The 5 Star Hotel

There was an article in the local paper speaking to the issue of some kinks in the new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health. I won’t speak specifically to the electronic issues of the new facility. I don’t see it as newsworthy to report on a building that has problems upon start up. Don’t they all? It may be alarming to staff to have a patient in an area they shouldn’t be in but I doubt if it is a first. As a member of the public and having the benefit of a tour I can see exit from the actual building being unlikely. The staff is trained to deal with these situations and they have the backup of hospital security.  St. Thomas itself has a police force and the Ontario Provincial Police Detachment is less than a kilometer away. Making it far would again be unlikely. I wonder what the underlying sentiment is.

Seeing the comments following the article illustrates at least one issue.

I was at the opening and noticed…

Each patient has their own room, bathroom, DVD player and flat screen, comfortable lounge areas, outside courtyard with fountain, quiet room with wall fountain, lazy boy chair and sheepskin carpet, washer/dryer for every 6 patients, refreshment area with TV for every 6 patients, windows everywhere, fancy expensive hospital beds for people who are not physically sick or handicapped and patients are playing with controls and staff can’t fix it.

Sad to see a 5 star hotel where people are housed that have committed violent crimes, yet seniors and more deserving mental patients and handicapped people are in one star facilities.”

When we talk about stigma it takes on an obtuse form. These comments bring into focus the specific nature of the attitudes that lead to stigma.

“fancy expensive hospital beds for people who are not physically sick or handicapped…

Apparently this person is unaware of the fact that mental illness can be debilitating. It can be a permanent disability for some individuals. I feel sorry for the writer of these comments. If they ever fall in with the one in five who deal with mental illness they will be throwing away a good mattress. If people with mental illness are not worthy of a comfortable bed I suspect this person wouldn`t be either. It makes complete sense though to build a new facility and use 20 year old beds. A few of the old windows were usable as well.

This person seems to think there are degrees of value and worse that they are responsible for allocating it. For this person a judgement needs to be made to determine if someone is deserving. I have seen many forms of mental illness and experienced several. Try as I might I can`t think of any that are not deserving of compassion, respect, dignity or even comfort.

“Sad to see a 5 star hotel where people are housed that have committed violent crimes…”

It`s sad that this person was so preoccupied with making judgements that they didn`t listen to the guide clearly dispel this fallacy.

I would be curious to know what judgement needs to be made when a senior with a mental illness commits a crime. They are a senior so they are worthy of a comfortable bed but I guess they should sleep on concrete because their mental illness brought them into conflict with the law. Seniors sometimes find themselves involved with forensic mental health. Would grandma lose her worth in such a situation?

“more deserving mental patients”    Is my mental illness worth less than another?

This all reminds me of the hierarchy among prisoners. Your position in the pecking order was determined by your crime. It was an act that determined your worth. When you are literally stripped of everything you must create some other measure of value. Sex offenders were the lowest with a sub category reserved for pedophiles. I was often fascinated by the dynamics this created. The main fault of such a system is that in order to create your false sense of worth someone else has to be devalued. Jail is in some ways a mirror for the rest of society.

Inequality serves the purpose of overcoming feelings of inadequacy. We create a wider social pecking order and do our best not to be seen near the bottom. Prejudice is a tool to devalue another and discrimination is the application of attitudes whose underlying purpose is to create a false sense of worth in self.

The values we place on each other are a social construct; a fallacy that can and does lead to prejudice and discrimination. It is a house of cards if our worth is dependent on the devaluation of others.

We all put our pants on one leg at a time.

Replaced by Shame

If Lori Triano–Antidormi can use logic, insight and compassion to see through her tragedy, is it too much to ask our politicians to call on the same?

I am in total agreement that Bill C-54 will not prevent the tragedies that it springs from. Only improved mental health services will prevent these tragedies. Are we content knowing that individuals with serious and persistent mental illness are falling through the cracks? I guess as long as we can deny them the light of day for 3 years there really isn’t an issue. Am I the only one who finds it illogical that we are choosing to punish people who need our help and worse are in these circumstances because they haven’t received it? It is distasteful that the very government that chooses to punish is the one that could lend the hand to prevent the crime. Bill C-54 is like increasing the penalty for stealing a loaf of bread. Instead of cutting off the other hand we need to address the hunger. The lack of mental health services is a wound this government would rather turn away from. Take comfort in the fact that the band-aid they are blindly applying will have the conservative party colours like the prime minister’s plane. Is anyone else alarmed by the fact that the Canadian Criminal Code will soon have a section we can all refer to as the “blue pages”?

The Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will have us believe Bill C-54 will provide the ability to impose non-communication orders, geographical limitations and keep high risk accused within institution walls. The existing system already provides these protections. Non-communication orders are issued along with geographical limitations and rest assured no one who is in any way a risk is permitted beyond a secure setting.

