Dalhousie Law Journal


mental health law, Canada, legislation, comparative law, jurisprudence


Mental health law in Canada has traditionally shared many common themes with the mental health law of such other Commonwealth countries as Britain, Australia and New Zealand but is only a distant cousin of the system of mental health law that has emerged in the United States. The existence of an entrenched Bill of Rights in the United States has fashioned a situation in which many major issues relating to the rights of mental health patients have been dealt with as constitutional matters of great import. Consequently, the 1960s and 1970s witnessed a burgeoning of an exciting body of case law establishing a number of critical rights for a constituency that had tragically been largely neglected and abused in the backwaters of American psychiatric warehouses. In countries such as Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, on the other hand, developments in the field of mental health law have, of necessity, occurred largely as the result of legislative reform and the judicial interpretation of mental health legislation rather than the application of constitutional imperatives by the courts. As a consequence, the structure of mental health law in these Commonwealth countries is very different from that which has emerged in the United States.