Archive for September, 2007|Monthly archive page

Regarding Psychological Torture and Physicians Who Facilitate It

Mary Pipher is a courageous whistleblower – heard her on CBC radio last week. My article “A Psychiatric Holocaust” includes information regarding psychologist Donald Hebb’s unethical sensory deprivation, government-funded experiments on students at Montreal’s McGill University in the 1950s. Psychiatrist Ewen Cameron modified Hebb’s experiments to torture many patients (mostly women) with electroshock, psychiatric drugs & psychic driving in his brutal brainwashing experiments (see Phoenix Rising, vol.6 no.1, June 1986)
The interview with Mary Pipher–which I listened to on the radio and seems to be available online–in which she discusses the role being played by the American Psychological Association, of which she is a
member, in legitimizing torture is worth listening to. The interview was played on The Current, CBC Radio One, September 25, 2007,  which is also the source of the following:

Guantanamo Bay – Black Sites

As both American and Canadian forces continue to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, both nations have felt the heat of the debate over what to do with captured terror suspects.

In America, the quarrel over extending basic legal rights to detainees peaked once more last week. The U.S. Senate voted in favour of granting habeas corpus to detainees in U.S. custody. It was supposed to be a
landmark victory for human rights activists, but practically it was a hollow one although a majority, it still came 4 votes short of the 60 needed to pass.

Meanwhile, a less-public debate among psychologists on exactly how to interrogate detainees and what role psychologists should play in those interrogations hit a peak of its own in late August.

Dr. Mary Pipher, author of the book Reviving Ophelia (also see the video here), has returned a presidential citation she had received from the American Psychological Association. It was a protest against the association’s continued involvement with interrogations at Guantanamo Bay and the Central Intelligence Agency’s so-called black sites around the world. Dr. Mary Pipher joined us from Lincoln, Nebraska.

APA Response

For some perspective from the American Psychological Association, we were joined by Rhea Farberman. She is the director of communications with the association, and she joined us this morning from Crofton, Maryland.

Canadian Update

Here in Canada, the Code of Ethics governing psychologists does not deal specifically with torture or enhanced interrogations. But it does state that psychologists are not to engage in any activity contravening international humanitarian law. It also instructs them to speak out when they witness clearly unethical behaviour.

Dr. Peter Bradley, is a member of the Canadian Psychological Association and teaches at the Royal Military College. He says psychologists do work with the Canadian military, but only in areas of recruitment and counselling.

But there have been more troubling links in the past. In fact, some of the tactics the CIA uses in interrogations today were developed at McGill University in Montreal.

In December, 2005, we brought you an interview with Alfred McCoy, author of A Question of Torture. He described how McGill was a hotbed of psychological research for the CIA in the 1950s and 60s. And we now know it included the abuse of unsuspecting patients at the Allen Memorial Institute, under one-time American Psychological Association president, Ewan Cameron.

In our interview Alfred McCoy told us about some of the research, including sensory deprivation techniques, under another man named Donald Hebb. We aired a clip from our December 2005 interview with Alfred McCoy, author of A Question of Torture.

The questions surrounding the detention of Binyam Mohammed in Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay are now beginning to darken Canada’s doorstep. He’s the British resident being held as a terrorist suspect. He alleges that over the course of his detention, he was interrogated by Canadians.Binyam Mohammed is charged with being part of the “dirty bomb plot” that involved US citizen Jose Padilla. He’s also one of five detainees, including Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, who have been selected from the hundreds at Guantanamo for a military trial. He’s currently waiting for the US Supreme Court to decide on the legality of those tribunals.

To discuss his case, we were joined by his lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith. We reached him in Dorset, southern England.

Binyam Mohammed’s allegations are not the only time Canadian identities have been caught up in international controversy. In September, 1997, two Israeli secret agents were caught traveling with Canadian passports in Jordan, allegedly on their way to assassinate a leader of the Palestinian group Hamas. That case was never fully resolved.And it may never be entirely clear what sort of involvement – if any – Canada had in the case of Binyam Mohammed. However according to our next guest there is little doubt that Canada has historic connections to the use of torture by Americans.

In the early 1950’s at Montreal’s McGill University, Canadian psychologist Donald O’Hebb pioneered the study of sensory deprivation. And his controversial work led directly to the CIA and the invention of something they called “No Touch Torture”.

To talk about torture, its development and Canada’s historic role we were joined by Alfred McCoy. He’s written a book called A Question of Torture and we reached him in Madison, Wisconsin.

