Components: Self-Guided

Three green gears working togetherComponents: Making Madness Political  Self-Guided Learning

Timing: 60 minutes, flexible
Mode: In-class; Online

David Reville’s 6,000-word autobiography is linked to audio clips, documents, letters, photos and other memorabilia which can be used in a variety of ways including: a flipped classroom resource, lecture material, a source for student presentations or research papers.  Students can work online to prepare for evaluating the components in this section by reading Reville’s autobiography and sampling the items in his scrapbook before class.

Instructors can use one or more of the following unit takeaways to guide student learning:

  • Understand activism as pragmatic and strategic rather than just ideological and/or dogmatic
  • Appreciate the personally transformative impact of community change work
  • Explain between the role of media and popular culture inside marginalized groups and outside the mad movement as shaping broader societal attitudes

Making Madness Political: An Activist Autobiography

by David Reville

Christmas 1965

It’s Christmas, 1965 and I’m an involuntary patient on Ward 16 of the Ontario Hospital, Kingston, one of the province’s 10 mental hospitals.  There’s a Christmas party.  I am observing, sourly.  I take up my pen and make an entry – the first – in my hospital journal.

In the beginning…Christ our Saviour is born.  Hallelujah!

This is not your average mockery. The Kiwanis Club is here en masse dispensing cigarette lighters and hard candies.

Gordie is trying to eat his new lighter. We even get a Santa.

The guy is half in the bag but I guess that helps with the ho-ho-ho.

There’s a present for me under the fake tree – a book from my brother-in-law Robert.  My parents have overlooked Christmas this year;  perhaps they don’t feel like celebrating. Funny, neither do I.

It’s my own fault. Two weeks ago, I made a drug-and-alcohol-fueled speech about the inalienable rights we have to take our own lives.  Trouble was I made the speech to two psychiatrists who promptly certified me as dangerous to myself and, perhaps, others.

I should have known better.  After all, it was my third appearance in a mental hospital.  I made the speech anyway and here I am, sourly observing a Christmas party on Ward 16.  My situation is about as bad as it could get:  my wife has bundled up our son and moved back to Kitchener; the hospital authorities have convinced her that it would be best for me if there were no contact between us for at least six months. (1)  I am facing criminal charges.  And, of course, I am certified insane.


I feel insane, watching the Christmas party. I know that I am being observed and that a negative entry will be made on my chart at the end of the shift.

Patient refuses to enjoy Christmas party.  Paranoid.  Not well oriented as to time and place. Exhibiting writing behaviour.

My Journal

Some months from now, I will be making an entry in my journal and it will occur to me that the journal should be published. When people learn what`s going on in here, they will be outraged, they will rise up and demand sweeping changes. I shall be vindicated and awarded a medal.


The journal is packaged up, smuggled out and mailed to a major Canadian publisher.   Soon, they will know.   Except that I never hear back from the publisher.   Undaunted, I make contact with a local printer and begin discussing the cost of printing.  Within days, I am called to the nurses` station:  did you send this to the printer?   So much for the vanity press.

When I am finally discharged from hospital–16 months later–I buy a used IBM Selectric typewriter, sit down, do a re-write, add a top and a bottom and send the result off to a major Canadian publisher.  This time, I do get a response:  “we are sorry that we cannot make you an offer to publish at this time.” 

Now I am daunted. How am I going to tell the world?

The world will wait, innocent, for a long, long time.

The journal was published, eventually, four different times.  The first was in 1981 and the publisher was the editorial collective of Phoenix Rising, the Voice of the Psychiatrized. Here I am on the cover, standing behind an embarrassing overcoming narrative headline – from Kingston Psychiatric to City Hall.  And get a load of the shoes.

If you go to the Resources section of Madness Canada, you can see every single issue of Phoenix Rising, including the one my journal’s in. 

In 1989 Toronto’s Now Magazine published Reville’s journal with the title, “Bedlam Diary.” Download and read it here.


But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

On April 18, 1967, I was discharged from the hospital and, as fate would have it, I emerged directly into the Summer of Love.  And, in Kingston, the SoL was to be found at Queen`s University to which I immediately repaired.  There, I was adopted as a sort of folk hero by a band of university students of artistic temperament.  We quickly became a family – the Torpor Family named after the torpor that seemed to overcome us when we had drunk enough London Red Table Wine or smoked quite a lot of dope.  It turned out that many members of the Torpor Family had had encounters with madness, though none quite as dramatically as I.

I soon found a way to tell the world what was wrong with our mental health system.  I submitted an article to the Queen’s Graduate Quarterly and – blammo! – there it was, out there at last.

Except nobody noticed.

I began to write short stories instead.   And poetry.