 “Why put so much effort into something that’s working…” because this government considers re-election more important than fulfilling their obligation of being elected in the first place. Bill C-54 will likely pass not because it is sound but because of the political noise that reverberates in the heads of the “ill informed.”

Prime Minister Harper has no expression because he has no clue.

I may not have much love for the conservatives but it is easily replaced by shame.

The Limestone Remains: The Care Continues

St. Joseph’s Health Care delivered an open house and official closing for the hospital that has housed thousands including myself. What would it have been like to be stationed there or employed there? I was legally obliged to be there which interfered with my perspective. I wonder at the impression the building made on others. When you are allowed to move freely through a building it has a different impact than when you are locked in.

I was surprised to see so many members of the public. I saw strollers and canes. I am pleased the public has no apprehension in entering these facilities when they are empty. I am hopeful it lessens their apprehension regarding the occupants.

The closing ceremony was very moving and meaningful. I was near the back as we proceeded down the hallway and out of the building. Lights were turned out and the doors slammed. I was in tears for part of the long walk down the hall. I was crying for people I know and for those I knew. I was crying for what I lost and for what I have gained.

I was given the honour of lowering the hospital flag. I wanted to keep the flag so I could scream to heaven to my good friend Ed – “we have captured the flag!” I realize there are no sides to this battle but it all seems like a victory for those who struggle with mental illness.

I know Ed is smiling down at the efforts of so many.

Thank you St. Joseph’s Health Care.

Gift Shop

When I was a patient at the old hospital much of it was abandoned. It was able to accommodate 5000 but while I was there the few wards that existed housed less than 200 clients. As I wandered the long hallways I began to internalize the perception that I too was abandoned and forgotten. The fact that there was no gift shop in this hospital conveys the reality.

Why wouldn’t a hospital devoted to mental health have a gift shop? I don’t imagine hospitals profit much from gift shops but the patients do. If we all visited those with mental illness in the same fashion we do for “physical” illness there would be gift shops. If you don’t think stigma is a reality this would seem an almost physical manifestation of it. Our perceptions lead us physically away from those with mental illness. We know the value in visiting the sick but the whispers we grew up with keep us at a distance.

The new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health has a gift shop. Maybe they gladly accept visitors and it’s not “as close as you want to get” but rather As Near As Your Beliefs Will Take You.

Thank You Chief Duncan

This is a letter to the editor submitted by Chief Brad Duncan. My thanks follows.

On Friday, June 14th, I had the opportunity to attend the new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care Facility in St. Thomas for a tour and the opening celebration. The facility has been designed to provide the best possible care in a setting that provides a dignified, inviting environment to facilitate patients return to health and well-being. Individuals can progress through a number of settings from individualized apartments to the “downtown” area providing an opportunity for positive social engagement. The building stands as a testament to how our communities have progressed towards a more holistic treatment for person with mental health issues. Within London, our police organization is working with agencies such as WOTCH, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the London Health Sciences Centre, the Southwest LHIN, Mission Services and many others to ensure that we provide the best possible interactive care working towards the elimination of the stigma surrounding mental illness. The United Way has focused on mental health as one of its key funding initiatives recognizing that it affects many in our community. Every year at the Breakfast of Champions, St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation provides messaging through guest speakers who recount their personal experiences with mental health and how they were able to overcome significant obstacles. This year we listened to six- time Canadian Olympic medalist Clara Hughes who inspired all of us as she described her personal struggles with mental health.

In my own role, as Chief of Police, I am encouraged by Londoners involved in mental health care who collectively are making such a difference in people’s lives. A community making great progress and then I open this past Saturday’s London Free Press and read the following headline, “this is as close as you want to get” referring to the new forensic mental health facility. I found this to be particularly offensive and insensitive, portraying the facility in an extremely negative manner. This is the very stereotypical thinking that makes it so difficult for people to get care as they feel alone, threatened, stigmatized and fearful of what others will think should they seek out treatment. Notwithstanding this is a secure facility, and individuals are there as a result of offences they have committed, the headline is highly prejudicial towards persons with mental health issues. The London Free Press needs to acknowledge that the headline was improper and has overshadowed all the wonderful progress that is being made in mental health awareness and recovery. As a major source of community information, the London Free Press should be part of our community progress towards positive mental health and not continue to perpetuate myths and negative assumptions about mental health care facilities that will, in fact, provide opportunities for individuals to lead healthy lives.

Yours truly,

Bradley S. Duncan, M.O.M.,

Chief of Police.


I would like to thank London Police Chief Mr. Brad Duncan. I have had some interaction with police. I have been handcuffed, fingerprinted and I have travelled in the odd cruiser and paddy wagon. I have always been dealt with appropriately and have been extended compassion from some officers.