We continued our conversation with Alfred McCoy, the author of the book, A Question of Torture. Before the break we were talking about the development of the American policy of “no touch torture”.

In this segment we moved the discussion to more recent developments in the American torture debate. Just last week, President Bush appeared to bend to the concerns of Senator John McCain by agreeing to a sweeping torture ban.

Also here is an excerpt from “Sedated Into Submission,” from Le Monde Diplomatique, August 2007, in which by Steve Wright writes about research being conducted at the Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague by Dr. Jitka Schreiberova, chief anaesthetist, Department of Neurosurgery, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic, and her colleagues.

Dr Schreiberova discussed her work on transforming anaesthetics into sub-lethal weapons, and her experience of primate and human testing of immobilising drugs, at the European Symposia on Non-lethal Weapons in Ettlingen, Germany, in 2005 and 2007, and at the Jane‚s Non-Lethal Weapons conference in Leeds, United Kingdom, in 2005. She is working with a range of anaesthetics (such as the club drug ketamine and more traditional anaesthetics: remifentanil, alfentanil and etorphine – an ultra-potent thebain derivative) mixed with a range of fast-acting antidotes. Her presentations include images of paintball guns to distribute these drugs, as well as children with happy faces who have been successfully resuscitated.

“When I met Dr Schreiberova in Leeds, I asked whether anyone could be an anaesthetist in the Czech Republic, or did they need qualifications? She was clearly nonplussed by my question, so I asked if it was a skilled job or whether non-trained police officers could quickly learn the techniques of safe human immobilisation. She could not grasp what I was driving at in terms of the ethics of medical professionals handing over the power to administer a toxic drug to enforcement officers in a street or battlefield context. So I asked her if they had ethics committees in Prague and she said “yes, of course”. But I can’t imagine any medical ethics committee in France or Britain permitting experiments with immobilising weapons on children.”

Finally, Democracy Now! has an article revealing that More Health Care Professionals Involved In Design, Structuring of Torture Than in Providing Care for Survivors.


Psychiatric Drugs and Informed Consent- An Antipsychiatry Perspective

Psychiatric Drugs and Informed Consent – An Antipsychiatry Perspective
by Don Weitz
(Note: This article may not be republished without permission of the author.)

Ontario’s recent “Mental Health Week” (October 3-10) was just another sham. Mental health campaigns are not so much about informing and helping people in crisis or preventing crises, but a public relations exercise by and for the Canadian Mental Health Association. The CMHA is no friend of psychiatric survivors, antipsychiatry and social justice activists, mainly because it promotes psychiatry’s biomedical model of “mental illness”/”mental health” – including “medication” (psychiatric drugs), and the repressive “community treatment orders” which authorize outpatient forced drugging and other methods of social control masquerading as “treatment”.

I’m not only critical of CMHA but psychiatry and government because of their consistent failure to expose and investigate the epidemic of misinformation or lack of information about psychiatric drugs. I’m also critical of Big Pharma – the transnational drug industry. Big Pharma ceos and their media reps, in collusion with officials in government regulatory agencies such as Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States) and the medical profession, have repeatedly lied to the public about the alleged safety and effectiveness of the antidepressants and neuroleptics (“antipsychotics”). Big Pharma continues to produce false and misleading media ads that extol the safety and effectiveness of these drugs with little or no scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness – virtually no information about their long-term effects. Profit – not public safety – is its bottom line. With the support of Health Canada and the FDA, Big Phamra has generally denied public access to the results of their clinical trials. More cover-ups.

For example, take the antidepressant Paxil. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), manufacturer of Paxil, deceived the public for many years by withholding critical information in its ads – namely that Paxil can cause withdrawal (“discontinuance syndrome”), a clear sign of addiction. Until recently, GSK also denied Paxil’s alarming ability to trigger suicidal ideas and suicide attempts, which it covered up for approximately twenty years. In recent class-action lawsuits in the United States and United Kingdom, GSK was ordered to pay out billions of dollars to patients who had suffered severe withdrawal effects of Paxil. In Canada, a similar class-action-lawsuit is in the works.

