Our Government’s Deliberate Helplessness

July 4, 2008
in Category: Articles, BC Politics, Canadian Politics, Economics, Health
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Our Government’s Deliberate Helplessness

The Victoria Times-Colonist ran articles last fall about delinquent doctors remaining licensed to practice. Evidently, doctors’ secretive, self-funded, self-regulating disciplinary and licensing body, the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, is more interested in protecting doctors than in protecting the public. Under questioning, provincial government representatives pleaded helplessness; they had no authority over the college.

But after continuing scandalized media coverage, Health Minister George Abbott pledged to legislate more public accountability for our public doctors.

I was skeptical. After all, this scandal wasn’t new. I wrote about it myself for Monday Magazine ten years ago.

A former chief of psychiatry of Victoria’s Eric Martin Pavilion had been found guilty of drugging a female patient into a “zombie-like” state and sexually assaulting her over months while working in Ontario. He was back practising psychiatry here. I interviewed government representatives locally, regionally, provincially and nationally, and they responded in a chorus of, “That’s troubling, but we’re helpless. The college has authority.”

Meanwhile, the BC College’s deputy registrar dismissively told me he thought Ontario’s “zero tolerance” policy for doctors sexually abusing their patients was “hawkish”.

Feeling appalled? That’s why, I discovered, the college is secretive. Another case I came across involved Victoria native Dr. James Tyhurst, former head of the UBC psychiatric department. A woman complained her “therapy” involved having to strip naked, kneel and call Tyhurst “master”. The college interviewed the psychiatrist and then issued a letter of reprimand, merely advising Tyhurst that “the degree of subjugation was unwarranted and its effectiveness questionable”. These facts became public and Tyhurst eventually stopped practising not thanks to the college, but in the wake of prominent sexual assault court cases involving several more female patients.

Other outraged local and national media followed up on our Monday story, but provincial reps persisted in pleading helplessness. (Strangely, the T-C vigorously defended the college and local psychiatrist, so they may this year win a newspaper award for exposing a scandal they helped suppress a decade earlier. See “MD Barred in Ontario Finds Post in Victoria”, Victoria Times-Colonist, June 24, 1998. This bizarre article by T-C legal staff writer Richard Watts included interviews with only the College and the convicted doctor, referred to the female patient as an “alleged” victim, and described Ontario’s policy of suspending licences for sexual assault as “arbitrary and harsh”.)

Eventually, more complaints prompted BC’s Ombudsman to launch an investigation into all our self-regulating health professional colleges. In 2003, he reported that, “Some colleges have demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of their legal responsibilities and of the requirements of fairness… [they] do not appear to have fully accepted or understood what it means to act in the public interest.”

Yet after taking power, the Liberals’ cutbacks forced a stop to the Ombudsman’s independent investigations of complaints against the colleges.

Similarly, at the last minute this May, the Liberals injected a loophole into their new legislation, allowing the colleges to continue to choose which kind of malfeasance warrants informing the public.

Now it’s obvious why doctors prefer to control whether their horrible deeds become publicly known. But what’s the government’s motive?

The government wants to continue to be able to plead helplessness. The reasons become clear when we consider other recent examples of this same strategy.

This April, our BC Ferries board gave themselves $30-48,000 raises while giving us price increases. Provincial Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon complained, then claimed he was helpless, because the board was legally “independent of government”.

Perfect. The pro-privatization Liberals essentially privatized BC Ferries, and now they can claim they aren’t responsible for its (predictably) greedy corporate actions.

In May, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shrugged helplessly to a worrying public, “I don’t think government should fool people into thinking it can control the price of gas.”

In fact, Canadians once owned our substantial oil reserves and could dictate prices. But we sold control over much of it. We later had a national oil company operating partly for the public good. But in 1984, Mulroney’s Conservatives ordered Petro-Canada to start “focusing on profitability”, and by 1990, they were privatizing it. Paul Martin’s Liberals finished the sale. These same governments entered into corporate-driven agreements covering international markets and trade which have further undermined our power to regulate domestic oil and oil prices. Today, prices rise wildly, at the whim of international financial speculators. For the good of our economy and emissions reductions, we should probably nationalize some of our oil and institute domestic price controls and wise rationing. However, that’s too much like socialism.