Graphic cover of poetry book with abstract pattern
Front Cover of Reville’s 1967 poetry book.

I got myself a poet’s outfit – a leather cap, Mexican cowboy boots, some green plaid pants.  A friend and I published There come aknockin on my head, my collected poems. I sold my slim volume on the corner; the bookstore in Brantford, my home town, bought 30 copies, not on consignment, but outright.   Woohoo!  I was delighted to learn that the Canada Council would buy 6 copies of any book of poetry, regardless of its merit.  Hot dog!

I became a best-selling poet, 1000 copies of Aknockin were sold.  Today I can visit my poems in the Ryerson University Library, should I be so inclined.

A few of the poems were “mad” poems.   Something had been begun.

Back jacket photo and bio of a young Reville.
Poet Reville, cover image of There Came a Knockin’, 1967

Those of you who know your CanLit appreciate the amazing poets we have here in Canada.  The allstars –  Margaret Atwood, the Shadowmaker – Gwendolyn MacEwen and Leonard Cohen. (2)

But Kingston, in those years, was replete with poets – Michael Ondaatje, David Helwig, Tom Marshall, Tom Eadie, Colin Norman, Doug Fetherling. Maggie Helwig was 6 years old but already you just knew she’d be an incredible poet, novelist, activist and essayist when she grew up.

Shameless, I took my poetry book to some “real” poets; they were kind.  One of them especially liked “a hail of golden lancets,” which is what happens when you throw away a lighted cigarette.

Madness is Political 

But I had not yet learned that I needed to make madness political.

Instead, my girlfriend and I moved back to Toronto and, after a couple of weeks living in the house of Danny Drache, Marxist, soon-to-be York U professor, we moved into a rooming house at 40 Homewood, just across the street from Allan Gardens.  This was not just a rooming house; it was a bolt-hole for failed revolutionaries, artists and draft dodgers.

Again, a high percentage of the residents of 40 Homewood had had encounters with madness. Go figure. However, all we managed to achieve was a lot of chat about how fucked up it all was.  We were pre-occupied with how to eat without giving in to The Man. It wasn’t easy.

Family Christmas photo with tree and presents
David Reville, life partner Cathy and family, Christmas, early 1970s.

And so it went, for five years.  I’d married a young woman I met in the mental hospital and we had two children.  I went off to several entry-level clerical jobs and I didn’t do well.  I didn’t get it.  What was required was to arrive on time and look busy.  This sounds simple but it wasn’t simple to me.  I kept getting fired and, eventually, I had such a terrible c.v. that no employer would take a chance on me.

And then, a miracle happened.  I moved my family into a communal house and I met a bunch of people who were managing to survive, notwithstanding they claimed to have rejected the premises of capitalism. And there I met a woman who would later become my life partner, Cathy Jones.  She was a feminist, a socialist and an artist.  She didn’t care that I had been in a mental hospital.


Finding Community 

Did Cathy anticipate what would happen when I got some validation?  Maybe.  She was already a community activist.  She was a pioneer in the campaign to allow parents to be involved in their children’s education.  She was a community organizer in a hot and progressive community in Toronto in the early 70s.  She hooked me up with all of the people who were working for change in the east end of Toronto.

The first person she introduced me to was Barry Morris.  He was a street minister for the United Church`s Christian Resource Centre. Barry, in his turn, introduced me to Don Weitz and Allan McChesney.  And these two introductions would change the course of my life.

Don Weitz I call the father of Canadian anti-psychiatry; Don rejects the title and, instead, describes himself as an anti-psychiatry activist. (3)  Don had a horrific experience in the famous McLean Hospital in the 50s. (4)  He was subjected to insulin shock; it damn near killed him. (5)  Somehow he ended up in Toronto working as a psychologist in the Queen St. Mental Health Centre, Ontario’s largest provincial mental hospital. (6) In 1972, Don quit his job in protest against what he called “barbaric treatments”, among them, cold wet packs;  a patient would be wrapped in cold wet sheets and “chilled” for hours at a time.

When I met Don, he was looking for ways to attack psychiatry; that sounded good to me.  Not long after that, Don and I went up to Queen’s Park to meet with Stephen Lewis, then leader of the NDP; we wanted his help in ensuring that patients in mental hospitals were able to vote.  The problem was that they weren’t enumerated and were, therefore, ineligible to vote. (7)

The next year Don took himself off to Vancouver.  He wanted to see, first-hand, what the Mental Patients Association, established in early 1971, was up to.  For 11 days, Don lived in one of MPA’s five houses.  He came back to Toronto determined to start a similar self-help group.  In August, 1977, the Ontario Mental Patients Association was founded at All Saints Church at the corner of Dundas and Sherbourne in Toronto’s east end.  


