Global News: Edmonton court mixes law with psychology to find ‘meaningful resolutions’ for at-risk Albertans

By Allison Bench  Global News

Edmonton’s Mental Health Court is more important than ever as many Albertans face mental hardships amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It gives us a chance to provide more meaningful types of resolutions,” said Legal Aid Alberta staff lawyer Amna Qureshi.

The Edmonton Mental Health Court opened as a pilot project in 2018. It’s meant to help those with mental health issues better navigate the justice system.

“It’s the first of its kind in Alberta — but not the first of its kind in Canada,” Qureshi said. “It’s modelled after a number of very successfully running mental health courts elsewhere in the country, like Toronto.

The Edmonton court is open to those who have been charged with a criminal offence and who also have brain injuries, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or mental illness like bipolar disorder and major depression.

Qureshi said once a client is referred to the court by a judge, they will be dealing with not only legal officials like judges and counsel, but also psychiatrists, nurses and social services.

“It really is a problem-solving court,” she said. “We call it a therapeutic court. It’s a form of therapeutic justice.

“It takes into account the fact that many of the community’s most vulnerable, who are in conflict with the law, often struggle with mental health issues.”

READ MORE: Mental health court planned for fall, say Edmonton judges

She added the court also works to help with issues like homelessness, poverty, addictions and trauma.

“It’s an approach to take into account — in a holistic way — all of these other factors or issues that people might be struggling with at the same time as maybe being in conflict with the law.

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