Steve Mesic inquest hears from mental health advocate

The tenth day of the coroner's inquest into the death of Steve Mesic wrapped up Friday with testimony from the coordinator of an organization that helped frame a patient bill of rights at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Former steelworker died in police shooting in June 2013

Steve Mesic was shot and killed in June 2013 in a confrontation with police. (Mesic family)

The tenth and final day of testimony at the coroner's inquest into the death of Steve Mesic wrapped up Friday with testimony about appropriate dealings with people with mental illness.

The pespective came from Jennifer Chambers coordinator of Empowerment Council an organization that helped frame a patient bill of rights at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. 

She was questioned only about  patient care after inquest lawyers were divided over whether she should be allowed to take the stand.

Mesic, a former steelworker, was shot and killed on June 7, 2013. He was shot down by police while he was trying to enter his own home near Lincoln Alexander Parkway and Upper Wentworth. The incident took place shorty after Mesic checked himself out of a voluntary mental health facility at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. 

The EC has been involved in several highly-publicized coroner's inquests such the death of Ashley Smith, a teen who died of self-inflicted strangulation while in custody.

Voluntary patient's rights

Responding to questions from Anita Szigeti, a lawyer representing the EC which is part of the inquest, Chambers testified about the importance of respecting a voluntary patient's rights while they are in the hospital's care.

“It’s important to be in charge of your own recovery..its important to be able to learn to trust others," Chambers said. "Often mental illness is the result of abuse...something reminiscent of that abuse will escalate the situation."

Chambers said said she supports allowing patients to voluntarily leave the hospital, even if it's unsupervised where appropriate.

It’s important to be in charge of your own recovery..its important to be able to learn to trust others.- Jennifer Chambers, Empowerment Council

“It can be very stressful for people not being able to leave the ward," said Chambers. “There should not be a justification for restricting someones access to the outdoors."

She said keeping accurate records of when someone is leaving the hospital helps to know if something is out of the norm.

"You’re not going to be concerned if you don’t even know that person is even off the ward," Chambers said, and that in the case of a patient believed missing, CAMH would "try fairly shortly to contact (the patient), which would include contacting their family."

The situation would then escalate if there was reason for concern for a the missing patient.

Police with body cameras

On Wednesday, several lawyers argued against hearing testimony from Chambers, saying it was outside the scope of Mesic’s death. 

Szigeti had argued the EC would attempt to provide a "big picture" of mental health patients and the police.

Chambers has consulted with the Toronto Police Service on interacting with emotionally disturbed persons and recently spoke at a national conference that brought together police chiefs from across Ontario.

She testified that the Ontario Police College currently focuses too much attention on training frontline officers to focus on a patient's diagnosis, which is the wrong approach.

"It's much more important to focus on the equality of the interaction," Chambers said, noting behaviour differs among patients with the same diagnosis.

Asked by Szigeti if she would support a recommendation for police to wear body cameras, Chambers said would support it but also recognized the balance between privacy and gathering of information.

"it’s a good idea except for when it comes to peoples homes when people have an expectation of privacy," Chambers said, noting that "someone may not want the worst moments of their life captured on film."

The SIU cleared the officers involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing, but the mandatory inquest is examining the chain of events that led up to shots being fired.

So far, the jury at the inquest has heard testimonies from both officers involved in the shooting, two of Mesic’s neighbours, the lead SIU investigator, a senior psychologist from St. Joseph’s Hospital and the man who trains Hamilton police officers on how to use force. The jury also visited the site of the shooting on Tuesday.

The jury was dismissed for the weekend but will be called back on Monday morning to hear closing statements from lawyers involved in the inquest. The judge will then instruct on framing recommendations on how deaths like Mesic’s can be prevented.


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