While lawsuits expose Big Pharma’s unethical or illegal drug practices, this is small comfort to surviving relatives of people who killed themselves or others while on these “safe and effective” drugs. Widely-respected environmental activist Tooker Gomberg jumped to his death in Halifax in the spring of 2003, a few weeks after being prescribed the antidepressant Remeron (mirtazapine). Like many other doctors, Tooker’s psychiatrist failed to inform him about the suicide risk and other “side effects” of Remeron. Angela Bischoff, Tooker’s partner and an equally respected environmental activist, is currently speaking out about the many risks of the antidepressants and criticizing the medical profession, transnational drug companies, and Health Canada for their insufficient or misleading information about antidepressant drug risks, their lack of accountability and cover-ups.

Consider the horrific murder-suicide case of Joseph Wesbecker, as reported by psychiatrist Peter Breggin in his1994 book Talking Back to Prozac. Sixteen years ago in Louisville, Kentucky, Wesbecker underwent a dramatic personality change. He became suddenly threatening and violent 4-5 weeks after taking Prozac. On one day armed with an AK-47 rifle, Wesbecker burst into his workplace, killed 8 workers and injured 12 others, then killed himself. Eli Lilly, manufacturer of Prozac and the neuroleptic Zyprexa (olanzapine) which can cause diabetes, denied a cause-effect relationship. The1991 edition of the Physicians’ Desk Reference (US doctors’ drug bible) barely mentions that cases of “suicidal ideation” and ”violent behavior” have been reported. However, during the last few years including 2005, the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties (Canadian doctors’ drug bible) clearly warns that recent clinical trials show that Paxil and other SSRI-antidepressants can cause “ severe agitation… self harm…, suicidal ideation or other indicators of potential for suicidal behaviour in patients of all ages.” Despite these alarming findings, Paxil has not been banned in Canada. However, Paxil has recently been banned in the US and UK for children 18 years and under.

Nevertheless, psychiatrists and other physicians generally do not inform their patients about the possibility of suicide, violence, sudden death, and other serious risks of the antidepressants and neuroleptics – partly because of their indoctrination into the biomedical model, partly because of their obsession to enforce ”medication compliance”. During the last twenty-five years in Toronto, I’ve talked with and listened to many survivors about what doctors have told and especially not told them about psychiatric drugs. When I’ve asked survivors, “Did your doctor ever mention or warn you about any risks or alternatives…?”, the vast majority answered no. In short, psychiatric survivors, particularly people locked up in coercive and intimidating psychiatric wards, are kept ignorant about many serious “side effects of medication”. In Toronto, I’ve heard of only one or two doctors willing to help survivors withdraw safely and gradually. Despite their denials, many drug-pushing doctors are causing drug dependency or addiction in many patients, which is not only unethical but constitutes medical malpractice.

Health Canada – particularly its Therapeutic Products Directorate (TPD) – also deserves criticism. Despite the well-known health-and-life-threatening effects of Paxil and similar SSRI-antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Effexor, TPD refuses to ban or tightly restrict their use. Instead, it issues “advisories”, which are weakly-worded notices to doctors and pharmacists informing them about serious risks of a few antidepressants and other drugs and simply asking them to be careful when prescribing these hi-risks drugs. – especially to children and the elderly. Health Canada’s “advisories” are unenforceable since they include no order to comply; this means doctors are free to ignore them and prescribe Paxil and other hi-risk psychiatric drugs to children and elderly patients – the most vulnerable. At the very least, serious and enforceable warnings, such as “black box labels” sometimes issued in the United States, should replace the “advisories”.

Also, consider the serious health risks of neuroleptics (*antipsychotics”), which are as dangerous as the antidepressants . Both classes of drugs target and damage the brain’s emotional centre (limbic system) as well as powerful neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. For over twenty years until the late 1980s, psychiatrists failed to inform patients about tardive dyskinesia (TD)-, a serious neurological disorder, despite the fact that TD and its serious health risks were well-publicized in medical and psychiatric journals – including the Archives of General Psychiatry and the American Journal of Psychiatry. TD is a disfiguring, painful and generally permanent neurological disorder caused by virtually all of the 20+ neuroleptics such as Haldol (haloperidol), Risperdal (risperidone), and Zyprexa (olanzapine). According to various studies, if you’re under 50 years old and prescribed a neuroleptic, you stand a 10%-25% chance of developing TD within 1 or 2 years. if you’re 60 years and over your chances are 40%-50%. Neuroleptics have also caused the frequently fatal neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) and sudden death. NMS is characterized by high fever, delirium, “lead pipe rigidity” in some muscles and other serious effects. It also causes death. A number of published studies show that the fatality rate of NMS is approximately 25%. About 12 years ago, a close friend almost died from NMS while on Haldol at Queen Street Mental Health Centre (now CAMH). Based on the widely recognized prevalence rate of 2%-3%, my guesstimate is that well over 4000 Canadians have TD and over 1000 have died from this drug-induced disorder. Although Health Canada recently banned Mellaril, (thioridazine), it has never banned other equally dangerous, brain-damaging neuroleptics such as Thorazine (chlorpromazine), Haldol (haloperidol), Clozaril (clozapine), Risperdal (risperidone) and Zyprexa (olanzapine) It should.

