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Michael Nehass, Indigenous inmate who spent years in solitary confinement, to be transferred to B.C. hospital

Michael Nehass, who started believing a technological device had been implanted in his torso during his six years at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, will arrive at the Hillside Centre in Kamloops on Sept. 18, a judge ordered Tuesday.


A First Nations man whose criminal charges were stayed by the Whitehorse Crown prosecutors' office after he spent much of his period of incarceration in solitary confinement will be transferred next week from a forensic psychiatric facility in Ontario to a mental-health hospital in British Columbia.

Michael Nehass, who started believing a technological device had been implanted in his torso during his six years at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, will arrive at the Hillside Centre in Kamloops on Sept. 18, a judge ordered Tuesday. "I have always said that it's proper mental-health care for Mr. Nehass that's needed, not the criminalization of mental illness," Mr. Nehass's lawyer, Anik Morrow, told reporters outside the courthouse on Tuesday. "And that's what was happening here, the criminalization of mental illness."

The case has highlighted several issues plaguing the correctional system, including the overrepresentation of First Nations in prisons, the mental-health risks linked to extended periods in isolation and the challenges in accessing treatment.

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The 33-year-old, who is a member of the Tahltan First Nation, faced five charges dating back to an alleged assault in 2011. He was convicted in 2015, but in February, a judge declared a mistrial after determining he was unfit to participate in his own sentencing.

Since last November, Mr. Nehass has resided at the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences in Whitby, Ont., far from his family in British Columbia and Yukon.

Ms. Morrow had filed an application that sought a judicial stay of the proceedings against Mr. Nehass. She alleged violations of his Charter rights had caused his mental health to deteriorate.

Despite medical staff's repeated requests over the course of his time in Whitehorse that he be transferred to a forensic psychiatric hospital outside the territory, he remained at the institution until late last year. The Yukon does not have such a facility.

With the culmination of the criminal case, the Yukon NDP is calling for an independent inquiry into Mr. Nehass's treatment at the Whitehorse institution.

"We need to push back so this never, ever happens again," said NDP Leader Liz Hanson. "We believe the only way this can be fully resolved is for the government to be willing and open to say, 'We don't want to have this cloud hanging over our justice system.' "

"If we're serious about reconciliation, then we don't want justice systems that are going to keep perpetuating this approach. It's medieval. It's not justice, certainly."

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Last Friday, prosecutor Eric Marcoux filed a Crown stay, putting an end to criminal proceedings against Mr. Nehass. It means too, though, that Ms. Morrow does not have the opportunity to argue her application.

"It was nothing more than putting a gag order on the evidence that had been filed," she said. Last week, she called the Crown's action "shameful," in that it left Mr. Nehass in Ontario.

Tuesday's order, signed by Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale, also notes that the Crown "has not addressed the removal of Mr. Nehass from Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences."

Mr. Nehass is still in need of treatment, Ms. Morrow said, and he is able to receive it through the civil mental-health system, which exists under provincial and territorial mental-health legislation.

Mr. Nehass has some family members in British Columbia and Ms. Morrow said she has spoken to several of them. His father and one of his siblings are planning to move to Kamloops to be closer to him.

"Everybody is in agreement that they would like to have their boy, Michael, back," she said. "They want him back the way he used to be, the way they know him to be. They all want treatment for him."

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Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale, who signed Tuesday's order, has said the case raised several issues that were "far too important to disappear."

Correctional physician Dr. Nader Sharifi speaks to Affan Chowdhry about the changes that occur when an inmate is segregated Globe and Mail Update
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