The Department of Health continues to maintain that the hospital’s mental health unit is not meant for long-term inmates.
Six years ago the Yukon government used plans for the unit as a defence in a high-profile legal case around the use of the old Whitehorse Correctional Centre as a “hospital.”
But that shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning that inmates are able to be housed there, the department says now.
The Veronica Germaine case questioned the use of the old jail as a “hospital” for people who had been found not criminally responsible because of mental illness. As part of defending itself, the government asked that two affidavits be introduced as evidence.
The first described the secure living unit that has since been built at the new jail, while the second detailed the secure medical unit that now exists at Whitehorse General Hospital.
The documents were important because they “outline what the Yukon government’s plan is with respect to facilities for individuals with psychiatric problems who require short term or intermediate care,” according to the court document signed by the government’s lawyer.
This included “accused under the criminal justice system; not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder and unfit to stand trial accused under the Yukon Review Board System, and persons from the general population in the mental health system.”
None of the documents define what “intermediate” means.
Right now in the Yukon, people who are found by a judge not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial are kept in jail for up to 45 days until they are seen by the Yukon Review Board.
Some are kept in general population. Others are kept segregated from other people in the jail’s unit.
In some cases they’ll have been in jail for lengthy periods of time before the court even makes its decision.
Health spokesperson Pat Living insists the government never said the secure medical unit at the hospital was going to be used as a forensic psychiatric facility.
It is “intended to be used to provide acute medical care for anyone who required it, in the short term,” she said.
That includes inmates or clients of the Yukon Review Board, but “it was never intended as a residential care facility.”
Living uses the example of someone in jail who has had a psychotic break, or is in a mental health crisis, who could be transferred to the hospital for stabilization and then sent back to the jail.
When Germaine was found not criminally responsible, there was talk of sending the Northern Tutchone woman to Ontario for treatment.
She didn’t want to go. She would stay in the old Whitehorse Correctional Centre for three years.
The case would eventually end up in front of the Yukon Court of Appeal to determine if it was constitutionally allowed to house a person found not criminally responsible in a jail.
She would end up losing the case.
When a case is heard by the review board, it might send someone home with conditions to follow, or they might order them to an Outside psychiatric hospital.
In the case of Victoria Elias, heard in November of this year, the woman, like Germaine, was ordered by the review board to stay at the jail as a “hospital” for months and was given day passes.
Lawyers were preparing to argue to get her out of the jail and into the hospital when a spot was found at a group home Outside.
So the issue was put aside, but both sides agreed the question is still “a very live issue in the appropriate case.”
Living said there have been cases where the jail has used the hospital’s facilities if the inmate did not pose a safety risk.
She refused to provide any examples or details, citing privacy concerns.
“Often times this is not the case and people who are under the criminal justice system or the Yukon Review Board System must be in a more secure location to protect both themselves and others from their actions.”
While the Health Department might be secure in what it told the court, the judges’ final decision could provide some hints about the impression the judges were left with.
After discussing both the affidavits – the one about the new jail and the one about the hospital – the judges said:
“While this evidence is not relevant or necessary to the conclusions reached on this appeal, I would simply note that these developments may remove the serious concerns raised about the use of WCC as a ‘hospital.’”
Contact Ashley Joannou at