So instead, Harper pleads helplessness; he sounds like he cares for our plight even as he resolutely doesn’t improve it.

Basically, our governments have become clever at instituting their policies through deliberately creating or feigning helplessness. It’s the Bear Mountain Parkway Way of Parking Responsibility: You permit a mega-development next to a high-traffic bottleneck, and then a few years later announce that increasing traffic pressures have left you no choice but to build new roads.

“Created helplessness” fits particularly well with conservative political goals. How often in recent memory have conservative-leaning governments instituted tax cuts, then said helplessly they can no longer afford social programs, health care, regulatory enforcement, or the public service’s size, and simply must privatize everything?

Still, in the case of health professional colleges, it’s hard to imagine why government would continue to off-load its responsibilities, considering such ghastly, unacceptable examples described above. Yet that’s the whole point. With the college in charge, no one knows the true extent of the problems, and our elected representatives maintain a comfortable distance from such seamy public scandals and potential financial liabilities.

It’s all a terrible, growing trend. With the entire planet now approaching crisis, we surely need leadership that does more than plead helplessness at every turn as if it’s a badge of pride.

Published in Focus magazine, July, 2008.

6 comments on “Our Government’s Deliberate Helplessness”

  1. Katherine says:

    Psychiatry is in the position of preparing to drug every man, woman and child on this planet with psychotropic drugs – drugs which have 268 side effects including homicide and suicide. Most psychiatrists have financial interests in the companies who make these drugs. They lie in their articles and create bogus “diseases” to market the drugs so they can make a killing. Every effort to report them is blocked by the College Of Physicians and Surgeons. We are headed for cultural oblivion it we do not do something about it. The idea that the government wants to plead helplessness is true. Now, to add fuel to the fire, the new mental health commission which funds psychiatrists $15 million a year is added to the mix. Something must and will be done about it. Each individual must report the abuse by a psychiatrist to the College.

  2. Evelyn Greene says:

    Dear Rob, great article. I need to get in touch with you as soon as possible. i have a story you will not believe, involving involuntary lockdown and the College of Physicians & Surgeons in New Brunswick and the Health Minister and the self-regulated unconstitutional NB Mental Health Act. I complained to the Police about an illegal 24 hr. lockdown; all rights violated, and albeit the Mental Health Act of N.B. states that violations are deemed Provincial Offences, the police, echoed by the local Police Commission, said it was tort and to go sue civilly. The Act states you need the approval of the Attorney General before taking civil action and, although I wrote several times to Mr. Lamrock, I did not receive approval. I was told to go get a lawyer. There is much more to tell and much more to ask. Please call me at (506) 206-2889 or send me an return email with your phone number and I will call you. I have the Ombudsman Office involved and they did half an investigation; I wrote a compelling letter back to the Ombudsman and I think he is revisting all the issues now. I am sure the liberal gov’t. had something to do with his initial investigation because I received two unsigned letters from the Ombudsman’s Office saying the file is closed. I did a professional type of argument, basically forcing him to revist the Act, etc. and the head of the NB Health Council, Stephane Robichaud, called me and said the Ombudsman is looking into things and it will take time. I copied my letter to everyone from the College, Public Health Minister, Police Commission; Human Rights, etc. so that in a way I think I embarassed Mr. Richard, Ombudsman of N.B. He still will not personally confirm receipt of my letter, just what Stephane told me. Stephane said my arugment was very good and that he could not have done it himself. I used to work for a lawyer so I have some training in that area. I am working with Human Rights, but not sure yet if they will do anything under Section 5 (Service) against Police, but they are sending out notices next Monday to the Province, Hospital, etc. Should be interesting. If they do not take action against the Police, they will give me an argument why they would not do that and I have 15 days to respond. I approached The Canadian Mental Health Commission for help in responding to the HR if necessary, and they said they are not in the advocacy role; however, said this could be a good test case and I could use some of Harper’s millions he gave the Commission to have a little help. Hope to hear from you.