To protect the public, government banning of hi-risk, harmful drugs is essential. Equally essential is public health education –such as government-sponsored public hearings on psychiatric drugs. To date in Canada, neither the provincial governments nor the federal government have held public hearings on the risks of and alternatives to psychiatric drugs. Given this appalling and shameful fact, the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA) took action in April 2005 by sponsoring two days of public hearings (“Inquiry Into Psychiatry”) in Toronto City Hall. These hearings were unique and historic in three respects. First, the decision to develop a strategy of resistance to psychiatric drugs was the direct result of a public and democratic process one year earlier – all the people at a public meeting in City Hall voted to direct CAPA to make psychiatric drugs and electroshock (ECT) its two priorities. Second, an independent panel of academics and health professionals facilitated the testimony. Third, only psychiatric survivors who have experienced psychiatric drugs were allowed to testify. The personal testimonies of over twenty-five of these courageous survivors were riveting, frequently alarming. They exposed and criticized many harmful effects of the drugs including memory loss, brain damage, and trauma, as well as several human rights violations including forced drugging and lack of informed consent. Survivor testimonies and a hard-hitting report of the drug are posted on the CAPA website, click on ”Inquiry into Psychiatry” or ”Personal Narratives”.

The Hippocratic Oath orders all physicians “First, do no harm”. However, many doctors have violated and continue to violate this Oath, as well as the ethical principle and legal right to informed consent, whenever they prescribe hi-risk psychiatric drugs and fail to inform patients about their many risks and alternatives. Similarly, although governments and the medical profession proclaim principles and laws affirming the public’s right to be fully informed and access health information, they violate these principles and laws whenever their officials refuse to hold public hearings on psychiatric drugs and withhold basic information from patients and the public. It’s time to pressure governments, including Health Canada, and the medical profession to stop these violations and start educating us about psychiatric drugs and their life-threatening “side effects.”

At the same time, psychiatric survivors can and should educate themselves, government health officials, and the public about safe and humane non-medical alternatives to the drugs–self-help groups, withdrawal centres, affordable and supportive housing, nutritious diet and exercise, and a liveable wage. All can help, heal and empower.

Recommended Reading:
Peter R. Breggin. Brain-Disabling Treatments in Psychiatry (NewYork: Springer Publishing Company, 1997)

Bonnie Burstow and Don Weitz. Psychiatric Drugs – A Public Health Hazard. A brief presented on behalf of Resistance Against Psychiatry (RAP) to the Toronto Board of Health, May 30, 1990 [unpublished].

Leonard Roy Frank. “A Prescription for Diabetes, Disease and Early Death”,
Street Spirit, vol.11 no.8, August 2005.

Report of the Psychiatric Drugs Panel. Toronto: Inquiry Into Psychiatry 2005
Biographical note: Don Weitz is an antipsychiatry activist, co-founder of the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault, and host-producer of “Antipsychiatry Radio” on CKLN in Toronto.

Shocking Government Behaviour

The Toronto Star reports on Don Weitz’s struggle to obtain accurate ECT statistics from Ontario’s Ministry of Health, and the whopping bill they sent him for the “favour” of providing incomplete public information.

“This is supposed to be public information,” Weitz said. “There’s enormous public interest in it and yet they are systematically depriving citizens of access.” Weitz, a 76-year-old researcher in Toronto, had been collecting the statistics on electroshock therapy for decades without a problem. But things changed in 2005 when the province levied, for the first time, a fee of $5,800. When the senior citizen on a fixed income appealed to the ministry, arguing the fee was “excessive, unreasonable and unjustified,” the province reduced the bill to $2,175.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled on the case, prohibiting the province from billing Don. However, the government, seemingly undaunted even during an election campaign, is determined to squeeze its citizens for the right to know what the government wants to hide. Bonnie Burstow observes that the government’s behaviour reflects the “siege mentality” that exists at Queen’s Park. She says, “It’s more important than ever that we have reliable statistics on this issue, and we have been sabotaged in getting them.”


reminder- please try to make these important Pride events

Mark your calendar!


