Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Whitehorse Star


Rights commission questions board’s delay in Nehass complaint

The Yukon Human Rights Commission believes Michael Nehass’ rights are being violated at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

By Rhiannon Russell on December 5, 2014

The Yukon Human Rights Commission believes Michael Nehass’ rights are being violated at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre.

At yesterday’s disability rights conference, the commission’s executive director described Nehass as a person with mental disabilities who has been “locked up for his behaviour” for a very long time.

“My concern is that the institution is expecting a standard of behaviour from him that, because of his disabilities, he’s unable to meet,” said Heather MacFadgen during one of the panel discussions.

Both Nehass’ father and the commission believe his human rights are being denied, she said.

“We are not hearing Michael Nehass’ voice here today. We are not hearing the voices of other people who have fetal alcohol syndrome and are filling our jails. We still, in this community, have lots to learn about human rights and respect for difference and dignity.”

Nehass’ father, Russ, filed a complaint to the commission in April, alleging his son was being treated inhumanely and held for prolonged periods in segregation.

On Oct. 28, the commission referred the complaint to the Yukon Human Rights Panel of Adjudicators (YHRPA), an independent body that holds public hearings to investigate complaints of rights violations when asked to do so by the commission.

MacFadgen didn’t hear anything from the panel until yesterday, when it confirmed it had received the complaint.

And that only came after the commission’s lawyer, Colleen Harrington, followed up with chief adjudicator Darcy Tkachuk.

The panel’s registrar said in an email this morning that “the YHRPA does not generally answer or respond to inquiries about specific matters or complaints before the YHRPA.”

In its rules and procedures, the panel of adjudicators does not have a mandatory timeline for addressing complaints, but its mandate is to “hear all requests and render decisions expeditiously,” Harrington said this morning, quoting the document.

“(Taking) over a month to acknowledge receipt of the complaint doesn’t seem expeditious,” she said.

“That’s part of what administrative law is about. There shouldn’t be delays like you might find with the courts. It’s supposed to be more accessible and move quite quickly.”

Colleen Henry, the panel’s registrar, said when a complaint is received, several things must happen before a hearing date is set.

“These typically include the establishment of a board of adjudication to hear the complaint, the exchange of a number of prescribed forms amongst the parties, and one or more pre-hearing conferences with the parties to consider a number of preliminary issues,” Henry said.

These issues involve checking for any potential conflict with board members and determining the expected length of the hearing and hearing date.

But for Russ Nehass’ complaint, it seems the panel is doing things differently, Harrington said.

In Tkachuk’s email to her, he said he was in the process of selecting panel members and checking for conflicts of interest.

It’s unusual for this step to happen first, Harrington said, before anything else happens – the information disclosure between parties hasn’t yet begun.

Often, a pre-trial hearing will be scheduled within two months after a complaint is referred to the panel, sometimes sooner, Harrington said.

Tkachuk is also chairperson of the Yukon Review Board, which determined Nehass was fit to stand trial in August.

The review board assessed Nehass’ mental well-being after a territorial court judge found him unfit to stand trial in June.

In making its decision, the board relied in part on a report done in May by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Shabehram Lohrasbe.

It stated that Nehass has been involved with mental health services since he was 12 years old. He has been diagnosed with ADHD, and has “multiple cognitive deficits” likely related to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and head injury.

Lohrasbe said in the report the most likely psychiatric diagnosis for Nehass is bipolar disorder, though his medical opinion “is qualified by the limited extent of his examination and associated evidence.”

Nehass has spoken out in court several times before about a conspiracy theory involving Yukon government employees and the Bilderberg group.

Though his thoughts involve “paranoid and grandiose ideas of delusional proportions,” his statements appear to demonstrate an “intact capacity to think through his options within the real life legal process,” Lohrasbe noted.

After the review board found Nehass fit, his case was sent back to the courts.

Last week, he pleaded guilty to five charges in territorial court, including mischief and uttering threats – offences committed during his incarceration at WCC.

Nehass has said he will plead not guilty to the Supreme Court charges that landed him in jail back in 2011, including assault, intimidation and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.

He has been in custody since then, awaiting trial for three years.

Questions have been raised about Nehass’ treatment at the correctional centre before.

He has said several times in court that he is inhumanely treated at the jail, and that he’s spent two years in segregation.

The Department of Justice denies that, but refuses to say how long he has been in segregation.

“I think it’s agreed by everybody that over the course of a three-year period, Mr. Nehass has spent a substantial period of time in a form of separate confinement,” Nehass’ lawyer, Bibhas Vaze, told the Star last week.

Last month, Supreme Court Justice Leigh Gower apologized to Nehass for not removing him from the courtroom immediately once he realized the inmate was naked during a video appearance from the jail in January.

The apology was the result of a complaint Russ Nehass filed with the Canadian Judicial Council.

Comments (3)

Up 5 Down 1

L.Szigety on Dec 9, 2014 at 3:57 am


A number of people have suggested that Mr.Nehass be moved to a facility such as Alberta Hospital or any other myriad of psychiatric wards in the country.

Up 22 Down 3

Northerner12 on Dec 8, 2014 at 11:24 am

Okay, I get that people are saying that jail is not the ideal place for him. However, keeping the need to balance public safety and his individual needs, has anyone put forward a suggestion on where he should be?

Up 6 Down 4

YTG Management of Issues dealing with disabilities on Dec 7, 2014 at 3:59 pm

The Yukon Human Rights Commission which is attached to justice, Respectful Workplace which part of the Public Service Commission, Ombudsman office and wrongdoing act should be placed in one office because they all deal with wrongdoing acts against people.

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.