Beyond the Headlines

Should Nova Scotia use GPS to monitor psychiatric patients out on passes?

Posted: May 4, 2012 11:58 AM ET Last Updated: May 4, 2012 11:58 AM ET

There has been a lot written about the circumstances that led to the death of Raymond Taavel.
There are questions about why Andre Denny, the man accused of beating Taavel to death, was allowed out of a secure psychiatric facility on a temporary pass. There is now a government review of the protocols and assessment policies that led to that fatal decision.
We've received numerous comments and questions from our viewers, readers and listeners.
One stood out. Tony Brewer sent us this email:
        "Why isn't anyone asking the obvious question, which is, why aren't these
         patients equipped with some sort of GPS device like an ankle bracelet? That
         way, if they don't return for their curfew, the authorities would know exactly
         where they are and return them to the institution."
A good question. On the surface, it sounds like GPS monitoring could be a valuable tool for the health professionals who have the difficult job of reintegrating patients, many of whom have been committed for violent criminal behaviour, back into their communities.
So I asked the Capital District Health Authority, the agency that runs the East Coast Forensic Hospital, for its thoughts.
Capital Health tells me it has not considered employing GPS technology to monitor patients and, as far as it knows, no other institution in Canada is using it either.
When asked if, in light of this horrible incident, will they consider it now, the Health Authority emailed this response:
          "While we have not considered this in the past, we are hesitant, in light of an            
           exceptional event, to implement a potentially coercive and intrusive measure on
           all patients, we are open to examining any options that might enhance the risk     
           management of our patients as they progress to resuming full-time living in the   
           community. Prior to engaging in a resource intensive endeavour we would want to
           carefully consider whether or not it would in fact provide a degree of protection/safety,
           etc. that would justify the resources and intrusiveness, as well as the message
           it sends to patients and the community regarding rehabilitation and reintegration."
Reading between the lines of some pretty bureaucratic language it sounds a lot like a no.
I also received an email from a man who says he is living with schizophrenia. He too, talked about the need to rehabilitate and re-introduce psychiatric patients back into the community. He notes that passes help build trust and responsibility. Here's an excerpt from his thoughtful letter:
       "What is important is that these are patients, not prisoners. In the case of Andre
        Denny, it is saddening that this happened - I don't know the details of how he would
        have attained an hour unaccompanied pass - he did not seem ready for that kind of
        responsibility. However even if he had an ankle bracelet, at some point he would still
        have to be trusted to be on a pass without a monitoring device".
It's a position echoed by Nova Scotia's health minister. Maureen MacDonald has made it clear she is philosophically opposed to using electronic monitoring technology on psychiatric patients.
Having said that, both MacDonald and Capital Health say they want to wait to see what recommendations come out of the review and investigation that was ordered after Taavel's murder.
But it's pretty clear that, unless that review makes a strong case for electronic monitoring, we're not likely to see them put to use in Nova Scotia.
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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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