Former P.E.I. student jailed after accessing mental health care to be released

·4 min read
Mehdi Belhadj was seeking help for mental health at the Hillsborough Hospital, but was detained by Canada Border Services Agency after he'd signed a consent form at the hospital that allowed the CBSA to access and review his medical records. (CBC - image credit)
Mehdi Belhadj was seeking help for mental health at the Hillsborough Hospital, but was detained by Canada Border Services Agency after he'd signed a consent form at the hospital that allowed the CBSA to access and review his medical records. (CBC - image credit)

Former student Mehdi Belhadj will be released from P.E.I.'s provincial corrections centre after being detained for a month, facing the prospect of deportation after accessing mental health care for which he couldn't pay.

During a detention review board hearing Monday afternoon, the board heard from Belhadj's legal counsel, Halifax immigration lawyer Lee Cohen, as well as his personal representative, Julie Chamagne of the Halifax Refugee Clinic.

Both had fought for the 27-year-old man's release and presented alternatives to detainment in Monday's hearing.

Their arguments satisfied the board to the point that members agreed to grant him a conditional release.

The arrangements include:

  • Belhadj having a fixed address.

  • Several members of local organization Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC USHR) agreeing to provide around-the-clock care.

  • Belhadj getting a cellphone to keep in regular contact with Canada Border Service Agency as well as friends and supporters.

  • The posting of a $5,000 cash bond.

  • Regular therapy for Belhadj, set to begin Sat., Sept. 18.

Previously, the board had ruled that Belhadj would continue to be detained because he posed a flight risk. Also, members said at that time that they couldn't "in good conscience" release him without a place to stay and a detailed, structured support plan so that he wouldn't relapse and have further issues.

Speaking over Zoom on Monday, BIPOC USHR incoming executive director Sobia Ali-Faisal said there is a lot more work to do, but she's excited Belhadj will be soon released.

"We're very happy. He's been away from us for a very long time now it seems like, so we're very pleased that he is being released," she said.

"We know this is just the first step, we know there is a lot more still to do to keep him safe and in the country, but we're very happy to have this first win for us."

Next steps

The new plan Cohen and Chamagne presented Monday was enough to "counterbalance" the risk of flight, the board said, and so Belhadj will be released as soon as possible.

Before that happens, CBSA must be give contact information for him, his therapist and everyone in his support group. He will have to agree to once-per-month contact with CBSA to check in.

Belhadj must also continue using prescribed medication and not possess substances such as cannabis; he must undergo regular therapy sessions and provide proof of attendance; and he must promptly attend any future hearings.

There is no current date for his release, but Belhadj agreed to the conditions during the hearing Monday and the process has begun to have him leave the provincial corrections centre.

How it got to this point

Belhadj, who was born in Saudi Arabia, has been without status in Canada since April 1, 2020. He is a graduate of UPEI and has since applied for a post-graduate work permit to remain in the province, and thus not have to leave Canada.

Eric Woolliscroft/CBC
Eric Woolliscroft/CBC

In the meantime, a physician at the Hillsborough Hospital in Charlottetown diagnosed him as having paranoia, disorganized thoughts and schizophrenia, as well as experiencing episodes of psychosis.

Because his student status had lapsed, he was without health-care coverage and could not afford the help he was seeking at Hillsborough Hospital.

Belhadj was at the psychiatric hospital most recently in mid-July for several weeks. Then CBSA detained him on Aug. 13 for excessive demand on the health-care system.

Cohen, Chamagne and BIPOC USHR have been advocating for Belhadj's release ever since.

Consent form led to detention

Cohen said in August that he was "extremely disturbed" by this case, given that someone seeking help for his mental health "who was not in a competent state" had signed a consent order from the hospital that eventually led to the Canada Border Services Agency detaining him.

Several politicians have voiced concern in the past few weeks that a foreign national was being detained after seeking help for mental health, and thousands of dollars were raised via crowdfunding to help cover Belhadj's legal bills and get him back on his feet.

The detention review panel heard that Belhadj has also applied for refugee status in Canada, though all parties on the call agreed they would not discuss details of that application Monday.

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