‘More time is required’: New Brunswick legislature to delay forced rehab bill

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N.B. delays forced addiction treatment bill
WATCH: New Brunswick's provincial government has decided to delay the implementation of its forced rehab legislation – saying it will take more time to get it right. As Silas Brown reports, that means a bill is unlikely to land before the provincial election in October. – May 3, 2024

Sherry Wilson, New Brunswick’s minister responsible for mental health and addictions, says the province will press pause on a controversial piece of legislation that would have allowed some people to be forced into addiction treatment against their will.

The Compassionate Intervention Act was first promised in last fall’s Throne Speech and was widely expected to be introduced when the legislature returns next week. In a video statement published to government social media channels on Friday, Wilson says the bill won’t be introduced this spring.

“We are 100 per cent committed to introducing this legislation, but in our discussions and consultations it was clear more time is required to get this right,” she said.

With only four weeks of sitting days left this spring, that means the fate of the bill will likely rest on the outcome of the provincial election this October. Both opposition parties have spoken out against the proposal.

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The delay is a relief to Mylène Poirier, the president of the New Brunswick Psychiatrists Association, who says she hopes it will allow more time for the government to speak to subject matter experts.

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“It needs to be compatible with medical practice that is ethical,” she said.

“I don’t want to do malpractice.”

Poirier says the association has yet to be consulted on the bill and has numerous concerns about the potential role of psychiatrists in any forced rehabilitation plan. She says opinion among her colleagues is unanimous: forced rehabilitation doesn’t work.

“Other countries have done this. It’s not a new idea and there is literature on that specific way of doing things and it doesn’t work,” she said.

“It’s not worth it, we know that. So why try something that was already tried and we know the result.”

In an open letter to the premier sent this week, Poirier wrote that increasing access to those voluntarily seeking treatment and pursuing a housing first strategy to deal with homelessness would be a more effective strategy.

Premier Blaine Higgs had openly mused earlier this spring that the bill may have prevented the deaths of two people in a tent fire in Saint John, while Public Safety Minister Kris Austin said that many people living with addictions on the street “don’t even know their own name.”

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The government has been tight-lipped about how the proposed bill would work and where people forced into treatment would be housed. Wilson confirmed during her appearance before the estimates committee last month that a new 50-bed treatment facility being planned by the province will be for those seeking treatment voluntarily.

Wilson refused to answer questions from reporters about where those forced into rehab through the legislation would be treated. She told reporters that she would say more when the bill was introduced, which would help combat “misinformation” about the proposal.

Health Minsiter Bruce Fitch told the committee during his appearance in April that up to 200 people are facing waits of three to eight months for addictions treatment.

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