Bermuda’s lawmakers have amended human rights legislation to outlaw discrimination against people with mental health challenges and broaden existing provisions which prohibit publication of discriminatory notices.
But MPs were reminded during the debate on the amendments on Friday that the laws impacting human rights and mental illness still have a way to go.
Newly minted backbencher Shawn Crockwell urged his parliamentary colleagues to be fully committed to human rights principles by becoming advocates for human rights for all.
Crockwell began his speech by adding his voice to the chorus of bipartisan support for the measures and decrying mental health stigma.
He agreed with a call from the Opposition benches that age discrimination in employment should also be prohibited, but criticised the Government’s decision to hold a referendum on marriage equality.
When we see discrimination in any form in our community, it is our responsibility to identify it and to eradicate it. That’s the purpose of human rights legislation – to ensure that all people have equality under the law.
There are other issues that relate to discrimination as well, that are very contentious, that cause protests, that’s even causing a referendum. Having a referendum to make a decision as to whether or not we should provide equality under the law. But yet we are quick to say lets support this – kets make sure we have age discrimination as well. NO problem with that.
We cannot cherry pick human rights issues, madam deputy speaker. we cannot do that, Its wrong. Our job is to eradicate discrimination and we cannot say that discrimination is okay. Let’s shy away from doing the right thing there. lets put it on to somebody else. Despite the fact that we are elected to and charged to be leaders in this country but we feel that its okay sometimes to not be human rights advocates when it suits our personal agenda.
I hope that in the future honourable members in this House will have the same approach and provide the same support when we seek to eradicate discrimination in all forms – even if you don’t like it. It is our job, and as we need to enlarge this to include age discrimination, we need to enlarge this to include discrimination against those of same sex relations, madame deputy speaker, because that is our job. We don’t have the luxury – you may think we do – but we don’t have the luxury to pick and choose.
Government originally planned to subject legislation allowing for civil partnerships between same sex couples to a conscience vote in the House of Assembly, but it changed course and decided on a non-binding referendum on June 23 to guage public opinion on same sex marriage and civil unions.
Crockwell’s debut speech as a Government backbencher came after Opposition backbencher Kim Wilson, who had supported the mental health measures but lamented the fact that age discrimination in employment had not been made unlawful.
He said he was pleased that Government had brought the bill to the House and that it had been supported by the Opposition.
“Mental illness is indeed a taboo topic, ” he said echoing lawmakers before him who spoke of the stigma around mental illness.
Imagine how many people who may have been dealing with a nervous breakdown situation going through something in their lives, a tragic incident, a stressful incident. And they needed some help, and because of that stigma they didn’t get it.
He predicted that complex legal issues may arise as a result of the amendment but he said parliament’s “number one job is to eliminate discrimination in this country.”
Opposition backbencher Kim Wilson noted that the amendments contained references to the Mental Health Act 1968 which she said is outdated and in dire need of reform.
If someone presents themselves before the court clearly suffering from a mental impairment, the courts don’t have powers to order that person to be sectioned or to be placed in MWI for observation so as to secure that person’s welfare and safety,” Wilson said.
We’ve had a situation a few years ago where a person regrettably committed suicide while in custody without having the benefit of the requisite treatment.
Wilson said while relatives have the power to “section” someone for up to 28 days, the courts have no such power.
And she questioned why the amendment did not define mental impairment to cover intellectual, psychological and developmental impairment as in other jurisdictions.
Government whip and junior Social Development Minister Nandi Outerbridge noted that between 2013 and 2015, more than 600 persons had been treated for mental illness, of which 400 were in employment. She quoted World Health Organisation statistics showing that 25 % of the global population have some sort of mental disorder.
This bill will finally put Bermuda on the path – the path that the public will finally start to acknowledge the realities of mental illness in this country. Too often, the stigma around mental illness deters people from getting treatment.”
And she called for a public awareness campaign to combat mental illness stigma.
People with mental disorders are people we work with everyday. They live next to us, they’re our neighbours. We correspond with them almost on a daily basis.
The Human Rights Amendment (No.2) Act 2016 was steered through the House by Social Development Minister Sylvan Richards who was chosen to speak on human rights issues in the House of Assembly.
It outlaws discrimination on the grounds of mental health in housing, employment and the provision of goods and services by expanding the Act’s definition of a disabled person to include persons with a long term mental impairment.
It is already against the law to discriminate against people with physical disabilities.
Employers would be required to accommodate employees with mental illnesses unless such accommodation creates an unreasonable hardship on the business or jeopardises the safety of other employees.
The law is subject to other measures already in place that impact on people with mental health challenges such as the Firearms Act and the Mental Health Act.
The reforms also expands the range of prohibited publications – currently limited to racial material and racial incitement – to include all the prohibited grounds of discrimination.
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