British Columbia

Woman was illegally detained in hospitals for nearly a year, judge rules

A B.C. Supreme Court justice found that the woman had her Charter rights violated when the Fraser Health Authority detained her against her will for 11 months and 13 days between 2016 and 2017.

Court documents describe A.H. as 'highly vulnerable' woman who had experienced substance, sexual abuse

Fraser Health violated a woman's Charter rights when they detained her at a series of hospitals, including Surrey Memorial Hospital, for more than 11 months in 2016 and 2017, a judge has ruled. (Shane MacKichan)

This story has been updated with a statement from Fraser Health.

A B.C. woman who was detained in a number of hospitals for nearly a year without receiving an explanation in writing or being allowed access to a lawyer has won a lawsuit against the regional health authority.

On Friday, a B.C. Supreme Court justice found that the woman, identified as A.H., had her Charter rights violated when Fraser Health detained her against her will for 11 months and 13 days between 2016 and 2017.

Justice Lisa Warren said, at first, the health authority had justifiable reason to legally detain the woman under B.C.'s Adult Guardianship Act.

However, the health authority didn't apply for a court order authorizing her detainment for months and never gave A.H. reasons in writing. 

Warren said that was inexcusable.

"There is no doubt that on Oct. 6, 2016, FHA staff had good reason to believe that A.H. had been abused and that she was at risk of serious harm," the justice wrote in her ruling, posted online on Monday.

"FHA's failure to [obtain a court order] and its decision to instead detain A.H. for nearly a year, without providing her with clear and written reasons for the detention or the opportunity to obtain legal advice, under conditions that significantly violated her residual liberty, is inexplicable."

A.H. was initially detained at Delta Hospital but, after escaping three times, was moved to Surrey Memorial. (CBC)

6 days, 3 escapes

The justice described A.H., now 39, as "highly vulnerable" and cognitively impaired, with a history of abuse.

Health officials who had been investigating her case before her detention found she was being physically and sexually abused by her mother. On Oct. 6, 2016, staff took her out shopping for new clothes to replace her dirty ones. Instead of taking her home afterward, they admitted her to Delta Hospital.

They believed they had a right to do so under the Adult Guardianship Act as there was an "unacceptable risk" to her safety at home.

Justice Lisa Warren said trips outside for fresh air were limited during A.H.'s detention. She was tied down to her bed more than once. She cried often, telling staff she felt like she was "in jail."

For months, a "do not acknowledge" protocol was in place, so if anyone called or came to the hospital looking for A.H., staff would deny she was there. She was told she couldn't speak to a lawyer for the first nine months of her detainment, even though she asked for one.

A.H. escaped Delta Hospital three times in six days during the first month of her detention. Each time, she returned to her mother's house and police returned her to hospital against her will.

After the third escape, A.H. was involuntarily moved to the secure ward at Surrey Memorial Hospital. 

While detained at Surrey Memorial's secure ward, A.H. was 'strongly encouraged, if not pressured, to take medication, including for sedation,' the judge wrote. (Ralph Rinke)

She wasn't allowed outside for months.

"She was frequently observed crying, telling staff, 'I feel like I'm in jail,'" Warren wrote. "She was told she would be so restrained if she did not agree to stay in the hospital. At times, she was strongly encouraged, if not pressured, to take medication, including for sedation, in the face of her protestations."

Hospital staff didn't acknowledge she was a patient and allow visitors until January 2017 — three months after her detainment. A.H. was moved to Timber Creek Tertiary Care Facility, an inpatient mental health facility in Surrey, six months later.

Staff gave A.H. contact information for legal assistance that July. Her lawyer, Laura Johnston, filed a petition against Fraser Health on Aug. 2, 2017.

The health authority filed its application for a court order to keep A.H. at Timber Creek after that. A provincial court judge granted the order, saying A.H. still needed protection, but said the authority needed to find her a residence in Surrey. The judge also said he didn't think A.H.'s situation had been an emergency.

The judge issued the order authorizing a support and assistance plan with a residential placement in Surrey on Nov. 6, 2017.

In an emailed statement, Fraser Health said it was "aware of the judgment."

"We are currently reviewing the decision and considering our next steps. It would be premature for us to comment any further at this time," the health authority said.