Canada @ 150

When society does think about criminal offenders, it probably refrains from thinking about their mental health. But the unfortunate truth is that the numbers show how this lack of empathy is reflected in the lack of treatments and services available to the over-abundant number of mentally ill offenders in the Canadian System.

There is a complex variety of reasons for why these numbers have climbed in the last couple of decades, sparking individuals and organizations to work to identify faults and build strategies for improvement. Canada has a responsibility to consolidate provincial and federal efforts to address the surge and the options available before, during and after incarceration.

Justice, health and corrections – typically thought of as independent branches – must in fact be recognized as needing to be a web of intricately intwined services. Here’s why.

mental health, criminal justice system, law, Canada

Data source: Canadian Mental Health Survey, Mental Health, 2012

Coping Through Justice, Documentary

canandian mental health association, housing, outreach,

Dasa Farthing – Program Manager, Housing Outreach Team, Canadian Mental Health Association, Ottawa. Photo © Carol Boeira.

“If people think that putting people with mental health in jail is a solution – that something is going to happen there and they can tackle their issues there – they’re absolutely wrong.”


mental health, law, canada, criminal justice system, canadian mental health association

Dasa Farthing, Program Manager – Housing Outreach Team at the Canadian Mental Health Association (Ottawa Branch), with her client, Ritchie Laperle. Photo © Carol Boeira

Legal Aid

Ryan Fritsch joined Legal Aid Ontario in 2012 to lead the development of LAO’s Mental Health Strategy, which marks the beginning of a long-term commitment to prioritizing, expanding and sustaining mental health rights and advocacy in Ontario’s legal system. The strategy can be found here.

Ryan Fritsch, legal aid, ontario, canada

Ryan Fritsch – Lead, Mental Health Strategy, Legal Aid Ontario. Photo courtesy of Ryan Fritsch.

“If these people don’t need to be criminalized, why are we pushing them down that path? Why aren’t we taking more of a diversionary approach?”


Mental health clients account for 25% of LAO’s yearly budget, and one in two clients at legal aid clinics have a mental illness or addiction. Although Legal Aid Ontario is a provincial institution established under a provincial statute – the Legal Aid Services Act – some of its funding does come from the Federal Government through a cost-sharing program. The Liberal government’s 2016 budget has committed to increasing funding in support of criminal legal aid in Canada.

legal, aid, ontario, canada, budget, 2016. liberal, government

Excerpt of the new 2016 Liberal Budget – Released on March 22, 2016.

Jake and Carol are fourth year journalism students at Carleton University in Ottawa. Jake is a Master's candidate in Film Studies at Carleton. Find him on Twitter @Jake_Pitre. Carol considers herself an artist at heart, and hopes to tie in her journalism training to create some really cool things. Find her at or on Twitter @mcboeira.

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