PSYCHOLOGICAL services in Manitoba continue to be stretched thin for people suspected of having a mental illness who are charged with a crime.
At Gerald Chudy's not criminally responsible hearing, Crown attorney Susan Helenchilde said the forensic psychological services department at Health Sciences Centre continues to run with a sole psychiatrist, Dr. Jeff Waldman, along with a small team of professionals to assist him.
"They are still undergoing quite a serious staffing shortage," Helenchilde said.
The department was hit by the departure of four psychiatrists in 2012 and 2013.
That means suspects awaiting court-ordered mental-health assessments languish in jail -- sometimes for many months -- before being evaluated. The Free Press has documented several cases in recent months in which timelines for inmate assessments, as set out by the Criminal Code, are not being met. Workload issues also continue to swamp the Criminal Code Review Board, which is also unable to meet legal timelines.
People declared not criminally responsible who are placed under the board's authority are supposed to have a hearing within 45 days. An extension to 90 days is allowed only under "exceptional circumstances."
But routinely, courts are granting the extensions from the moment NCR findings are pronounced after being told of soaring caseloads at the board.
"The review board is unusually swamped," Helenchilde told Judge Dale Schille.
"They have had, I think it's now three times the number of new cases in (the last six to eight months) that they would normally get in a year," she said.
"There's no real explanation for why that's happening. But for some reason, the review board has seen this dramatic increase," Helenchilde added.
Schille agreed to the request to extend the time frame for Chudy's initial hearing to 90 days.