The beating death of a gay rights activist in Halifax earlier this week is raising questions about how the mentally ill are treated by the corrections system, but a Moncton psychologist is urging people not to overreact.
The man accused of killing Raymond Taavel, 49, was on a temporary unescorted pass from the East Coast Forensic Hospital.
Andre Denny, 32, has been a patient at the Dartmouth hospital since last fall, when he was found not criminally responsible for an assault causing bodily harm in Sydney.
Psychologist Charles Emmerys says it's natural for people to hear about Taavel’s tragic death and want to keep those who suffer from mental illness locked up longer.
'You need to allow them to get better and they get better best in the community.'—Charles Emmerys, psychologist
But he argues that's not the answer.
"People get better in the community. They don't get better the way they could in institutions.
"Institutions aren't great at making people better. So these people will eventually come to the community and that's the dilemma," he said.
"You need to allow them to get better and they get better best in the community, which is why building more prisons really doesn’t help."
Emmerys said he believes the answer is to invest more in front line workers in the community.
Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Frye Societies, agrees, but worries the federal government is moving in the opposite direction.
"I would hate to see this become an excuse to jail people for longer periods, or to further institutionalize people with mental health issues because part of what has been the genesis of these sorts of challenges — you know, people ending up in the community unsupervised — is more of those crackdowns," Pate said.
"We're likely to see more issues in the future with the laws that have currently been passed."
Emmerys believes the challenge is for mental health workers to spot people who are suffering from mental illness and could be lethal.
Denny is charged with second-degree murder in Taavel’s death. He has been remanded to the East Coast Forensic Hospital for an assessment.
Taavel was killed outside Menz Bar, a popular gay club on Gottingen Street in Halifax early Tuesday.
Police have said it appears Taavel tried to break up a fight between two men after leaving the bar.
Denny was arrested soon after in a nearby alley.
He had been released from the East Coast Forensic Hospital Monday on a one-hour unescorted pass, but never returned.
Denny was first admitted to the hospital in 2009, but was released and returned to Eskasoni, a small Mi'kmaq community on Cape Breton Island.
He was readmitted last fall, following the assault causing bodily harm case.
Government officials in Nova Scotia have launched a review of Denny’s temporary release from custody to determine whether all policies and procedures were followed, and whether they are adequate.
Denny was one of three patients on an hour pass who did not return to the hospital on Monday, officials have said.
Taavel was a former chairman of Gay Pride week events and a well-known editor for Wayves magazine. He also worked for the Shambala.