Beyond the Headlines

A grieving family's challenge to Nova Scotia

Posted: Nov 7, 2012 11:33 AM ET Last Updated: Nov 7, 2012 11:33 AM ET
"To state the obvious, someone always has to be first."
That simple phrase is the backbone of Raymond Taavel's family's challenge to the Nova Scotia government. In an 11-page open letter to the province, Taavel's family makes a compelling argument to go further than the recommendations contained in the review of the policies and procedures that led to Taavel's violent murder.
Specifically, they want the province to adopt GPS tracking for forensic patients who are given temporary passes from the East Coast Forensic Hospital, an option that was summarily rejected in the provinces review of Taavel's death.
Andre Denny, the man charged with killing Taavel outside a Halifax bar, failed to return to the hospital after being given a one-hour pass. If he had been wearing a GPS tracking bracelet staff and police could have tracked his movements the moment he went AWOL and returned him safely to the hospital.
Still, the government's review rejected the idea, in part, because no other forensic hospital in Canada is doing it.
In their letter the Taavel family called that reasoning "unacceptable". They point out GPS technology has been implemented in other jurisdictions in the U-S and the United Kingdom, with success.
Opponents, including many in the NDP government, argue that people who have been comitted to the forensic hospital because they were "not criminally responsible" for their actions, are patients and not prisoners.
"Remember mental illness is a disease, not a crime," says Justice Minister Ross Landry. "I'm not sure we want to be putting bracelets on individuals, in fact, there are some studies and information out there that shows it could restrict their healing and progress."
But the Taavel family argues "there must be an appropriate and nuanced balance between the joint goals of public protection and reasonable treatment and rights of offenders who have been found not criminally responsible for what could otherwise be criminal conduct."
It's a balance that, in many ways, is already accepted by the staff at the East Coast Forensic Hospital.
Last month it hired a full-time community monitor to keep a close eye on patients who are given passes to leave the institution. Before the patient leaves the hospital they must provide the monitor with an itinerary. Throughout the day the monitor does spot checks to track the patients whereabouts. That check could be a cell phone call or the monitor will sometimes leave the hospital to physically ensure the patient is where they are supposed to be. If they aren't and there isn't a reasonable explanation, for example a missed bus, the monitor can immediately declare the patient AWOL and have them picked up by the police.
For the Taavel family, taking that one step further and requiring some patients, especially those with a history of violence, to wear GPS tracking bracelets while beginning their reintegration into society, is simply "common sense".
They are urging Nova Scotia to take the lead, to be first province in Canada to adopt GPS tracking technology, at least on trial basis.
So far, both the province and Capital Health, which runs the forensics hospital, maintain GPS tracking is not something they are "actively considering."
But in their letter the Taavel says they are determined to keep this issue on the public agenda.
"As the saying goes, "talk is cheap," the letter says, "and rest assured that Raymond's family will be watching closely to ensure that rhetoric and public statements from our political and health leaders turn into concrete action and positive change - that would have been demanded by Raymond himself - to ensure his memory is honoured and his tragic death is not in vain."
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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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