Friday September 28th , Saturday September 29th ,Sunday September 30th

All events are free!  All venues are accessible!   Everyone is welcome!

Friday September 28th
NOW, WHO’S CRAZY NOW?,  a one woman play about recovery
by Elly Litvak
6pm -8pm
Parkdale Library Auditorium
1303 Queen Street West.

Saturday September 29th
Arts and Education Fair,
CTO Research Presentation by Erick Fabris
Free lunch! – Courtesy of Raging Spoon, Voices from the Street, &  Houselink Community Kitchen
Performance Art by Linda Carter
Open Stage!
A Crazy Diamond, (pt#1) a film by Lavarocky
Edmond Yu Theatre Project by The Friendly Spike Theatre Band
And more!
11am – 4pm
Parkdale Library Auditorium
1303 Queen Street West

Guided by Geoffrey Reaume
CAMH – front Patio (Ossington Entrance)
1101 Queen Street West

Sunday September 30th
by LACP (lakeshore asylum cemetery project)
Evans /Horner Avenues,
South Etobicoke
(Directions to cemetery; either: take the Kipling South bus from Kipling subway station and ask to get off at Evans Ave, and then walk east to Horner.  Or go to Royal York Subway, from there, take the #15 Evans (South) bus to the north east corner at Evans and Horner Avenue where the cemetery is located (give yourself about half an hour between the subway stop and arriving at the cemetery).  Cars:  this cemetery is just south of the Gardiner Expressway, on Evans Ave., between Kipling and Islington. There is a parking lot across the street, on the south side of Evans.

(For information on any of these events call Friendly Spike Theatre Band (416) 516 4740)

Sue Clark urges boycott Pegnuin pro-shock book

Hello everyone. I have a strategy for protesting the pro-electroshock book, “Shock”, will be promoted in a speech on October 15, 2007 at Northeastern University in Boston. The speech by authors Kitty Dukakis and Larry Tye. The book is published by the Penquin Group Books.

Sending them an email saying you will boycott all of their books is the consumer saying we don’t like the book youprinted which is above.

Send an email or call Penguin’s Corporate Communications department – Marilyn Ducksworth at 212-366-2563 or Dave Zimmer at 212-366-2687.

Also just to let you know, regarding the Simone D. case, I suggested to the lawyers involved that they contact the Governor of New York and other politicians. They did and it had a snowball effect.

Regards, Sue Clark-Wittenberg

Writer Rob Wipond supports Laurel House, blasts CMHA & FIHA

Can Laurel House Be Saved?


The decision to close Laurel House by October is, simply, bizarre.

Victoria’s last remaining drop-in, education and training centre for people diagnosed with mental illnesses is a rare success story (see June’s Focus) in a beleaguered system. While the Eric Martin psychiatric hospital and Archie Courtnall Centre endure psychiatrist resignations, and while police-backed psychiatric emergency responders are greeted with fear as often as gratefulness, Laurel House’s voluntary options for leisure, peer networking, skills development, and just being oneself in a therapeutic atmosphere stand out as popular amongst both front-line workers and consumers alike. There’s no better evidence of this than the support emerging in city media coverage and letters to the editor.

Kathleen Sumilas voices the sentiments of many clients when she says, “Laurel House saved my life.”

So why have the Vancouver Island Health Authority, the funders, and the Capital Mental Health Association, the independent organization running Laurel House, recently blindsided everyone with this announcement? Yes, new programs will run from CMHA’s offices and around the city. However, everyone recognizes our lack of community supports for people diagnosed with mental illnesses has contributed dramatically to other problems like suicides, homelessness and emergency room line-ups, so why axe our most successful program?!

The answers have been dubious.

Laurel House is scientifically “outdated”, wrote VIHA CEO Howard Waldner to the Victoria Times-Colonist.

A UBC psychiatric rehabilitation specialist corrected Waldner, noting formal evaluations show Laurel House is extremely progressive.

The “decision to shift the programming”, Waldner also stated, “rests with CMHA”.

However, in a tense meeting, CMHA executive director Liam McEnery told Laurel House members the closure was “non-negotiable” and forced on CMHA by VIHA.

