Yukon inmate, jailed 6 years and diagnosed with mental illness, may go free as Crown stays charges

Last year, Crown prosecutors were trying to have Nehass declared a dangerous offender which could have jailed him indefinitely.

Nehass, in custody since 2011, now at a mental health facility in Ontario

Micahel Nehass, 33, has been in custody since 2011. What happens to him now is unclear. (RCMP)
Crown prosecutors in Yukon have stayed all criminal charges against Michael Nehass, effectively ending what's been one of the territory's most complex and longstanding legal battles.

The Crown's decision marks a complete reversal since last year, when prosecutors tried to have Nehass, 33, declared a dangerous offender — something that could have jailed him indefinitely.

Prosecutors told Yukon Supreme Court on Friday they had no further concerns about public safety and that it was not in the public interest to proceed with a criminal case.

Nehass, 33, has been in custody since 2011. He was initially jailed for assault and later accumulated charges related to violent and property crimes which occurred while he was in jail, such as setting a fire and assaulting a guard.

Nehass's lawyers, and other critics, have long argued that Nehass' mental health was made worse by long periods of segregation at Whitehorse Correctional Centre (WCC). He was often kept alone for 23 hours a day.

On Friday, Yukon Supreme Court heard that Nehass was not allowed to shower without being in shackles while at WCC.  

Mental health treatment 

What's not clear now, though, is where Nehass goes next. He no longer faces criminal charges, and so is no longer on remand.

Last year, he was diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia and moved from WCC to a facility in Ontario, called the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Services. He's been there since then. 

Nehass was transferred last year to the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Services, where he will stay until at least Tuesday. (Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences)

Court has heard that Nehass is taking medication there and responding well to treatment. 

In past court appearances, a distressed Nehass has spoken of conspiracies, brain microchips and mind control, but not since transferring to Ontario.

Outside the court, Crown prosecutor Eric Marcoux said he believes Nehass could be "better dealt with through the hospital system rather than the criminal justice system."

His defence attorney, Anik Morrow, told the court Friday that Nehass should not be "unceremoniously dumped onto the sidewalk in Ontario." 

Nehass himself also addressed the court on Friday. He first said he wanted to be sent to a mental health facility in B.C. for more treatment. He then changed his mind, and insisted he wanted to return to Whitehorse.

He said he should be freed to stay in a hotel, but the court refused. Instead, Justice Ron Veale extended a previous treatment order, effectively forcing Nehass to remain at Ontario Shores until at least Tuesday. 

That's when the court will reconvene to decide when or how Nehass will go free and whether he will be admitted to another treatment facility.

'Shameful' treatment, says defence lawyer

Justice Veale said Friday that Nehass's case raises concerns about the Canadian justice system.

"There are very serious issues relating to the treatment of Mr.Nehass in the past five years," Veale said.

Defence attorney Anik Morrow agrees and said Nehass' treatment by the justice system has been "shameful." She said the stay of charges should not mean his case is forgotten.

"The government needs to hear about this," Morrow said. "When we look at Nehass's case, it speaks to resources for the mentally ill."

Morrow added the Canadian justice system needs to "develop solutions to make sure this never happens again."  

During a previous court appearance, Yukon's Director of Corrections Patricia Ratel agreed that WCC is "not adequate" for inmates who are mentally ill. She added that jail staff are often inexperienced in dealing with mental illness, but said the facility had no choice but to house Nehass.