The MJLH’s 7th Annual Colloquium: Dr. Archibald Kaiser on Mental Health Courts

Posted By Stephanie Hewson

Dr. Archibald Kaiser is a panellist at this Saturday’s Colloquium on the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act. Dr. Kaiser is a professor at Dalhousie University in the Faculty of Law and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Kaiser’s work focuses on the intersection of mental disability law with the criminal justice system.

Dr. Kaiser recently examined the “proliferation of mental health courts” across Canada. Mental health courts exist in most major urban centres in Canada as a means of diverting people with mental health issues out of the regular justice system, towards a “therapeutic conception of justice.” While Dr. Kaiser recognizes the commitment of lawyers, judges, social workers and mental health workers who staff mental health courts, he raises serious concerns about their role in perpetuating historical stigma, segregation and paternalism towards people with mental health issues.

Dr. Kaiser criticizes the coercive nature of the criminal justice system, even in the form of specialized courts, as a means of forcing treatment, including medication, on the accused. He writes that “mental health courts acquire the mantle of beneficence, but they function as another source of social control without addressing foundational issues.” Instead, Dr. Kaiser advocates for a rights-based approach to disability that focuses on self-determination, access to services and social inclusion.

The new Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act promises Canadians that “public safety comes first” on decisions about accused people found not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial – indicating the continuation of segregation and social control, rather than movement towards disability rights and social inclusion. The MJLH is eager to hear directly from Dr. Kaiser on the implications of the Act on the future of mental health in Canada.

For more information on the MJLH Colloquium, and to read up on our other distinguished speakers, click here.

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