Conversely, Alan Campbell, director of VIHA’s adult mental health division, told me the decision had been mutually arrived at after months of strategizing with CMHA about improving job placement and youth outreach.

When I immediately thereafter asked McEnery who or what had really motivated the changes, his first response was, “What did Alan say?” He, too, then insisted it was all about improving services.

Later, under intense questioning at another meeting with Laurel House members, McEnery suggested high maintenance costs drove a “shared” decision.

Certainly, in today’s market, public services abruptly vacating two beautiful, donated heritage buildings near an upscale Rockland neighbourhood appears suspect.

In any case, what’s most exasperating to Laurel House members is that they were never even consulted. Indeed, no mental health consumers were. And since CMHA gets two-thirds of VIHA’s contract funding for area rehabilitation services, that means our community’s mental health rehabilitation system has just undergone extensive restructuring without any consultations with the people these organizations are professing to help. Further, CMHA executives have deeply hurt most Laurel House users, leaving them frightened and distraught about losing what is partly their second home, family and social life. Many clients also feel viciously undermined because, after working for years developing progressive policies, practices and relationships amongst themselves, staff and volunteers, they rightly feel a sense of prideful “ownership”, too.

Shouldn’t they have been consulted? “That would be the role of the CMHA,” replies VIHA’s Campbell.

McEnery grudgingly concedes, “That’s what we’re trying to do now.”

With Laurel House already closing, now is too late.

Both men know better. Our provincial health ministry’s “Best Practices in Mental Health” guides include a 42-page volume promoting consumer empowerment in mental health system planning. It emphasizes that mental health consumers must be given “meaningful involvement” in “democratic decision-making processes that value and actively include” their opinions. Indeed, every volume begins with an “Important Note” recognizing such consumer involvement as the foundation of modern psychosocial rehabilitation. CMHA’s professional accreditation also recognizes consumer empowerment as crucial.

And it makes sense. Imagine a group developing plans to “improve” social conditions for Aboriginal women, yet this group deliberately excluded all Aboriginal women from the discussions!

Both CMHA and VIHA had a responsibility to ensure consumers were meaningfully consulted. Instead, they’ve hacked the heart out of Laurel House, and now show little awareness of how hugely and inexcusably they’ve blundered. Campbell and Waldner have been misleading and evasive, and McEnery has been less apologetic than self-admittedly “angry”–angry with the negative media coverage, angry with the protests, and angry that few understand his grander vision.

VIHA and CMHA should mutually agree to keep Laurel House open, and then invite diverse consumers into discussions about its future and improving community services. They should encourage the Laurel House users’ fundraising campaign.

Nothing prevents this. But sadly, unilaterally closing Laurel House is symptomatic of a systemic problem.

Our health authority long ago axed its own mental health consumer advisory board, and only recently reinstated it in token fashion. They pulled funding from this city’s only consumer-run support centre. And, as strong supporters of pharmaceuticals, the CMHA and BC Schizophrenia Society (the only other prominent group supporting Laurel House’s closure) have lobbied against strengthening the legal rights of involuntary patients to opt for non-drug treatments.

Basically, despite noble philosophies on paper, there are frequently strong divisions between the people who use mental health services and the mental health professionals who typically run them. And the professionals don’t often willingly cede their powers.

Sumilas sums up the Laurel House situation: “I get the sense they think, ‘We know what’s good for you.’”

That’s why it’s the responsibility of all of us to ensure public money for serving people diagnosed with mental illnesses really does serve them, instead of serving agencies with their own agendas.

Contact Kathleen Sumilas and the group trying to save Laurel House in Victoria at 250-383-9693 or nova_agape at yahoo dot ca
Originally published in Focus magazine, August 2007.

Trackback Permanent link to Can Laurel House Be Saved?

Support Survivor Fight for Laurel House in B.C

September  16, 2007

Hi Rob,
Many thanks for sending this very disturbing information re brother and sister survivors threatened with eviction from Laurel House in Victoria, B.C. Absolutely disgraceful, unjust and probably unlawful! Please copy and forward my letter below to other individuals and organizations you believe are interested in offering support. Please send any more info you have. Thanks again.

