings in the case of Elijah George at provincial court in St. John’s.

Dawson filed an application to have George remain in custody at the Waterford Hospital for the duration of his trial so he can get proper psychiatric treatment.

She expressed concerns to the judge about sending her mentally ill client back to the

St. John’s Lockup or Her Majesty’s Penitentiary (HMP), where, she said, he did not receive his medication.

Dawson said when George was at the lockup in July, “they forgot to give him his medication.” When he was recently at HMP, she said the institute’s psychiatrist, Dr. David Craig, took George off the medication prescribed for him at the Waterford Hospital by

Dr. Nazir Ladha, the province’s top forensic psychiatrist.

“Given that history, we ask that he stay at the Waterford Hospital in order to get proper treatment so he can complete the process of his trial,” Dawson said.

Crown prosecutor Shawn Patten had no issue with the request, which was then granted by Judge Colin Flynn.

His trial will resume Dec. 16. George will be in court for proceedings, but will return to the Waterford Hospital after each court appearance.

George — who is originally from Nigeria and has lived in Canada since last year — is charged with sexually assaulting a nurse and assaulting another nurse while he was a patient on the psychiatric ward of the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s in May.

He had been a patient there for about a month when he was arrested.

He’s also charged with voyeurism for reportedly peeking under bathroom stalls of the women’s washroom, which was outside the psychiatric unit.

Midway through his trial last month, proceedings were interrupted when George displayed inappropriate behaviour in court, laughing  and showing signs of distraction. As a result, at Dawson’s request, the court ordered a psychiatric assessment. The trial has been in hiatus until George’s assessment could be completed.

On Thursday, the court was told George was deemed mentally fit to stand trial.

However, Dawson said to ensure her client has no further problems, it’s crucial that he get his medication.

While the nature of George’s mental illness was not revealed, Dawson said it’s serious enough to warrant treatment, which she said he can’t get from the HMP doctor.

Craig’s controversial medical practices at HMP was the subject of an independent review last year. Questions had been raised formally about Craig’s service since at least 2008.

In the spring of 2011, citizens’ representative Barry Fleming issued a report on the situation and recommended that Craig be replaced as prison psychiatrist.

The government ordered a peer review of Craig’s service before taking any action. That review took a year and a half to complete.

In the end, Craig’s conservative prescribing practices were supported.

However, outside court, Dawson told reporters Craig’s practices are still having a devastating effect on mentally ill prisoners.

“For a psychiatrist at the pen to ignore the recommendations of the province’s top forensic psychiatrist, who prescribed certain medication, is terrible. (Craig) should have to consult with Dr. Ladha,” said Dawson, who added George’s case is being prolonged as a result of how he was treated.

And to make matters worse, she said, George is from another country and has no family support here.

“There are cultural and language differences,” she said. “The only advocate he has is myself.”

Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Waterford Hospital, Health Sciences Centre

Geographic location: Nigeria, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Grandma Roses
    December 02, 2013 - 19:10

    If he arrived in canada only last year and he was mentally ill, he should have been ruled inadmissible. People have been denied entry as permanent residents because of potential cost to the health system and yet this fellow was a certain cost to the system. He should be sent back to his homeland.

  • Hopeful
    December 02, 2013 - 01:09

    When one is in the throes of a mental illness, it can be very difficult to exercise one's "voice”. So it is crucial that the person has an advocate (not necessarily his or her lawyer) at this time, particularly in the absence of family members who might otherwise assume that role. This scenario could be yours or it could be mine. Had such a person (an advocate) been available early on to Mr. George, perhaps he might not be in the difficulties in which he finds himself today. It is my opinion that our current government does not want to address the issue of mental illness, that is, until something serious takes place like sexual assault or homicide-suicide. Then there might be a little noise…for a little while. My own experience? Not long ago, I dealt with Ministers within government who actually aggravated my own illness, quietly ignoring and dismissing my issues and concerns (some of which involved government it is true), but their inaction in good [sic] conscience of course because I was "mentally ill". There was no advocate to be found for me and so I extend to Ms. Dawson my respect for choosing to be the voice for her client. I too am looking to a lawyer for assistance. So I am not surprised that problems exist within the penitentiary. Problems exist in all settings where persons in authority subscribe to ignorance and fear rather than education and understanding. To these former ends, huge problems also exist within Confederation Building. I offer my advice to the current government of the day, in good faith of course, and I hope there will be those who will hear me this time. In other provinces, genuine efforts are being made to address the needs, including the advocacy needs, of the mentally ill. To the current government of the day, it is time to pull some heads out of the blue sands and address that scary monster called “mental illness”. It is time to institute a well-qualified Provincial Advocate for the Mentally Ill - an advocate that will support individuals.

  • The Real Crime
    November 29, 2013 - 09:06

    We know what happens at the Penn regarding meds for mental illness. But we do NOTHING about it because of political reasons. Our government doesn't have the guts to deal with it. Which is exactly the way they will go down in the history books , as well as other things. They cut the our Justice Department last year to save money, yet they waste more money clogging up court with this kind of BS, all at the expense of some ones mental health. Seems like they are trying to get these accused just pass the point where they are fit to stand trial. I thunk MHA King was laying the corner stone for the new Penn before Xmas by the way he was talking last month. Just more "in the future" verbal defecation from Premier Dunderdale's Team, strong mandate and all. What a let down!

  • EDfromRED
    November 29, 2013 - 04:33

    I thought Dr. Mengele like experimentation upon captive people was a horrific aberration of the less unenlightened past...not in good ole Newfoundland. Good to know for those without ethics or compassion, that they have a government here eager to hire them and protect them at all costs.