Ottawa defies UN plea not to deport mentally ill man

Posted by admin on Sep 1st, 2011

Nicholas Keung, The Star, 1 Sep, 2011

Ottawa has defied a United Nations committee’s request and deported a mentally ill immigrant to Jamaica, where he has no family and limited access to treatment. In a rare move, the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva this week asked Canada to hold off deporting Audley Horace Gardner — the same day the 48-year-old was escorted back to Kingston.

Gardner, who had been sponsored to Canada by one of his four sisters here 31 years ago, was stripped of his permanent resident status after being convicted of three separate assaults dating back to 2005 — offences a forensic psychiatrist attributed to schizophrenia.

“My uncle is not always in an erratic state. He is not always hallucinating,” said Marcia Reid, 36, Gardner’s niece and legal guardian. “He is a wonderful and affectionate person.”

Critics say the case highlights the “criminalization” of the mentally ill by the immigration system, which ruled Gardner a danger to the public.

“People like Mr. Gardner have been in Canada most of their lives and are now separated from their families. That support network is necessary for their mental health,” said Vani Jain of the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario.

“The circumstances that they come across are really not their choice.”

The Canada Border Services Agency does not collect statistics on deportees with mental illness, but Jain said this has become more of an issue in recent years.

Gardner was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in his 20s and was hospitalized for 18 months in the early 90s. After his discharge, he lived an independent life and worked as a bookkeeper.

His brushes with the law began in 2005, after an eviction from his apartment, when he became homeless and had difficulties following his medications and treatment.

Immigration arrested Gardner in 2007 and detained him until his deportation this week.

In Gardner’s failed bid to remain in Canada on humanitarian grounds, a Jamaican psychiatrist said the one mental hospital on the Caribbean island does not have adequate beds and resources.

“This man is more likely than not to end up on the streets of Jamaica,” Dr. Wendel Abel wrote in a report.

But is Gardner Canada’s problem?

While acknowledging an unstable Gardner could face unprovoked attacks in Jamaica, immigration officials said the public there was “not all indifferent to the plight of mentally ill street persons.”

“If Mr. Gardner’s family in Canada is indeed attached and committed enough to help him . . . why they would be uninterested in redirecting their energies and financial resources to assist him in Jamaica,” they said in rejecting Gardner’s humanitarian application.

If there was any fault on Gardner’s part, it was his failure to acquire Canadian citizenship, which would have given him an absolute right to remain regardless of his criminal convictions.

Gardner’s lawyer, Carole Dahan, said it is not uncommon for immigrants, especially those from the Caribbean, to wrongly assume they automatically become citizens after a lengthy residency in Canada.

“This is different from deporting some non-mentally-ill criminals,” said Dahan. “We owe the mentally ill more compassion and empathy.”

The federal government has six months to reply to the complaint to the UN committee, which will make a final order in a year.

Meanwhile, the community group home that Gardner was supposed to be taken to in Jamaica told Dahan that they have not seen him yet.

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