For the first time in three decades, the territory is working to modernize its Mental Health Act to bring it up to standards with similar legislation across the country.
Starting in Inuvik on Aug. 24, the Legislative Assembly’s standing committee on Social Programs will be touring the NWT reviewing Bill 55, the act to replace the 1985 Mental Health Act, clause by clause with the public and frontline workers.
“This is probably the most important bill that we’re going to be passing this legislative sitting, so the more people we get out to the events and the more people that know it and understand it, the better,” said committee chair and Inuvik-Boot Lake MLA Alfred Moses. “We want to make sure that this bill is modernized and that it reflects the issues we have in the NWT.”
The bill has already had two readings in the legislature. Now, as the current government’s term comes to an end with the territorial election taking place on Nov. 23, the race is on to get the act finalized.
A lot of people are falling through the cracks and hopefully this bill can address some of those issues.
More powers to initiate mental health care
The new legislation makes it easier for those who regularly deal with patients with mental illness to seek involuntary psychological assessments for those who need them, the first step in many treatment programs.
“Peace officers, anyone that works on the front line, if they need assistance or help they can apply to the justice of the peace or the court to get a summons for somebody to go and, not get arrested, but they can get picked up by the RCMP and get taken to the emergency room, the hospital, to get assessed,” Moses said.
According to Moses, elements of the current Mental Health Act actually contravene the Canadian Human Rights Act, meaning involuntary assessments have been rarely carried out, leaving patients without the treatment they need.
The act would allow for three-member panels to review cases and make administrative decisions, ranging from judging a patient’s mental competency to make treatment decisions for themselves, to deciding whether or not a doctor can provide treatment despite their patient’s refusal.
Treating residents in the North
The bill also calls for more dedicated mental care resources in the North, making community-based treatment an option for many regions for the first time. These are the problems Moses expects to hear about the most as the committee sets out on its review tour.
“People are saying that they need more counsellors, they need more treatment options, they need some place that they can go in the NWT,” Moses said. “Not everybody that we send out to treatment down south has a successful program, mainly because it’s a different program and a different environment and people are being sent away from their family and friends – their biggest support system. We need something in the NWT that can address that.”
Ideally, with a different system, the caseloads of frontline workers will be lightened, or at least streamlined to become more efficient, Moses noted, making some of the current resources available more useful.
“When we first got elected into the 17th Assembly and we had our orientation, one of the things that stuck in my mind is that mental health and addictions is our biggest cost driver in the NWT and we have to find a way to address those issues,” Moses said. “We continue to send people down south for treatment and our counsellors in the NWT, they’re being overextended in terms of the clients that they’re seeing. There’s actually a waiting list for a lot of people that need counselling. A lot of people are falling through the cracks and hopefully this bill can address some of those issues.”
Those unable to attend the review sessions are encouraged to submit letters with their questions by letter to or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Yellowknife, Committee Room A of Legislative Building – Aug. 24 at 1:30 p.m.
- Inuvik, Inuvik Community Corporation – Aug. 25, 7:00 p.m.
- Norman Wells, Royal Canadian Legion – Aug. 26, 7:00 p.m.
- Tulita, Arthur Mendo Arena Community Hall – Aug. 27 at 7:00 p.m.
- Fort Smith, Pelican Rapids Inn – Sept. 8, 7:00 p.m.
- Fort Resolution, Antoine Beaulieu Memorial Hall – Sept. 9, 7:00 p.m.
- Fort Providence, Snowshoe Centre – 7:00 p.m.