Health-care system failed Ottawa man, judge says

An Ottawa judge has released a mentally ill man from custody, saying he languished needlessly in jail because of a failure in the healthcare system to find him a place to live.

Kevin Coleman, diagnosed with schizophrenia and cognitive deficiencies, pleaded guilty to 5 charges

Kevin Coleman, 59, who has schizophrenia and cognitive deficiencies, pleaded guilty to three counts of performing an indecent act in public, one count of assault and a breach of bail conditions. He had been living in a group home in Limoges up until May 2017, when he was asked to leave due to behavioural issues. (CBC)

An Ottawa judge released a mentally ill man from custody Friday, saying he had languished in jail for five months because the healthcare system failed to find him a secure home.

Justice Peter Doody of the Ontario Court of Justice made the comments during Kevin Coleman's sentencing.

"The health system failed Mr. Coleman," said Doody. "That was wrong and we should do better." 

Last October, Coleman, 59, who has schizophrenia and cognitive deficiencies, pleaded guilty to three counts of performing an indecent act in public, one count of assault and a breach of bail conditions. 

He had been living in a group home in Limoges, Ont., up until May 2017, when he was asked to leave due to behavioural issues.

Coleman then spent nearly three months in the Montfort hospital from June until August where he attacked staff with a metal garbage-can lid, leading to the assault charge. 

After release from hospital he bounced around several Ottawa shelters before committing the indecent acts in early September 2017.

5 months in jail

Since then he's spent five months in the infirmary at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre on Innes Road, waiting for a spot in a long-term care home.

That process has been held up several times, including a wait while a representative from the provincial public trustee's office had to step in and act on Coleman's behalf. 

Coleman was in the medical facility at the jail because he was unable to feed, dress or take care of his personal hygiene. After canvassing 15 long-term-care facilities in the Ottawa area, only one said they had the capacity to care for Coleman, given his needs.

In January he was put in the "crisis" category for long-term care which meant he would be given higher priority but still no bed came through.

Kevin Coleman's lawyer, Sarah Starkie, says it's ironic her client received better medical care in a provincial jail versus waiting for treatment that wasn't available in the community. (Laurie Fagan, CBC )

Jail could provide what health-care could not: lawyer

Sarah Starkie, Coleman's lawyer, said Justice Doody granted a six-week adjournment to the sentencing so her client could be well enough to attend court. 

"I think it's a travesty," said Starkie. "It's upsetting, really upsetting. It's somewhat of an irony that the jail is able to provide care that the healthcare system can't." 

She praised the detention centre for providing top-notch medical care, including hiring two personal support workers to help him three times a day. 

Justice Doody said that while the offences weren't minor, "Mr. Coleman has very little moral blameworthiness, this is a mental health problem and not a criminal matter."

Lisa Medd, housing manager with the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Assocation, says the lack of supported housing means mentally ill clients linger in detention or in hospitals. (Laurie Fagan, CBC )

Advocates for the mentally ill say Coleman's situation underscores that many people stuck in either detention or hospitals aren't being integrated into the community.

The bottleneck is both the lack of affordable and supported housing, according to Lisa Medd, the housing manager for the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. 

"It's discouraging," Medd said. "Not being able to get him (Coleman) into a place that can really see how he's doing and get a really good assessment, that would really help to identify some of his needs better."

Temporary bed found Thursday

Late Thursday night, staff at the detention centre managed to find a temporary bed for Coleman at Pinerest Residence, a home for adults with mental disabilities in the rural Ottawa community of Vars. 

He will stay there until a spot at a long-term care home is available.  

Mr. Coleman has very little moral blameworthiness, this is a mental health problem and not a criminal matter.- Justice Peter Doody

"That is very good news," Justice Doody said. "He'll be released today and it should have been a long time ago."

Justice Doody gave Coleman a 60-day sentence but released him, because he had credited him for 216 days, or one-and-a-half times time served. 

Doody concluded his remarks by turning to Coleman in the prisoners box.

"You'll be free from the courtroom Mr. Coleman and the best of luck to you." 

Outside the courthouse, Coleman, accompanied by two staff members from Pinerest Residence, expressed relief. 

"It's excellent. Well, I am free from the jail or the detention centre after more than five months," said Coleman. "And I plan not to smoke cigarettes too."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Coleman had spent 216 days in jail. In fact, he had spent closer to five months in jail but was credited for 216 days, or 1.5 times his time served.
    Feb 16, 2018 7:56 PM ET