The other person to whom Barry Morris introduced me was R. Allan McChesney, a young lawyer who was looking to open a store-front law office. (8)  It was an idea with legs.  In our search for funding, I got to meet the local MP and bureaucrats from the federal Department of Justice.   Within a year, Neighbourhood Legal Services was up and running; our staff consisted of a lawyer, three community legal workers and Company of Young Canadians worker.  The house we rented on Seaton Street was too large for NLS so we were able to give space to another fledging organization Operation Springboard whose mission was to help ex-cons re-integrate. I was NLS’ first chair.   My interest in ex-psych patients was reflected in NLS’ workplan; we planned to teach ex-patients about their rights under the new (1968) Mental Health Act.

2014 – Neighbourhood Legal Services at 40

Becoming a Public Person 

I was to learn a whole lot about public policy from the NLS experience.  And about the nature of grassroots groups. (9)

Back in the madness world, not much was happening in the early 70s.  Then, in 1975, the whole world got a glimpse of life in a mental hospital.  “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest “ starring a young Jack Nicholson won fistfuls of Oscars. Quite apart from the effect the Cuckoo’s Nest had on public policy, (10) the movie kickstarted my career as a public speaker.  That’s because I appeared on a national breakfast television show called Canada AM. The producers were looking for someone with two characteristics:  he/she had been a patient in a mental hospital and he/she was prepared to talk about it on television.

So, early one morning, a limo arrived at my door and I was whisked off to a studio on the eastern edge of Toronto.  By that afternoon, congratulations and offers were appearing on my answering machine.

A New York literary agent enthused about selling my journal to a BIG publisher.  The CBC came calling; it was planning a show about downward mobility and a lawyer who had become a plumber was just what they were looking for.  Within weeks, the mayor of St. John’s, Newfoundland suggested that people could save money by putting a brick in the toilet tank; would the downwardly mobile plumber care to comment? (11)

Reville with beard, long hair and embroidered "peasant" shirt
Reville when he was becoming politically active at the community level, circa mid-1970s

In 1969, there was a sea change in municipal politics in Toronto.  Two city councillors were elected in east end on a platform of community inclusion in decision-making. (12)  Interested, I began canvassing for one of them in the 1972 election.  Two years later, I was elected chair of the Winchester Community Council, a new form of parent-teacher association that saw the school as a community resource. Immediately, the school community came under attack by a developer who wanted to raze single-family houses and replace them with a forest of high rises.  Off to City Hall, I went as a tribune of the people.  I began to learn about zoning and density and planning and power politics.

Ad for Voices that appear in the MPA’s In A Nutshell, March 1975, entitled "Want to Help Write a Book?"
Ad for Voices that appear in the MPA’s In A Nutshell, March 1975
Black, green, purple book cover with graphic
Shrink Resistant’s striking cover, published in 1988 by New Star

Don Weitz brought a new person into the mad activist community;  a survivor of ECT, Carla McKague was studying to become  a lawyer. (13)  Later, she would work in a specialty legal clinic called the Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped.  Don and Carla and I wanted to publish a book of survivors’ tales.   “Voices” began to solicit contributions; my “Don’t Spyhole Me” piece was an early entry.  In the end, the project failed – we just couldn’t get enough material.

Don would revive the project, this time with feminist therapist Bonnie Burstow as co-editor in the mid-80s.  Shrink Resistant:  the struggle against psychiatry in Canada was published by New Star Books in 1988.

A Madman Goes to City Hall

By 1980, I had become deeply involved in lefty politics in east Toronto – at the school board, at City Hall and at Queen’s Park.  I had worked my way up in the electoral politics ranks, initially as a canvasser and later as a member of election planning committees.  I was the sign chairman for Gordon Cressy’s almost successful provincial campaign in 1977.  The following year I was the fundraiser for both Gordon Cressy who was running for City Council and for George Martell who was running for the school board.  In the same year, I raised money for Bob Rae’s lst federal campaign.  In 1980, I was selected as Gord Cressy’s running mate; we were hoping to keep both Ward 7 positions for what was then called the reform movement.  Me, I wasn’t a reformer; I was a New Democrat.  At the time, the NDP was starting to nominate and/or endorse candidates for City Council and the School Board.  Riding Gordon Cressy’s formidable election machine, I was elected to City Council in the 1980 election.

Cover of playbill for "Dammed If You Do!"
Reville also participated in community arts during this period of his life. Ward 7’s 1980s Musical Comedy, David Reville in 2nd Row.