    Evelyn Greene

  3. mary dicerni says:

    Hi, I do not know if you can help me figure this out, but maybe can give me a hint of what to do.. I have been booted around by surgeons and doctors, and have been damaged in a colonocopy procedure when I was sent to a surgeon who was away, and got a locum who is now missing.. After the colonoscopy I was left with a) umbilical hernia, b) displaced bladder with bent urethra, c) abdominal wall (torn) moved up higher, cutting off rib expansion , and difficulty breathing. The changes caused my walking forward from the pulling pressures. I am being denied a second opinion, as the surgeons said a general surgeon cannot repair all my problems, and not one could refer me to a specialist. My family doctor fired me because I stopped taking the pills he forced me to take after he did not want me to take my old pills, and the new ones cause major weight gain. (Was this intentional ? He said he was not taking responsibility for the pills) I have lost most of it, and need the surgery, but no one can refer me.. they all say “Sorry can’t help you”. Is it fear ?
    Do they have no power ? I am confused, and in a lot of pain, can hardly walk, yet they say they cannot help me now.. Should I be seeing a lawyer ? I am 79 now and it is 4 years I am waiting for a second opinion. Writing and calling many doctors and surgeons, getting no replies. My doctor did nothing but send me to surgeons he knew would not be able to help.. How many people are suffering this way ? I feel totally abused by the doctors.
    Thank you for your works,
    Sincerely, Mary Dicerni

  4. Rob Wipond says:

    Hi Mary, I’m very sorry to hear about your situation. I’m a bit confused by it at points so I’m not sure what advice to offer.

    First, have you talked with any advocates for the elderly? It would be great to have some good people on your side, at least, who have had some experience negotiating through the system. Where are you? If you’re in the Victoria area, you might want to contact Seniors Entitlement Service and see if you can find someone to share your story with and get some advice and guidance and help from. Here’s the link:
    They also have a book with a directory of other seniors support service groups in this area.

    I don’t understand the situation with your doctor(s), it sounds like maybe that story is longer and more complicated. Did they give you a mental health diagnosis of some kind at some point? Often, doctors treat people with mental health diagnoses worse than other patients because the doctors then believe every physical ailment you complain about is probably just psychological.

    But have you tried getting a new family doctor, or going into a walk-in clinic? Sometimes checking into emergency at a hospital is also a way to get another, independent doctor to evaluate you.


  5. S says:

    April 5,2012 I walked into rouge valley ajax hospital asking for help with my cycling mood swings and my severe migraine. Was admitted and put on form 1. Transferred to centenary hospital, still no meds yet to help calm and was refused a family member to come with me because visiting hours where over. Once there, I was given a gown and told to put it on. I refused. Nurse demanded. I refused and threw the gown into the hallway. I asked for meds first, then the gown. Instead she called security. 3 security and 3 nurses, grabbed me, handcuffed me, threw me tummy down on the floor, they stepped on my head, arms and feet and stripped off my pants, underwear too. I screamed and cried for them to please stop, telling them I was raped before, please stop and the security on stepped on my head even harder. After the incident, I was in complete shock and could not stop crying. They still did not bring me any meds for at least and hour longer. My left leg was fractured and my right wrist has ligament damage, as well as back, neck and shoulder pain.

    I did try and resolve my dispute with rouge valley centenery hospital respectfully and through the right avenues. But as I was told by patient relations, because of the stigma of bipolar disorder, I will never be heard. This is a clear violation of my human rights. I am currently filing papers with human rights, or at least I am trying to get the motivation to do so. But after being literally kicked down and stepped on like garbage and told that I have no rights by no only the hospital, but by the Police Department (43 Division), because although yes I do have a mental illness, it will NEVER define who I am! It is unfortunate that the very healthcare system I trusted to “help” me through my crisis, instead took advantage of me and saw me as just another patient, just a paycheck. This is disheartening and although they obviously do not care, they have forever altered my view on where I can turn to for help and that is unfair!!!!

