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Solitary Confinement For The “Crime” Of Mental Illness: Activists Demand Release of Marlene Carter From Confinement

By Julie Comber

This article has been adapted by Comber from a previous press release that she had posted on albertdumont.com.

Elder Albert Dumont speaks at February 11 rally outside the Brockville Mental Health Centre. Photo by Julie Comber

Elder Albert Dumont speaks at February 11 rally outside the Brockville Mental Health Centre. Photo by Julie Comber

Supporters rallied at the Brockville Mental Health Centre on Feb. 11 on behalf of Marlene Carter, a First Nations woman being held there in prolonged solitary confinement. During the rally, an inmate was noticed holding a sign in a window of the facility. The sign read, “I want to be free,” a fitting theme for those gathered to advocate for Carter’s release from seclusion.

Carter is from Onion Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. She has been held in seclusion (a.k.a. solitary confinement or isolation) at the Brockville Mental Health Centre since October 2015. For Carter, seclusion means a tiny eight by ten foot room containing only a cot and a sink/toilet unit. She has no TV, radio or internet, no shower, no smudging, and no right to spend even one minute outdoors.

Short-term use of seclusion may be justified in some cases, but the prolonged isolation Carter is enduring is a violation of her human rights and is considered a form of torture by the UN. The UN’s “Report on Solitary Confinement” defines solitary confinement as the physical isolation of individuals in their cells for 22 to 24 hours a day and prolonged solitary confinement as isolation for more than 15 days.

Carter has currently been in seclusion for over 110 days.

Who is Marlene Carter?

To understand how Carter came to be a victim of the Canadian judicial system, it is important to know some of her history. Her early life was characterized by sexual and physical abuse throughout her childhood, which caused her to attempt suicide several times. The downward spiral that lead to much of Carter’s adult life being spent in institutions started with a conviction in 1999 for non-violent offenses.

She was initially sentenced to nine months in prison, but the sentence was extended until 2003 due to an assault she committed while incarcerated. In 2009, she was convicted of several assaults and received a 30-month sentence. Assaults committed while incarcerated extended her sentence again, until 2014.

From 2009 to 2014, Carter was in Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre (RPC). She began hearing voices instructing her to bash her head against the floor or other hard surfaces. RPC responded by keeping her in restraints for so long her muscles atrophied, leaving her unable to stand or walk on her own.

Carter was transferred from RPC to the Brockville Mental Health Centre’s Forensic Treatment Unit in the summer of 2014. Her advocates hoped it would be a fresh start for her in a facility better equipped to support her mental health needs.

At the request of Brockville’s therapeutic staff, Algonquin elder Albert Dumont began to visit Carter regularly as her spiritual advisor in January 2015. He took her outdoors to sit and smudge, something Carter had not been allowed for years. Dumont witnessed a profound transformation. Carter went from a state of mistrust and inner rage to becoming calm and hopeful. He observed that she was intelligent and soft spoken. But by the fall of 2015, she deteriorated after Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) was imposed on her against her will. A series of assaults followed, leaving staff members shaken and fearful. As a result, Carter was put into prolonged seclusion.

A Call To Action

The Ontario Review Board determined this January that Carter should return to Saskatchewan to be closer to her community and family. However, she is still in seclusion and the date has not been announced for her transfer.

Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and professor of law at the University of Ottawa, has known Carter for nearly two decades. She is concerned Carter might wind up back at RPC, which “will only transfer the location, not change her treatment.” Pate has suggested to the Onion Lake Cree Nation that it make an application under section 81 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to have Carter transferred to the custody of the community as opposed to an institution.

Meanwhile, Dumont will be putting pressure on George Weber, the President and CEO of the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group, to immediately release Carter from seclusion. The Brockville Mental Health Centre where Carter is held is part of this group. “Weber calls the shots on how and where Marlene is treated while she is in Ontario,” says Dumont. On his website, Dumont is also encouraging a letter-writing campaign to Weber, with Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale, Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Carolyn Bennett CC’d.

For more information, visit albertdumont.com/marlene-carter-how-you-can-help/

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