Psychological test backlog issue for trial

A Winnipeg murder trial may be delayed as burnout, lack of beds and understaffing results in a backlog of psychiatric tests for those involved in the justice system.

Milles Ramirez, 33, has been in custody since December 27, 2019, for allegedly stabbing his father to death in their Inkster Gardens home.

At the time, city police said Ramirez entered the downtown siege and told officers he killed a family member. Shortly thereafter, a 911 call was made from the Highwater Path home where Reynaldo Ramirez, 54, was found dead from stab wounds.

Milles Ramirez was then charged with second degree murder.

Although his trial is due this fall, there could be further delays as Ramirez waits to be admitted to the Winnipeg Health Sciences Center for a psychiatric assessment of criminal liability – a milestone now overdue by five months.

At a Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench hearing on Wednesday before Judge Gerald Chartier, the court heard that the assessment, first ordered on February 9, would not begin until this week due to a slow waiting list caused by a shortage of beds and staff.

The Criminal Code requires that criminal liability assessments – used to determine whether the accused knew he was doing something wrong when an incident occurred – must be completed within 30 days of the court order. .

Adrian Hynes, medical director of HSC’s forensic psychiatry program, said on Wednesday there were still several people waiting to access one of the 15 available beds, causing backlogs that have persisted for more than two years.

“It took five months to get five people on the criminal liability waiting list,” Hynes told the court. “We are running out of beds.”

Chris Gamby, director of communications for the Criminal Defense Lawyers Association of Manitoba, said long delays for court-ordered psychiatric assessments are the norm.

“The fact that there are deadlines imposed or directives that are imposed and that they are not respected tells me that there is a problem of resources”, he suggested in a telephone interview. . “You are on the axis of justice and the health system, and neither of those two systems is very well funded at the moment.”

Those awaiting an assessment of their criminal liability are often left behind by people who need it more urgently, Hynes told the court.

Beds may be occupied at any time by persons undergoing a fitness for trial assessment, dispensing treatment orders, seriously ill incarcerated persons requiring hospitalization, or persons who are not in detention. but have nowhere to go out safely in the community.

Hynes noted that he cannot recall anyone who received a criminal liability assessment within the 30-day period since he became director three years ago.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated procedural delays and resource shortages, he said. “There are many more psychiatric illnesses in COVID than not, and not just in patients but in staff related to burnout, early retirements, etc.

The forensic psychiatry program has lost three staff members in the past year, Hynes said, leaving just three doctors to meet growing patient needs, with just one potential new recruit on the way.

Gamby said that while lawyers now expect reports to take longer than the 30-day limit, their clients – especially those waiting in custody – are often confused or frustrated with the delays.

Peter Kingsley, executive director of Legal Aid Manitoba, said the delays have long been a concern of courts, doctors, accused and families, adding that there is “no worse place” for someone with mental health issues that limits detention.

Delayed assessments, he suggested, can also make it difficult for doctors to assess a person’s mental state at the time a suspected incident has occurred.

“You need this person to be assessed as quickly as possible because that will be the best indicator of who this person was on the date of the incident,” Kingsley said.

He noted that the Mental Health Court is working to streamline the process by holding regular meetings between courts, prison staff and medical staff to discuss strategies to overcome obstacles and move cases forward more quickly. in the system.

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Twitter: @jsrutgers

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