Man illegally detained by police in N.L. still seeking answers 7 years later

·4 min read
Andrew Abbass has filed human rights complaints against the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Western Health. (Submitted by Andrew Abbass - image credit)
Andrew Abbass has filed human rights complaints against the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Western Health. (Submitted by Andrew Abbass - image credit)
Submitted by Andrew Abbass
Submitted by Andrew Abbass

He was escorted from his home and committed to a hospital psychiatric unit, against his will. Now, seven years later, Andrew Abbass is still looking for answers and accountability from the public agencies that allowed it to happen.

Abbass was illegally detained by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary under the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act in 2015 and housed for six days at the psychiatric unit of Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook.

An RNC report last summer found that the officer involved, now retired, had abused his power in having Abbass detained.

But Abbass, who now lives in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, said there are still unanswered questions and information that has not yet come to light, and he said people in Newfoundland and Labrador need to realize the seriousness of what occurred.

"If this could happen to me, it could happen to anybody," said Abbass.

Tweets raised concern

Abbass came to the attention of police in April 2015 as a result of a series of tweets in which Abbass commented on the death of a man named Don Dunphy, who was shot and killed in his home by an RNC officer on Easter Sunday.

Dunphy, an advocate for injured workers who was active on social media, had posted tweets that were perceived as threats against the province's premier at the time, former RNC officer Paul Davis.

Abbass's commentary on social media about Dunphy's death at the hands of the police — including a tweet that read, in part, "I'm going to bring down Confederation and have politicians executed" — raised the concerns of another RNC officer.

Abbass would later tell CBC News that his posts were taken out of context, and the result was four RNC officers visiting him to ask him to accompany them to the local hospital to be seen by a doctor.

"They didn't have any paperwork. There was no warrant," recalled Abbass. "There was no lawfulness to anything that I was put through either by the RNC or the hospital."


Held against his will

Abbass was at home with his pregnant partner at the time of the police visit, and he co-operated with the RNC although they had no documentation to compel him to go with them.

In spite of the fact that there was "no proper assessment" by physicians at Western Memorial Regional Hospital, Abbass said, he was subjected to an indefinite stay in the secure psychiatric unit and efforts were initiated to have him transferred to the Waterford Hospital in St. John's for a 30-day psychiatric assessment until a lawyer intervened and pointed out that Abbass had not been charged with any offence.

After six days in hospital in Corner Brook, Abbass was released. At no point was he charged with any offences related to the tweets that were said to have caused so much concern.

I would like to have my life back. - Andrew Abbass

But Abbass maintains that his life has never returned to what it was prior to his detainment and admission to hospital.

"It didn't just end there when I was released because I'd sort of been branded as a terrorist, mental patient and potentially a criminal," said Abbass.

Abbass said his now six-year-old son has also been affected by the fallout from his detainment.

"I would like to have my life back," said Abbass. "My son grew up in the shadow of this. This has impacted his childhood. I would like some justice for that. And I would like to make sure that the impact of this on my family does not linger."


Human rights complaint

Abbass said he strongly believes that his basic rights as a Canadian citizen were violated, including his right to free expression, and that he was discriminated against on the basis of several protected characteristics, including ethnic origin, religion, perceived disability and political opinions.

These are some of the arguments Abbass makes in his written complaints filed with the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission in November. Until this month, Abbass had not spoken publicly about his human rights complaints.

Abbass is seeking answers about whether there was political interference in what happened to him, and also about how evidence was mismanaged and possibly falsified.

"I'm hoping it raises some awareness for people of what's gone on. When you've been detained like this, your credibility is gone. Nobody believes what you say anymore, and it's not supposed to be that way. But that's the way it is," said Abbass.

Abbass said he's never received an apology from the provincial government or Western Health for what happened. He did, however, receive an apology from Chief Joe Boland of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

CBC News asked the Human Rights Commission about the status of Andrew Abbass's two complaints, but executive director Carey Majid said the commission can't speak about specific complaints, as its process is confidential.

Read more trom CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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