In watching and being among the police, I am most struck by their humanness. They smile, have senses of humour and carry their dignity within their uniforms. They have families and attended the same schools we did. They have troubles yet they choose to respectfully deal with ours. Many of our dealings with police are not pleasant and we confuse their involvement with the difficulties of the situation.

I am unsure if Chief Duncan is aware of the effects his words might have. His position and the respect he has might actually reach beyond the headlines. We are all honoured that Chief Duncan has the integrity to call a spade a spade. The media were given the same tour and professionally presented with the same facts yet they saw it a service to smear stigma on the freshly painted walls. How is it that Chief Duncan can pull a reasonable and informed impression from these events and our media can’t? I believe Chief Duncan serves us best where he is but I think his calling is to be a reporter. Thank you for your honesty, integrity and fairness Chief Duncan.




It has been an exciting and terrifying week for me. I was given the opportunity to speak at the opening of Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health. The audience included the premiere and health minister. To have been included was an honour. Sitting here today I am mindful of the fact that the very building we came together to celebrate sits in the path of where I circled hundreds of times on my bicycle. When I was not permitted to leave the hospital property I circled it on my brother’s bike.

Those days my dreams were to visit my brother’s home or ride my bike to Port Stanley. If you told me back then I would be included with dignitaries I would have fallen from my bike laughing. Maybe the lesson is to keep pedaling as you never know what’s around the next corner.

I would still be circling that hospital were it not for the staff. My progression from being a patient in the old facility to speaking at the opening of the new one involved the efforts of many. Some staff are obvious in my journey but I had the privilege of dealing with people who patients often don’t encounter but whose talents are felt throughout the system. You don’t need a stethoscope to demonstrate compassion, care and respect.

My terror was to be speaking but also my involvement with the media. I don’t know about other forensic clients but I have often been inclined to hide from the world. I don’t know how much is the stigma I actually feel and how much is what I imagine. Maybe it’s like an obvious birthmark; people do notice but not as much as we think. It’s hard to pull up a turtleneck to cover up your mental illness and involvement with the law. Coming out to my community in a visible way isn’t something I would have chosen to do a few years ago. There have been many times I only wished for anonymity. Again, you never know what’s around the next corner.


I was pleased and perplexed by a certain article covering the opening of the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care. The media coverage certainly was not negative but in the middle of this article was a list of individuals who once occupied the old facility. The first to catch my eye was Ashley Smith. This young woman ended up dead at one of our institutions in her journey of many. One of her destinations was the old St. Thomas forensic facility. I may not think like most but this connection would be akin to reporting on the red Toyota Matrix someone drove to the plane they crashed in. All of the people I saw on the list seemed to infer something negative about the old facility and even the new Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care.

One of the names on the list was a patient who was an occupant of the old hospital while I was there. I have known this individual for over a decade. I have never heard him utter an angry word or swear and I lived with him in less than ideal conditions for almost two years. He is one of the finest friends I have. He lives in the community and he and his partner have a beautiful child. I would trust this person with any child I had. I would trust this person with anything and everything I owned. I can depend on him. This man helped me to heal. When he met me he did not judge me, he merely extended his hand. I have learned from him and he is one of only a few people I know who is truly gifted. I would like to tell you his talent but he has already been drawn out; I refuse to do the same.

I suspect that if any who read this were to meet this man you would like him. He is deserving of respect, not for what he has done but for who he is and what he has overcome. At least try to understand what it must be like for him and his family to have an illness impact so profoundly.

For me what was most interesting about the opening was the curiosity that poured from the public. While I was at the facility I saw hundreds of people lined up for tours. I saw that as important in demystifying this little known and often misunderstood part of our health care and judicial systems.

On the tour I took, the guide for each area was composed of current staff.  If I worked with a population I did not respect, feared or thought worthy of derision of any kind, I would not have a smile or humour as I lead you about. I’m a little vocal but I would do my best to convey this was a dangerous place full of people I viewed as criminals. If the people who work with these individuals have compassion and respect I wonder why anyone else wouldn’t.

Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care

I was part of the forensic system for seven years. My first 10 months were spent in jail followed by a year on the Forensic Treatment Unit and another on the Forensic Rehabilitation Unit. The remainder of my rehabilitation took place in the community.

I’m no expert when it comes to rehabilitation and I don’t know the first thing about design but I know how accommodations make me feel. When I had no window and only a toilet for furniture, when the fluorescent was always and my company never I was convinced that not a soul in the world cared about me. When I see this building I am convinced that the individuals who will pass through here will be cared for on many levels. I hope these surroundings remind them that they are not abandoned or forgotten. When I see this building I know my community cares about mental illness. When I see this building I know society has compassion.