September 16, 2007
Letter to All Psychiatric Survivors and Supporters at Laurel House:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I totally support your right and courageous fight to remain in Laurel house. It is your human right to live and associate with whomever you wish, to give each other emotional, social, and personal support on your own terms. You are living and standing up for self-help or peer-support, which you undoubtedly know is infinitely more humane and effective than any “mental health” or psychiatric “treatment”, and an essential alternative to the oppressive psychiatric system. I also totally support and respect your right to resist any move by the CMHA and the B.C. government to evict you. If this threatened eviction is not unlawful, it certainly is harassment, it’s also disrespectful, insensitive, and inhumane. Like the psychiatrists, the CMHA and B.C. government officials believe psychiatric survivors like yourselves can be manipulated, patronized, and pushed around which is what they’re trying to do. Tell them, HELL NO, WE WON’T GO. STAND UP AND FIGHT.

This is a crisis situation and violation of your human rights–an assault on your right to autonomy, an assault on your right to make your own decisions, an assault on your right to live wherever you wish, an assault on your right to control your own lives. I support your struggle and urge many other psychiatric survivors, antipsychiatry activists, and human rights advocates who may read  this to support your right to occupy and live in Laurel House.
in solidarity,
Don Weitz
antipsychiatry activist, co-founder of Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault

MindFreedom International

I’ve become really busy involved very directly, personally, helping with this action, but I just thought all of you should know that something special is happening in Victoria right now and it would be nice if perhaps you could show your support by writing letters to the local newspaper (see link below) or others, as the CBC, the Canadian Press and others have also begun to cover it nationally. Or send complaints to the national CMHA office for not doing anything to stop the closure of Laurel House in Victoria.

A group of consumer/survivors have banded together to defend what was essentially a half-client-run, half-system-run drop-in, totally voluntary hang-out, skills, training, rec and support centre for people who’ve been in the mental health system. It was basically just a wonderful home where people could hang out together and give peer-support, with a few staff on hand who’d been there for many years and developed really positive, non-coercive relationships with everyone. The CMHA and some gov’t bureaucrats just made the decision to close it without consulting anyone else. The users have been extraordinarily united and tenacious, and they have now occupied the building and are refusing to leave. Aside from keeping the place open, their main demand is that users of the mental health system be given a more meaningful role in decision-making in the mental health system here. The gov’t is, as you’ll see below, after 3 months of a very pitched battle, finally starting to show some signs of willingness to negotiate.

Here’s a link to my own earlier article about it:

And here’s the latest breaking news as of yesterday.

If any of you just want to send personal letters of support to the consumer/survivors, just send them to me and I’ll be happy to take them in to them. They are very excited to think their actions might influence or inspire others elsewhere in the country.


Laurel House wins temporary reprieve
Clients staging a sit-in aren’t sure the offer is enough. They’ll make a decision on Monday

Judith Lavoie
Times Colonist

Saturday, September 15, 2007

CREDIT: Darren Stone, Times Colonist
Clients at Laurel House on Elford Street plan to stay put for the next few days. One of their demands is that a psychiatric nurse on staff for eight years keep his job.

Laurel House has received a temporary reprieve from Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Capital Mental Health Association.

VIHA and the Capital Mental Health Association offered yesterday to hold consultations and keep the facility open for three months. But clients of the Elford Street drop-in centre for mentally ill people who are staging a sit-in at the house are not sure the offer is enough to satisfy their demands.

Kathleen Sumilas, speaking for the half-dozen people occupying the house, said they will stay put for the weekend and make a decision on Monday.

“They have taken several months to negotiate with us,” she said. “So we’re going to consult with members. . . We’re not making any hasty decisions.”

After months of protests about yesterday’s planned closure, VIHA chief operating officer Mike Conroy said there will be a delay in moving programs from Laurel House to CMHA headquarters on Skinner Street. The delay will allow for more consultation with clients, he said.

“It is clear that, despite the best efforts of the Capital Mental Health Association, some of the remaining clients at Laurel House continue to have concerns about the future of the services they’ve grown to depend on,” Conroy said.

Kelly Reid, VIHA manager of mental health and addictions residential services, will oversee a three-month consultation process with Laurel House clients and their families. He will also oversee replacement programs at the Skinner Street location.

Reid will then report to VIHA on any changes he believes necessary.

“It may happen that we learn some information that we didn’t have before. We may find we are missing things in the new program or maybe there are some options with the Laurel House site that people can come up with,” Reid said.

VIHA is enthusiastic about the new programming, but consultations may better explain the importance of a safe, welcoming environment where there is no pressure, he said.

