Do Not Cease from Exploration: A Report at the Nexus of Mental Health and the Criminal Justice System

Anne Derrick, In the Matter of a Fatality Inquiry Regarding the Death of Howard Hyde, Report pursuant to the Fatality Investigations Act (2010).

Long overdue, in 2010 Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.  (The United States has yet to ratify the Convention.)  While countries can ratify conventions at the international level, it is often the case that only in translation to our domestic, sometimes even local, contexts do we see the real effects of our commitments.

Judge Anne Derrick’s piece, a report on the death of Howard Hyde ordered by Nova Scotia’s Minister of Justice, pushes at the boundaries of what most of us would consider scholarship; yet, it is the most interesting piece of scholarly work motivated by equality considerations that has crossed my desk in the last several months.  It provides a marvellous illustration of the values reflected in the Convention played out against one very specific set of facts.

Howard Hyde, who was experiencing a recurrence of his chronic schizophrenia, was arrested by the Halifax Regional Police on November 21, 2007, after assaulting his common law partner.  Mr. Hyde tried to escape from the police when he was being booked.  A conducted energy weapon was twice used to shock Mr. Hyde.  After additional struggles, Mr. Hyde collapsed and stopped breathing.  He was revived and taken to the hospital.  After recovering at the hospital, Mr. Hyde was discharged once again to the police.  Later in the day, he appeared in court and was remanded to a correctional facility for the evening.  Mr. Hyde did not sleep that night.

On November 22, while being transported to court, Mr. Hyde attempted to escape from correctional officers.  He was restrained in a cell by correctional officers and stopped breathing.  He was pronounced dead at 8:43 a.m.

This is the story that gave rise to the inquiry and the subsequent inquiry report.  Even in its simple telling, drawn from the Preface of the report, the terror that a man living with a mental illness must have felt through the whole ordeal, and the inadequacy of the institutional response to his needs, is apparent.

The report deserves to be read in its entirety – all 7 parts, 57 chapters, 462 pages.  Rooted in the experience of one man, in one small corner of the world, the inquiry report demands broad readership.

Following a moving introduction and preface, the report reviews the factual narrative (Part II), outlines the cause and manner of death (Part III), addresses a range of issues that arise from the inquiry (Part IV), delineates the major findings (Part V), reviews changes since the time that Mr. Hyde died (Part VI), and provides for recommendations (Part VII) and a conclusion (Part VIII).

Let me highlight two aspects of the report, simply as a teaser.  First, the report’s 80 recommendations are essential ground for equality scholars with an interest in policy-relevant scholarship.  It might be noted that the recommendations appropriately do not focus on the assault of Mr. Hyde’s common law partner (although the need for appropriate accommodation for accused persons living with mental illnesses is underscored); rather, they are focused on the interaction between mental health and the criminal justice system.  The recommendations cover everything from the importance of developing a provincial mental health strategy that ensures coordination of care, integration of services and supports, and monitors quality and outcomes (Recommendation 1) to implementing a diversion program, including pre-charge diversion, for accused persons with mental illness (Recommendation 10) to training police with an eye to the overarching purpose of the development of a culture of respect and empathy for persons with mental illness in the justice system (Recommendation 49).

Second, the report is beautifully written.  Let me draw from the conclusion, which demonstrates more than ably the skill of the author and her ability to cut to the core of the issues before her:

At an immediate, fundamental level, what Mr. Hyde needed was human contact, reassurance and kindness. The evidence discloses how well he responded, even when somewhat agitated, to simple but effective interactions that incorporated these elements. Certain police officers, sheriffs and correctional officers were all successful in their interactions with Mr. Hyde utilizing approaches that were empathetic, respectful and caring. Even though he was acutely ill, Mr. Hyde was reassured and comforted “by talking to him.”3 Understanding this is to understand Mr. Hyde’s humanity and recognize in him, ourselves. (P. 388, footnotes removed)

I might conclude just by saying, briefly, something about the value of understanding this report as a form of scholarship.  If the highest calling of scholarship is to reveal the truth of the world, and perhaps further to reason about what that truth should be, then this report fits within the core of that ambition.  The report contributes to our knowledge about mental illness, the interaction between human beings experiencing a form of mental illness and the criminal justice system, and the potential to recognize and appreciate the fullness of the human experience.  It is, in that regard, scholarship of discovery.  In addition, Judge Derrick draws together diverse strands of evidence and weaves those together analytically, in a way that demonstrates the scholarship of integration.  Finally, the report’s provision of thoughtful and detailed recommendations is exemplary of scholarship of application.

The report’s conclusion section opens with a quote from T.S. Eliot.  It might be used to reveal the connection between the work of Judge Derrick in this report and the explorations we all take as scholars:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
– T.S. Eliot