Mental illness, criminal offences, and the risk of being removed from Canada
During Mental Health Week, from May 7 to 13, the Canadian Mental Health Association encourages us "to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health." This month, On the Radar looks at the important role front-line workers and advocates working with people who have a mental illness have when criminal law and immigration law intersect.
Many people with mental illness come into conflict with the law. And often there is a link between the illness and circumstances that lead to criminal charges.
If someone is not a citizen of Canada, a criminal conviction could affect their immigration status. Even a permanent resident who has lived in Canada for many years could lose their status and be deported with no right to come back.
Canadian citizens have the right to remain in Canada
Someone who becomes a Canadian citizen cannot be forced to leave Canada unless they said something that was not true or left out information when they applied for Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status.
How a criminal conviction can lead to deportation
When someone who is not a Canadian citizen is convicted of a crime, the Canada Border Services Agency may prepare a report that may lead to a deportation order or an "admissibility hearing". The hearing can result in a deportation order.
How front-line workers can help
You can tell your clients about the importance of getting legal advice and representation. Anyone facing criminal charges needs a criminal lawyer. If the person is not a Canadian citizen, they should also get legal advice about immigration law before the criminal trial. And anyone who is facing immigration proceedings because of a criminal record needs an immigration lawyer.
Low-income people may be able to get help through Legal Aid Ontario
Working with a lawyer
As a front-line worker, you may be familiar with the mental health system and have training or experience working with people with mental illness. Your expertise can help a lawyer understand your client's wishes and concerns and present their case more effectively.
For example, you can work with a client's lawyer to ensure that any conditions contained in a conditional discharge, suspended sentence, or release order (bail) are reasonable and realistic for your client.
You may be able to help your client's immigration lawyer by providing information about social supports and mental health services in Canada and in the client's country of origin.
You could also help connect your client to treatment and community supports.
Proceedings at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)
If a person is unable to appreciate the nature of the proceedings, the IRB must appoint a "designated representative". You might be able to act as the designated representative or to recommend a mental health professional, preferably one who knows your client.
An expert psychiatric opinion and a comprehensive treatment plan can be crucial for someone who is appealing a deportation order. You may be able to help your client's lawyer collect medical evidence and develop a treatment plan to present at the appeal hearing.
These are examples. Depending on your client's situation, there may be other ways you can help.