“This is the opposite outcome than anyone at VIHA or the CMHA ever wanted. To be in a situation where there is such stress and anxiety is very counter-productive. We knew we had to pause and re-evaluate things.”

No effort will be made to move protesters out of Laurel House over the weekend, but there are concerns, Reid said.

“We don’t know who’s living in the house and there are liability concerns, but the last thing we want is more confrontation,” he said.

One of the demands made by the clients was that psychiatric nurse Terry Miller, program co-ordinator at Laurel House for eight years, retain his job. Miller, 55, is still slated to lose his job Sept. 30.

“An organization like ours is always stretched for resources and we think an occupational therapist is the way we want to head for the new program,” said Liam McEnery, CMHA executive director.

Laurel House is not a medical program, so the need for a psychiatric nurse is limited while an occupational therapist can help people with goals, life skills and functioning in the community, McEnery said.

During the next three months funding for Laurel House will go into the new programs, which means Laurel House will be operating with reduced staff, McEnery said.

Meal programs will continue and so will the socialization programs, he said.

Miller said it is upsetting to walk away from his clients.

“To say I am feeling a little bad is an understatement,” he said. “The reason Laurel House works is it’s real people helping each other. It’s a therapeutic community which speaks to the quality of life.”

Rob Fleming, Victoria-Hillside MLA, said the temporary reprieve allows the consultations that should have occurred in the first place. “I think it was a rushed and top-down approach,” he said.

“When you do make changes, you want to get them right. Especially when it comes to mental health services, it is critical that the users of those services are part of the decision-making.”

Kitty Dukakis promotes ECT- Call for Protest in October at Northeastern U

A call for survivors and human rights groups to protest against this pro-shock event  featuring Kitty Dukakis, wife of former governor Michael Dukakis, on October 15 at Northeastern U in Boston, Massachusetts. She will apparently be promoting her book. The publicity for the event reads as follows.

Shock by Kitty Dukakis, Michael Dukakis, & Larry Tye on October 15, 2007, from  6:30 to 8:00 p.m. in the Raytheon Auditorium, Egan Research Center at Northeastern University. Book signing will follow lecture and discussion.

“After suffering for decades from severe depression, substance abuse problems, and hospitalizations, Kitty Dukakis now credits her recovery to electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Opponents of ECT would like to see the treatment banned on the basis of its common side effects, such as memory loss. Many patients say these are a small price to pay for control over a disabling condition. Governor Michael Dukakis and author Larry Tye join Kitty Dukakis for a discussion on how this medical treatment – along with the support of family and loved ones – can potentially help individuals through the horrors of clinical depression.”

Memory loss, emotional numbing, loss of personality, abuse at the hands of the psychiatric system, withholding of counselling to blackmail victims into accepting ECT – are these “small prices to pay?” If you are in the Boston area in October, provide balancing information to those who go to hear this celebrity. And for the rest of us, there will be massive publicity around this book. Every Kitty Dukakis book-signing and TV appearance is an opportunity to educate the public into the realities of this ongoing atrocity.

Naomi Klein book & survivor Gail Kastner

Sue Clark writes to tell us about Gail Kastner’s compensation from 2004. Kastner is profiled as a victim of Ewen Cameron and the CIA in Naomi Klein’s new book, The Shock Doctrines:

Woman awarded $100,000 for CIA-funded electroshock

Thursday, June 10, 2004

A Montreal woman who underwent intense electroshock treatment in a program funded by the CIA 50 years ago has been awarded $100,000.Gail Kastner was given massive electroshock therapy to treat depression in 1953 at the Allan Memorial Institute in Montreal.

She was told on Wednesday of the compensation award.

She was left out of a federal compensation package in 1994 because her treatment was deemed to have been less intense than that of other victims of the experiments. Her treatment was also found to have had fewer long-term effects.

A Federal Court judge reversed that ruling, and awarded her the same amount Ottawa gave to 77 others as compensation for their treatment.

There were 253 claims rejected.

Dr. Ewan Cameron, who was director of the Allan Memorial Institute, conducted experiments using electroshock and drug-induced sleep. The research was funded from 1950 to 1965 by the CIA and by the Canadian government.

School of Shock Video

Here’s a video about some “scientific results” coming from the Judge Rotenberg Center, run by Matthew Israel, that was described in this post, and the Mother Jones article. There is clear demonstration that shocking children quickly “improves” their behaviour – that’s sort of obvious. Watch to the end, where you see the type of “infractions” that merit shock treatment.