The Canadian Research Chair in Mental Health and Access to Justice proposes to shift the current medical-legal paradigm in mental health and access to justice to one that focuses on the experiences and knowledge of people who have experienced mental health treatment. Current knowledge about mental health and justice is largely dominated by medical and legal knowledge. On the one hand, medicalization of mental health encourages the understanding, interpretation and comprehension of social facts and individual realities as manifestations of biological phenomena to which the solution is medical. On the other hand, therapeutic jurisprudence supposes that law and jurists are "therapeutic agents" who can act on social life, notably through the judicial institution. These two theories have in common that they do not consider the power relationships or the knowledge of people who have experienced legal treatment in mental health, and that they do not admit the coercive dimension and the prejudicial effect of the legal process.
The issues of knowledge and rights of people who have experienced judicial treatment in mental health have a limited presence in the literature, and the relevant legal doctrines, in civil, criminal or administrative law, are not in dialogue, which results in difficulties of coherence and interpretation that are detrimental both to the defense of rights and to the development of hospital and judicial practices that respect these rights. The need for research in this area has been clearly established. The work of the Canadian Research Chair in Mental Health and Access to Justice aims to fill these gaps through three original and innovative strategies 1- by integrating people who have experienced mental health court treatment into all its work, 2- by treating the fields of civil, criminal and administrative law as psychiatric law in a transversal manner, and 3- by developing social innovation projects likely to produce concrete effects for people who have experienced mental health court treatment, community workers and legal and health and social services professionals.
The Chair's research program is structured around three complementary areas of research, training and dissemination.
Knowledge about mental health and access to justice practices is currently incomplete, mainly because of the lack of systematic information gathering by the various public bodies involved. The projects deployed under this axis aim to draw up a portrait of the situation.
This line of research stems from Professor Bernheim's most recent work, which demonstrates the need to examine, from an access to justice perspective, the place of psychiatric medication and judicialization in the treatment of people who have experienced judicial treatment in mental health.
Professor Bernheim's work in recent years with legal clinics has found that action research is a way to develop projects with concrete and immediate benefits for both the individuals involved and law students (Maresh, 2018). Social innovation projects will be multidisciplinary, involving individuals with experience of mental health forensic treatment, community organizations and students.