Yukon woman sent to group home Outside

A Whitehorse woman deemed not criminally responsible was saved from having to spend any more time at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre after officials found her a spot at a group home Outside.

A Whitehorse woman deemed not criminally responsible was saved from having to spend any more time at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre after officials found her a spot at a group home Outside.

It looked like there was a chance Victoria Elias was going to be ordered to stay at the local jail in its capacity as a “hospital.” But at the last minute, during a hearing in late October, the review board was told a place had been found for her in Alberta.

She was sent to stay there until an appropriate place opens up in Whitehorse.

Up until that point, Elias’s hearing was scheduled to be about the use of the jail as a “hospital” versus the use of Whitehorse General Hospital for patients involved with the review board.

Both Elias’s lawyer and the lawyer with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada agree the question is still “a very live issue in the appropriate case.” It just won’t be this one.

The Yukon government has publicly said the Whitehorse General Hospital and its mental health unit is not designed to care for people with mental illnesses involved in the justice system.

Elias was first found not criminally responsible in late 2010. A Yukon judge ruled she could not be held criminally responsible because of the impaired cognitive abilities that probably stem from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

She was one of the first adults in the Yukon to be found not criminally responsible due to FASD.

Her progress living with support beginning in 2011 was “remarkable,” the review board said in its latest decision. She moved from one group home to the Options for Independence facility, where she could live semi-independently.

But it appears officials over-estimated her ability to live with that level of support, the review board said. She began to have troubles.

In June 2014 she was arrested after a domestic disturbance.

In July the Yukon Review Board ordered that she stay at the jail in its capacity as a hospital. Jail officials were told to give her as many liberties as possible, including possible day trips.

Her lawyer, Nils Clarke, estimates she was given four to six day passes during the approximately four months she was in custody, supervised by a support worker from Options for Independence.

On Oct. 14 the board ordered she be let out and supervised daily for eight hours.

Even if she won’t be in the jail any longer, that didn’t stop lawyers from questioning whether the WCC is the right place for someone who has been found not criminally responsible because of a mental disability.

Elias was being held in general population up until about Oct. 15. At that point she was threatening to hurt herself if she was not put into segregation, the board heard. She didn’t like having to answer questions from other inmates as to why she was getting day passes.

She was put in the segregation unit and the door to her individual cell was kept open whenever she was the only inmate there.

Karen Shannon, with the jail’s integrated offender management team, said that when Elias was in general population she was indistinguishable from an inmate and socialized well.

Now the “only social circle when she’s in jail is the correctional officers,” Clarke said. Shannon agreed.

Shannon was questioned about what would happen if Elias broke the rules inside the jail. Would she be treated like the average inmate and taken to a disciplinary hearing?

Shannon said she didn’t have a clear answer on that, but “I would have a big issue with there being internal charges.”

Clarke asked whether, when the other inmates see she is being treated differently, that could be an issue.

Shannon agreed it is something that needs to be managed, but said she doesn’t think it would have been a safety issue.

She took issue with Clarke’s characterization that his client is just being “warehoused” at the jail. That implies that the people at the jail do not care for Elias’s well being, and that’s not the case, she said.

Board chair Darcy Tkachuk questioned Shannon on how long a person would stay in the WCC after they have been ordered moved from the jail to an Outside facility.

She said she couldn’t say for sure, but the shortest is a day or two.

The longer period of time someone could find themselves at the WCC is between when a court finds a person unfit or not criminally responsible and when they are seen by the review board.

If there’s anyway that could be shortened, that would be good, Shannon said.

Yukon legislation requires that be done in 45 days.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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