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Lawyer demands improved support for the vulnerable

Jan 20 2012

Barbree Elliott is 29 years old. Her IQ is 48, which means she has the cognitive ability of a five- to seven-year-old child.

She has bipolar disorder, is a drug addict and a sex trade worker and she is at incredible risk because no one is taking responsibility for her safety, her defence lawyer, Jesse Stamm, said.

On Wednesday, Elliott's howls could be heard throughout the Victoria Courthouse as Stamm and Crown prosecutor Paula Donnachie tried to hold a hearing to determine whether Elliott was criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder for her repeated breaches of probation for a minor offence.

Elliott whispered, laughed, talked to herself, then began to cry out anxiously in the prisoner's box, telling Stamm she was dreaming and looking in the rear view mirror while walking in a park.

Judge Adrian Brooks ordered Elliott to be admitted to the Eric Martin Institute for an psychiatric assessment. The Crown stayed the charges.

But Elliott will eventually be released from hospital, said Stamm, who is increasingly frustrated and concerned about his client's safety. He is calling on the provincial government, the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Community Living B.C. to build a facility to look after marginalized people like Elliott, who need continuous supervision.

"I have to get a plea out there to show there are very vulnerable, disadvantaged people who are not being served well by our society," said Stamm. "They can have quality of life, but they need to be properly supported and the framework for that doesn't exist."

Elliott has spent most of the last year in jail. Because she is emotionally unstable and a victim, she has been placed in segregation 23 hours a day, said Stamm.

"It's akin to having a small child in isolation. It's harder for her than almost any other prisoner," he said.

All the reports prepared and presented to the court suggest that Elliott needs continuous supervision at a minimum, and that locked confinement is probably the only way to keep her safe, Stamm said.

CLBC provides the funding for her care. In 2009, CLBC provided 24-hour supervision for Elliott. In 2010, senior members of CLBC came to court and confirmed they are not able to provide a locked facility because it is a voluntary service. The 24-hour monitoring has been reduced to three to four hours of supervision a day at a fourplex apartment in Esquimalt.

"It means when she is released from jail or hospital, Barbree is back out breaching her orders within 48 hours," said Stamm. "There's no place for her to live safely."

Elliott disappears and gets in trouble. Because her low IQ prevents her from making safe decisions, she's basically a target when she's out on the streets, Stamm said. When she gets too much crack cocaine, her psychotic episodes put her at extreme risk.

Everyone working on her file is frustrated, he said. "But at the end of the day, she continues to suffer."

Elliott will be discharged from EMI when she becomes stable. She cannot remain in hospital indefinitely, Stamm said. She is not eligible for the semi-secure Seven Oaks facility because her IQ is too low.

"Barbree is an example of about a dozen people who are falling through the cracks in the system, people who have serious mental challenges, who get into drug addiction, then get involved in minor crimes. It leads to a lot of incarceration because they are repeatedly breaching their conditions," said the defence lawyer.

CLBC is looking into the matter.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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