Beyond the Headlines

A rush to judgement

Posted: Apr 24, 2012 8:52 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 24, 2012 8:52 AM ET
A week ago today Halifax awoke to the news of a horrific crime.

What's happened since the death of Raymond Taavel has been both inspiring and troubling.

We are all heartened by the outpouring of sorrow and sympathy from the entire community. The moving vigil, the tributes and the rainbow flags flying proudly throughout the city; all a testament that --  while not perfect --  Halifax is a welcoming place to live for all, regardless of sexual orientation.

But underlying that compassion we've also witnessed an outpouring of anger at our mental health system.

We all know now that Andre Denny, the man accused of beating Mr. Taavel to death, has a long history of mental health issues, and had failed to return from a one-hour pass from the East Coast Forensic Hospital

In the many conversations this week about this story, just about everyone I've talked to has been quick to pass judgement on the health professionals who cared for Andre Denny. I keep hearing the same comment over and over: "he should never have been let out of the hospital!"

In retrospect that's a pretty obvious statement, but for the most part the people saying it have little knowledge of the mental health system, nor have they seen Mr. Denny's case file or treatment plan.

The staff at the forensic hospital has a difficult job. Determining a person's mental state isn't like treating a broken leg. You can't check an x-ray to make sure everything's fine.

I can only imagine the horror and heartbreak Mr. Denny's treatment team must have felt when they were told he now stands accused of murder.

But unless we're prepared to go back to the dark ages, when the mentally ill were locked away forever, we have to have a system that allows for treatment and a gradual return to society.

Patients at the forensic unit are routinely given short and longer term passes. The vast majority return to the hospital without incident.

That doesn't mean the system can't be improved.

The province has ordered a full review to determine if proper protocols were followed in this case, and if changes need to be made to better balance the need for rehabilitation of the patient and the protection of society.

They are questions that need to be asked.

But let's wait for the answers before condemning the entire mental health system and the men and women who are doing their best to give those in it a second chance.

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About the Author

Brian DuBreuil is a veteran journalist with CBC News. He has won two Gemini awards for his work, and neither involved dancing or singing on a reality show.

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