Krystian Shaw is a reporter & communications coordinator for the Kamloops Self-Advocate Newsletter, which is a quarterly publication for people with diverse abilities. He is also on the Editorial Board at CLBC in Vancouver and a self advocate. Read the article below for his opinion on the current state of the criminal justice system in Canada.

I am a self-advocate who wants to see change happen in our country. Right now, we are having a crisis in Nova Scotia between the law and mentally challenged clients. I am worried and disappointed in our criminal justice system in Canada. Nichelle Benn has an organic brain disorder that resulted in having a developmental disability. She needs 24 hour care so she was put in a rehabilitation centre. She got mad in this rehabilitation centre and threw a shoe and bit a staff member. Instead of taking appropriate action to work towards supporting her behaviour which they are supposed to do, the staff member charged her with assault. Now she is facing criminal charges.. Her disability causes her to have poor impulse control. Their job is to teach her better impulse control, not to criminalize her.

When her mom brought this up to the staff, their response was that all staff members have a right to be safe. In my opinion, they know the risks before they took the job. When Woodlands was open in BC here, there were a lot of aggressive patients. If they were criminalized, all the institutions would be empty and the jails would be full. Now come on. The laws need to be changed.

First of all, the staff needs crisis intervention training. Now is the time to give advice to the prime minister. For example, my suggestion would be that they need more trained professionals and community inclusion security personnel to protect the public if people being supported have brain damage and are known to strike out in an aggressive way.

Many people in Canada are not criminally responsible due to mental illness, such as Vince Lee. So how is it any different charging an adult who has a developmental disability to be criminally responsible? She should not be criminally responsible for something she can’t control. Obviously, Nova Scotia hasn’t learned their lesson after what happened to Ashley Smith.

I feel this is a serious matter because this happens in Canada elsewhere too. I am 24 now and I was born with a mental challenge and an anxiety disorder. I am going to share something personal that happened to me when I was 22. For the first and only time, I experienced a psychosis and was hospitalized. One night, I had a nose bleed and called out to the nurse to help. She came running in the dark towards me and I got startled. I struck out and my fingers struck her in the mouth. I don’t even remember this happening. My mom told me what I did when we found out the nurse was trying to charge me with assault. Even the police sent it to Crown Counsel for me to go to court. The prosecution rejected the charges, lucky for me. My mom said they probably read the hospital reports and saw that I was admitted holding onto my Mickey Mouse stuffy for security because I was so scared. Yet the nurse still tried to charge me. After that, they had a sign on my door warning everyone that I could be dangerous, yet I am not aggressive at all.

An update to my story is I have never experienced psychosis again and I am off all medication. Now I am a reporter for the Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter and I’m on the Editorial Board in Vancouver with CLBC. My goal is to make change for the better for everyone who has challenges in life. I was lucky but my life could have been ruined if this didn’t go the way it did for me. Now I’m a productive member of society and everyone else should be given the same opportunities to improve themselves. Criminalizing people with special needs is not the answer. We all need to come up with more positive solutions to the problem and share them with United Nations Disability Department at enable@un.org and our provincial and federal governments.