    Below is something I wrote a few years ago…. this was before rouge valley centenery stripped me of not only my clothing, but my dignity and my feeling of self worth… Now I read this EVERY SINGLE DAY, trying to believe in my own words again….

    ——I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, a condition that stems from having a chemical imbalance in my brain. It is said to be genetic, yet no one knows how it starts. It is controllable if I am responsible (just like having diabetes).
    From total independence, my family and I adjusted to the constant monitoring that was required. It’s debilitating at the start because one is in denial! A stigma I burdened myself with. There is also the slow progress towards getting back to doing my usual activities. From doing anything I wanted whenever I wanted, I had to pause for a while until my body adjusted to the meds. That meant a pause on work, driving, going to church, enjoying my son, spending time with my family and spending time with my husband.
    Mental illness is a character defect– cause for social isolation, job discrimination, and shame. There were no posh clinics; only dark corridors locked away from the world. At 26yrs of age, I was ushered through padlocked gates. I met the faces of psychosis and schizophrenia; the lost souls haunted by delusions and dementia. Many, like me, were buried under despair so deep; we had pursued a death of our own design. You lowered your head as you walked those halls, fearful of seeing your pain in anothers eyes.
    After a couple of hospitalizations and MANY MANY MANY different medication trials, I eventually rejoined the world, unaware that the true nature of my illness remained hidden, and a long hazardous highway stretched out ahead of me. Burning to prove myself, I learned the power of God was the only way to truly set me free and I like a rose I began to bloom. I am now after 2 years on a sick leave of absence, back at work full time as a support worker and I give all the Glory to the Almighty God .. The Great Physician!!
    I have a role in controlling this illness. Every setback teaches me something … Behaviors, triggers, responses– and how to reach out. I no longer fear the social stigma or silent prejudice harbored by some. I must forgive those who stepped away along the ugly course of my illness. It takes stamina and understanding to endure my erratic and irrational behavior … to seek me out when I withdraw from life … to listen as I speed through a digressive one-way discourse … to painfully watch my self-abuse. To be the last barricade between me and death … Those who love me enough to ride it out are my blessing and my strength.
    I HAVE a disorder — IT DOES NOT DEFINE ME. I remain the loving, intelligent, independent and compassionate woman I have always been. This illness will not beat me! I WILL find joy in the middle ground!!!
    Ignorance about this illness persists, despite legislation and health benefits. Trust me: You cannot “just snap out of it.” You do not choose to lose your career, your friends or your life. You come to accept that your sanity, even your survival, will forever depend on a daily regimen of ever-changing medications.
    I take the medication prescribed to me. For over 2 years I lived in a fog while they tried to figure out my cocktail. I slept a lot one minute and couldn’t sleep at all the next. I lost 24 hours of my day. It was like the whole world was put on slow-mo and I couldn’t get anything done.
    Eventually, I came out of the fog as the whole, complete, medicated me. You should never feel medicated by the way. I don’t. I still have ups and downs but they are much less and far between. I still write – but I have a lot more positive things to say these days.
    Generally, my life as a medicated bipolar is good. The most important thing for me has been this.
    I am not {me} the bipolar.
    I am {me} the mother, the wife, the hard worker, and the caregiver.
    My illness doesn’t define me. No matter what others think of me, or people with bipolar like me – I am not a victim.
    I am not a stigma.
    I am just me.


  6. Rob Wipond says:

    Hi S,
    I’ve been researching and wriitng on psychiatric rights issues for 12 years. I have a lot of concerns with the system and the inherent lack of respect for human rights going on within it, and I hear stories like yours a lot.
    I’d suggest reading “Anatomy of an Epidemic” by Robert Whitaker to learn more about the psychiatric medications you’re taking.
    You may wish to explore mindfreedom.com to connect with other people who’ve had similar experiences and find links to other groups, or the Icarus Project for a more creative approach.
    There is a book coming out in Canada next year, a “Mad Reader”, to which I have contributed a chapter, and it will discuss many aspects of these issues.

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