A Yukon man has been deemed unfit to stand trial, again.
Judge Peter Chisholm made the ruling Thursday regarding Titus Charlie.
People are found unfit to stand trial when they can’t understand what they are charged with or the possible consequences of a trial or a plea, or are unable to communicate with their lawyer.
Charlie was diagnosed with dementia, and was found unfit to stand trial back in 2008.
At the time, he had been charged with assault, causing a disturbance and failing to comply with a probation order.
A Yukon judge relying on a psychiatric assessment found him unfit to stand trial.
A similar assessment was used on Thursday.
Crown prosecutor Paul Battin told the judge Thursday that another prosecutor dropped the charges from the 2008 case on Sept. 22, 2013.
From that point on, Charlie was not under the care of the Yukon Review Board (YRB).
This indicates that he wasn’t forced to attend the 24-hour supervision group home he had been staying at.
Battin noted that from the Yukon Review Board documents, Charlie has “significant” dementia, which has worsened over time.
The dementia was caused by head trauma, substance abuse and perhaps overdose of prescription drugs, Battin noted, quoting from a 2013 report.
“I believe Titus Charlie will remain unfit to stand trial indefinitely,” the report read.
Charlie’s defence lawyer, Robert Dick, told the court he couldn’t get instructions from his client, as he is suffering from memory issues on top of his dementia.
Chisholm ordered Charlie to be detained at an hospital until the Yukon Review Board can meet to review his case.
That means he will head back to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, which was designated as a hospital for inmates with mental health issues.
Crown prosecutors have to constantly assess whether there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. Essentially, this means if witnesses become unavailable after several years, the Crown has to drop the charges.
Because of this, Charlie could be back in the same situation – charged with a crime and awaiting to be declared unfit to stand trial – in a couple of years, Dick noted outside the courtroom.
And that’s a problem, Yukon NDP health critic Jan Stick says.
“There is a gap,” she said in an interview today.
The review board is the sole body that can order Charlie to stay in a supervised home.
Adult guardianship legislation allows for a similar process, but it is costly and complicated, and it has to come from a family member.
“But that doesn’t really address how we deal with people like Mr. Charlie,” she said, noting she has known him for a while.
Charlie shouldn’t be sitting in jail while he awaits for the review board to reconvene, she said.
“He doesn’t know why he is there,” she said.
“That criminalization is certainly a concern.”
Once Charlie wasn’t under the care of the review board, and he was put in a hotel by the Department of Health and Social Services.
“What was the use of him being by himself in an hotel?” Nils Clarke, executive director of the Yukon Legal Services Society, asked in an interview last week.
Clarke noted supported independent living is a “moving target” and costly, but has the potential to benefit the territory.
“If you can come up with a reasonable model, it’s always going to be cheaper to have persons not in custody, not at WCC,” he said.
Ultimately, a healthier community would reduce expenses in policing and court proceedings, he said.
In the end, it comes back to the territory not having a mental health strategy, Stick pointed out.
The government has issued reports on mental health in the territory, but a strategy would allow Yukoners to know what is currently available, and what the needs are, she said.
Health and Social Services Minister Mike Nixon told the Star the strategy will be released in a few months (see related story, p. 7).
“Yukoners do not have to be under an order of the YRB to receive supports, but a YRB order does require a client to adhere to a certain conditions aimed at keeping clients safe while reducing the risk to themselves and to the community,” said Pat Living, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services.
“Clients are often able to live safely within the community at the conclusion of a YRB order.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice told the Star the department cannot comment on the case for privacy reasons.
Asked if the department is looking into ways to prevent similar cases, department officials noted the review board was established under the Criminal Code – a federal responsibility – and couldn’t comment about possible legislative changes.