A week ago today Halifax awoke to the news of a horrific crime.
happened since the death of Raymond Taavel has been both inspiring and
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.