We are celebrating a new building and change. I am celebrating the dignity we are able to afford the staff and clients who will occupy this facility. Those who suffer from mental illness deserve no less. It has been my painful pleasure to come to know both clients and staff across the way. I have become friends with both. I am pleased that the staff will have surroundings befitting the fine care and expertise they measure. The responsibility we entrust them with deserves our respect.

This building fights stigma. When we can all come together and create such a space it allows us to all understand. We can have no doubt that these illnesses deserve our very best. The line I often saw between mental health and physical health treatment disappears on this site.

I have been a mental health consumer for 34 years and have experienced several institutions. Often my will was not to be there. One that sticks out in my mind I only spent a couple of days at but I can still remember the graffiti on the seclusion room walls, the tired old furniture, even the paint would send any person for the exit. For some of the occupants here, at times there really isn’t an exit. If they can look around themselves and see everything I see in this building I suspect they will be better able to embrace their rehabilitation.

Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care will further the welfare of those unfortunate enough to find themselves here. These premises are a remedy to preventable hardship. This hospital is more therapeutic than the old one for one simple reason. Patients will have their own rooms. To live in a dormitory every noise is common and privacy is extinct. Even the mentally ill need a space to call their own; even the mentally ill need privacy; even the mentally ill need solitude.

No one wants to find themselves in this building. It is only the staff who choose to be here. Mental illness is not a choice and these facilities should be about rehabilitation.

I am pleased for my neighbours and community. I am pleased for the many people I know who suffer from mental illness and for those who don’t. To be here is usually something that happens to someone else. There is no inoculation to exclusion from this building. Thankfully there is treatment so we can all take a path towards the exit.

We are All fortunate to have had this opportunity to consciously and deliberately plan for advancements in rehabilitation and to honour society’s shifting perception of mental illness.


I’m not sure how many of my followers actually read this blog but I would like to point all who do to look at the comments I received regarding Victim Impact Statements. I was saddened to learn that some of my followers have tragically been affected by crime. They have bravely stated the importance of Victim Impact Statements. For this I am thankful. I have never denied their importance but more people need to hear of their importance to victims. It is something only a victim can articulate. While being mindful of the pain I wanted my readers to see the Grace in these comments.

It may be an odd question but I would like to ask if the impact of a tragedy changes?

I know from my own tragedies that I have gained and lost. I would not have strength, compassion or patience to the degree I do were it not for my losses. I can tell simply from these comments that these individuals possess these qualities beyond most.

My tragedies have been different but often I would have traded all the pain for any of the gain there may have been. At times I think; take it all away and send me back to where there was less pain. But if I consider all the fine people in my life, if I consider what I have in my mind and heart, it would be an even greater loss. I would mourn more if my life was anything different from what it is.

Victim Impact Statements

My argument regarding victim impact statements is not that they shouldn`t be used but how they should be used.

Please tell me what we want the accused to hear and know. In giving an account of the impact of the crime to the accused what are we seeking? Do we wish to whisper guilt and responsibility into some part of her soul? Do we want him to feel guilty? Is that social justice?

Do we believe that since this person is involved in a crime they do not have the capacity for guilt or shame? Since they are mentally ill do we believe they are intellectually challenged to the point where they can’t comprehend how they have altered lives? Do you really think Vincent Lee doesn’t realize people are horrified and damaged? Do you believe he has not also been damaged by the events? His world is forever altered as well. It was not in the name of evil, it was in the name of illness.

If a court finds an individual to be neither guilty nor innocent which side do we choose? If it is a stranger or someone in a newspaper we might all honestly choose to ascribe guilt. It is a foreign concept to be separate from reality. For some individuals in society it is part of their illness. For the small percentage that is dealt with forensically we might all consider it may be someone we care about.

If your brother or sister, neighbour or co-worker were to be caught up in similar circumstances what would your concerns be? Certainly we all want to be safe but once that is ensured I would hope every other decision was towards rehabilitation. It is not because I am soft or gullible…a lefty. It is because I knew you when you pushed your children on swings. It is because you always had a smile for me each morning I saw you. It is because we have shared this home/workspace/community. You were my classmate, you were my friend. I worked with you and tipped your service. We were family, we were a ball team. We laughed and worried together.

When you pull me from a headline and place me amongst yourselves how do you want to treat me? Is it “this is what you have done” you want me to hear or “how can we help?” Despite the fact that we see these individuals with the police, in court, in jail and in orange it is the invisible mental illness we must remember. Our treatment of these individuals affects the very illness that brings them to our attention. We can hate what they have done, we can hate their illness but if you hate them you hate someone for an illness.

The court needs to hear from any victim. They deserve their voice but it is not a convicted criminal they are addressing. One in five might be able to imagine what it is like to be exposed to this while ill. Can you imagine it to be cruel? Do we care?

If I was being cared for on the street would my therapist prescribe a recounting of my offences as some new treatment?

When I am well if you want me to know your pain I will listen.