Supreme Court of Canada Deems Man’s Institutionalization for Angry Tweets As Unlawful

Free Speech, Injustice, News

A Canadian man is left vindicated as Canada’s highest court has sided with him in agreeing that his involuntary admission to a psychiatric hospital after sending off angry tweets about a police shooting was unjust and unlawful.  Andrew Abbass was reacting to the news that RNC constable Joe Smyth fatally Don Dunphy on Easter Sunday 2015 and the circumstances surrounding Dunphy’s death. The constable shot Dunphy once in the left chest and twice in the head citing reasons of self-defense after he claimed a rifle was aimed at him. Smyth claims he went to Dunphy’s home to address political comments Dunphy had made on Twitter and went alone as he said he felt he “had no reason to believe that Mr. Dunphy would act out violently” but somehow Dunphy has ended up dead.

Upon news breaking out about the incident, Abbass tweeted out in anger about the police shooting, prompting law enforcement to pay him a visit at his home. Similarly to the Dunphy case, it was the policing of free speech that landed Abbass in hot water when it really should not have. It was then they took him to the hospital where he was admitted against his will after a mere 19-minute evaluation. Despite not suffering from any mental illness, when Abbas wished to appeal the matter a judge dismissed his application for an appeal regarding his involuntary admittance.

As reported in the National Post:

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal has issued a ringing defence of political dissent, in the case of a man held involuntarily at a psychiatric hospital after he sent a series of angry tweets about a police shooting.

Andrew Abbass was detained and taken to the psychiatric unit at Western Memorial Hospital in Corner Brook, N.L., on April 7, 2015, two days after the fatal shooting of Don Dunphy in Mitchells Brook, N.L.

Abbass had expressed anger about the death on social media, prompting Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers to go to his home. They took him to hospital, where two physicians “completed the necessary paperwork that resulted in his involuntary admission,” according to a new appeal court decision.

Abbass, who has since been released, challenged his detention in provincial Supreme Court, claiming he was not suffering from a mental disorder and that the doctors’ certificates of involuntary admission did not cite grounds for his detention. But the judge declined jurisdiction, and dismissed his application.

The appeal court said the lower-court judge should not have declined jurisdiction.

“Mr. Abbass felt that what the police and physicians did was without proper authority. He sought the vindication of having a Supreme Court judge affirm this,” said the three-judge court, which included Justice Malcolm Rowe, who has since joined the Supreme Court of Canada.

“The courts must always be there for the vindication of the citizen with what he or she views as the wrongful exercise of authority. Mr. Abbass was denied his day in court. He should have had it.”

In its ruling, the appeal court said the first psychiatric assessment of Abbass took 19 minutes before a doctor certified a certificate of involuntary admission. The certificate noted the patient showed some signs “consistent with paranoia,” and said he needed observation and assessment.

The second certificate was completed five minutes later, and noted Abbass had expressed anger about the shooting. The doctor added: “In order to establish Mr. Andrew Abbass’ personal safety as well as public safety, further observation and assessment is necessary in a secure facility as the least restrictive measure at this time.”

The appeal court said both certificates appeared to rely on second-hand facts and made no attempt to identify the mental disorder in question.

It said the judge owed a duty to Abbass to look further into the circumstances of his case, which “appear to be extraordinary.”

The judge had no evidence of Abbass having a mental illness and sided with law enforcement who were simply displeased with someone exercising their right to free speech to critique the abuse of power that law enforcement often imposes upon citizens. This places many in danger as the voices of political dissent may be silenced if the threat of institutionalization is there.

“If anger about political events and words of defiance to authorities are dealt with as signs of mental illness …. warranting involuntary committal, then our society is in a dangerous place,” it said.

“Such anger and defiance are characteristic of political dissent. As the history of authoritarian societies has taught us, confinement in a mental institution is a particularly insidious way of stifling dissent, directly and through intimidation.

“Was this the intent of the police in this case? Did the physicians simply lend their authority to what the police asked them to do? Did they assume that a person who acts in the way Mr. Abbass did needs help and further assessment and observation, without turning their minds to the specific limited statutory criteria that would justify his deprivation of liberty?”

It added: “The reality is that if you are involuntarily confined, you are viewed differently; you are seen as less credible. That is not how it should be but that is how it is. As well, there is the intimidation factor. If the police can take you away once and the physicians confine you, maybe they will do so again.”

The decision did not elaborate on what Abbass allegedly said on Twitter.

In this case the Supreme Court of Canada did the right thing and realized the wrong doing of law enforcement and the medical community who were in cahoots with each other, simply to punish a man for excersizing his right to free speech. Do you think in the era of Trump, a similar outcome could take place in America? What type of restitution should the medical community as well as officers involved in Abbass’ unlawful institutionalization be made to pay towards Mr. Abbass for the undue hardship he had to endure? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

(Article By Tasha Sharifa)

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