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Kings North MLA introduces act to expand mental health court across Nova Scotia

Kings North MLA John Lohr has introduced a private member’s bill that, if enacted, would see the expansion of the mental health court to all regions of Nova Scotia. - File Photo
Kings North MLA John Lohr has introduced a private member’s bill that, if enacted, would see the expansion of the mental health court to all regions of Nova Scotia. - File Photo

Kings North MLA John Lohr is calling on the provincial government to expand the mental health court to all regions of Nova Scotia.

Lohr, who has been advocating for a province-wide expansion of the court, introduced Bill No. 44, the Mental Health Court Expansion Act, in the House of Assembly on Oct. 12. Currently, the only formalized mental health court is in Dartmouth, although there is a Court Monitored Mental Health Program pilot underway in Kings County.

Established in 2009, the mental health court hears cases that have been recommended by a team made up of medical and legal professionals. It’s for people suffering from a mental illness who get in trouble with the law.

Lohr said these people don’t really belong in the court system and wouldn’t get the help or treatment they need if they’re convicted and sent to jail.

“There’s some cost to it but ultimately we’re finding that there would be a savings to help people who are mentally ill to get the treatment they need, so there could be a court-mandated treatment process,” Lohr said.

Lohr said the mental health court has realized a significant success rate. It would be beneficial for people across Nova Scotia to have access to this system.

He said the pilot program in Kentville is being facilitated by an inter-disciplinary team but there really isn’t any government funding for the initiative. Lohr said it still manages to be effective but he would like to see a much more organized approach.

“I think it’s needed all over the province,” Lohr said. “It’s one of the many examples where there are services in the city but not really services throughout Nova Scotia for people.”

Lohr said a judge would have to make the decision if a particular case merits a diversion to mental health court. There would have to be some evidence that a given situation was caused by a mental health problem to qualify. However, “there are some pretty huge needs out there” and those in need can be sorted out.

“I think it would benefit the people who need treatment, not jail time,” Lohr said. “Jail time would be a nightmare for someone with mental health problems who didn’t belong there.”

The Progressive Conservative MLA said he introduced the same private member’s bill during the last session of the Legislature. The Minister of Justice at the time said the mental health court could be expanded without a bill. Lohr said he agrees that the Liberal government has the power to make such a change but he reintroduced the proposed legislation to remind them and wave

Lohr said wellness courts are slowly being implemented but he isn’t convinced they’ll solve the problem. He believes people across the province need access to both a mental health court and a drug treatment court. There is currently a Court Monitored Drug Treatment Program in Kings County.

Kirk.starratt@kingscountynews.ca

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