Federal government defends program doctor says failed mentally ill Cree woman - APTN NewsAPTN News

Federal government defends program doctor says failed mentally ill Cree woman

Kenneth Jackson
APTN National News
OTTAWA – Correctional Service Canada is refuting allegations the department didn’t properly fund a pilot project aimed at helping severe mentally ill female inmates despite claims from the doctor who ran the program saying the lack of money failed a Cree woman from getting the help she needed.

Dr. A.G. Ahmed told APTN National News Tuesday the project was doomed from the start because the federal government didn’t give him enough money to see it through at the Brockville Mental Health Centre.

“They gave us two beds. Beds don’t heal people,” said Ahmed of Marlene Carter, 44, who was the first, and only, woman to take part in the long-awaited project announced May 2014. “There was no support to able to provide the kind of treatment that was expected. Our hands were tied.”

Carter was transferred from a federal facility in Saskatoon in August 2014 to take part in the project which was supposed to be a version of what is reportedly a successful program for men which has 100 beds.

“(Correctional Services Canada) has invested approximately $500,000 to ensure that appropriate services have been provided to that one offender currently being treated,” said spokeswoman Lori Halfper. “You should note that the agreement guaranteed access to treatment, services and accommodations for two federally sentenced women.”

Only the Brockville psychiatric institution has refused to take a second inmate, despite a referral from CSC, said Halfper.

Ahmed is currently in the process of trying to have Carter returned to the Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre after an Ontario Review Board made the recommendation at a hearing Tuesday. But that will take transfer agreements from multiple levels of government. 

Carter is under the authority of the Ontario Review Board because she was found not criminally responsible for multiple assaults on staff while at the Brockville institution.

Ahmed said the project was supposed to be three phases – acute treatment and stabilization, that included electro shock therapy, followed by intensive rehabilitation. 

“Unfortunately we could never (do rehabilitation). We didn’t have the funding to do that,” he said, adding Carter showed signs of improvement but could no longer get the help she needed in Brockville.

Ahmed said CSC approached him to develop a pilot project but by the time it was announced by the Stephen Harper government the program was nowhere near what was proposed.

“There was real tension between the two organizations right from the get-go,” said Howard Sapers, Canada’s correctional ombudsman. “I believe that tension interfered with the proper implementation of the intent, which was to ensure the most chronically and acutely mentally ill women receive hospital-based treatment.”

In other words, doctors wanted to treat Carter like a patient with therapeutic needs front and centre, while CSC wanted her treated like an inmate.

“I am puzzled by (CSC’s) reluctance to engage in a meaningful way,” said Sapers. “Often they have complained it has do with the cost of these services.”

The purpose of Tuesday’s hearing was to decide where to put Carter, a mother of three who has spent the better part of her adult life inside institutions with a slew of complex convictions linked to attacks on inmates and prison staff. 

She got nine months for non-violent offences in 1999, but an assault with a weapon on the inside extended her sentence until 2003. She was convicted of several assaults in 2004 on correctional officers and inmates. She was in and out custody on breaches until 2006. In 2009, she was convicted of several assaults on peace officers and a stranger in the community. She received a 30-month sentence then and further assaults on the inside extended her sentence until now.

She has spent much of the last seven years in restraints that stop her from harming others and herself, as she has a tendency to smash her head against walls and floors.


Carter, sitting, with her sister Peggy Harper Tuesday at the Brockville Mental Health Centre. Jason Leroux/APTN photo.

Carter had her sister, Peggy Harper, who flew in from Saskatchewan, by her side throughout the hearing this week. It was the first time Harper had seen her sister in several years.

““I understand Marlene assaulted a lot people but beyond that they don’t who she is … do they know what she has encountered, the horrific abuse (as a child) she was subjected to and all the restraints? It’s no wonder the way she is,” Harper said.

She’s supporting Carter’s return to Saskatchewan with the hopes one day she’ll be able to return home to Onion Lake First Nation.

Her federal sentence is set to expire later this summer but even then either review board in Ontario or Saskatchewan will have to agree to let her back in the community.




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