A 24-year-old Kahnawake, Que., man spent three weeks behind bars when he should have been in court-ordered treatment for his drug addiction because of federal-provincial quibbling over who should pay for his rehabilitation.
"I would not wish jail and prison on anyone, even my worst enemy," said Detwin Curleyhead, who was jailed for the theft of $40. "It is not a place to be. You are lower than low."
Curleyhead is now getting treatment at L'Envolée, a private rehabilitation centre in the Eastern Townships — but only after the centre's director offered him a spot for free, to get him out of jail.
To get him help, mother-in-law pressed charges
Curleyhead, who grew up on the Mohawk territory of Akwesasne, near Cornwall, Ont., has struggled with addiction since he was 13.
Hooked on oxycontin and hydromorphone, he broke into his in-laws' home last fall, stealing $40. His mother-in-law reported the break-in to the police, and he turned himself in.
"She pressed charges, knowing I would start my therapy," said Curleyhead. "She helped."
The father of three and stepfather of two said he knew he had a problem and he was ready to get help.
But with no money, before he could get treatment, he had to find someone who would pay the bill.
He says the provincial government and Health Canada couldn't agree on whose responsibility that was.
'We can't leave somebody in jail'
Nicolas Bédard, the director of L'Envolée, in Shefford, Que., about 90 kilometres east of Montreal, called the situation ridiculous.
"We can't leave somebody in jail just because they have no money to pay," he said.
He said Quebec pays for treatment for his clients who are on social assistance, but not for First Nations people living on reserves, who fall under federal jurisdiction.
He said Curleyhead is the third Indigenous person the centre has taken in for free because Health Canada has no program to cover the costs of court-ordered long-term addiction treatment.
Richard Budgell, regional executive director of the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada, said the federal government funds five centres for addiction for First Nations in Quebec.
But the duration of the rehab programs at those centres is only five to six weeks.
Budgell said those centres are not equipped to accept people who have a court order to get treatment.
He said Health Canada and the Quebec government are in talks to work out a solution to this recurrent problem.
Province steps in
A spokesperson for the provincial Ministry of Employment and Social Solidarity said, with no policy yet in place, Quebec has made an exception and will now pay for Curleyhead's treatment.
But it won't pay for anyone else in the same situation, the ministry stressed.
Curleyhead, who's still in treatment at the Shefford clinic, said he is motivated to get clean and return to his family in Kahnawake.
"I'm very hopeful that everything will work out," he said.