For a mental health activist, I couldn’t have picked a better time to get elected.  The botched deinstitutionalization of psych patients was causing havoc in South Parkdale; the neglect of provincial mental hospitals was creating ever more dramatic news stories; the emerging mad movement was starting to make its presence felt.  Over the next five years, mental health was always on the agenda; here are some of the items:  the Heseltine Report, the Peat Marwick Report, OPSEU’s Madness report, the campaign to stop electroshock, the Mayor’s Action Task Force on Discharged Psychiatric Patients, the personal care bylaw, the rooming house bylaw, the as-of-right zoning for group homes, a threat by the Mayor to take over the Queen St. Mental Health Centre, the refusal of the Metro Toronto Housing Authority to accept mentally-ill tenants, the homelessness crisis, illegal boarding and lodging houses, the Back Wards to Back Streets conference, three inquests into the deaths of patients at Queen Street, the emergence of the Psychiatric Patient Advocacy Office, Tent City, the Boarding House Lunch, [post 1985 – the inquest into the death of Drina Joubert] Robert Dimun, [post 1985, the takeover of Channan Court, the Joseph Kendall inquest] a number of police shootings of people with mental health histories, Timbrell Town, Larry Grossman tours the boarding and lodging houses, the Supportive Housing Coalition, Pat Capponi and David Reville win Public Distinction Awards from CMHA Toronto in successive years, the funding of the Mad Market [post 1985 – the funding of Fresh Start Cleaning and Maintenance and the funding of AWAY Express;  the opening of the Gerstein Centre.]

Reville at podium wearing brown sports jacket
Running for Toronto City Council: Reville giving his 1st public speech, 1980.


Shackled in the Community – a late 1980s forum that Reville organized about community treatment orders.

1989 Gerstein Centre – Reville participated in staff training at Toronto’s innovative mental health centre.

Reville with large mustache and green v-neck pullover
The publicity begins: photo from 1980s Toronto Life profile of Reville.
Cartoon of Reville with big broom and quote "The man who revels in sweeping" with many signatures
Reville Departs for Provincial Politics: Cartoon goodbye from city hall colleagues, 1985.

Not long after I went to City Hall, I starting hearing about a woman in Parkdale who was raising a ruckus about the plight of roomers and boarders.  In early 1981, I met Pat Capponi for the first time; she was receiving an award from CMHA Toronto.  She told me her issue was decent housing for discharged psych patients.  She said she had plans to bring the issue to public attention.  Wow! Did she ever!   There, on television, is the Minister of Health, dressed down, and totally unable to suppress his shock at seeing the conditions in which discharged psych patients were living.  Pat didn’t let up.  The next thing we know a Toronto Star reporter has sneaked into a boarding house pretending to be poor and vulnerable and daily in the Star we read about the horrific lives her roommates are leading.  Not to be outdone, City TV sends JoJo Chintoh out to pose as a homeless person; he, too, starts sending dispatches about life on the margins.  The Minister of Health stands up in the Legislature and undertakes to take swift and effective action; the first money is found for supportive housing in Ontario.  Pat and I become founding members of the board of the Supportive Housing Coalition. (14)

Telling them doesn’t do it; you gotta show ’em 

What Pat knew was that it wasn’t enough just to talk about it, you had to show the politicians what you were talking about and you had to invite the media along, especially TV cameras.  My guess is that Pat learned this during her time at college in Montreal; students knew about the press.  Yes, occupy the President’s office but, if nobody saw you doing it, you might as well have stayed home.  You call the press and tell them what time you’re going in.   Later, we both discovered that showing wasn’t enough, either.  We were going to need a much more sophisticated strategy.  Trouble was, we couldn’t get mad people to agree on what the issues were, let alone how to work them.

A Madman goes to Queen’s Park – and gets lucky 
Reville in dark suit standing in front of Queen's Park
The Madman Goes to Queen’s Park, 1985.

You can’t count on luck but when you get some, you’re lucky.  I’ve been lucky a lot.  When I showed up at the Ontario Legislature, I was on the brink of all sorts of luck. I’d been lucky before – lucky to be born into a middle-class family, lucky to get out of the mental hospital directly into the Summer of Love, lucky to be elected an MPP just after the Charter of Rights was causing provincial parliaments to review all of their legislation to bring it into compliance.  One piece of legislation that was badly out of whack was the Mental Health Act. (15)  And who better to have something to say about that than a person who would have been subject to it had there been one when he was in the mental hospital?

And there he finds (or drafts) several bills – 7, 190, 10, 50 – and lots of opportunities to make speeches all over the place

By 1985, when I went into provincial politics, I had begun to practice what I would later describe as “interstitial politics”, that is, you pick a public policy area which has been abandoned or neglected and you begin to work it.  There is no competition and there are few vested interests. You can make headway quite quickly in such areas.  So, I took on “user involvement”; it was something that only the most progressive mental health agencies supported but it was something that was an easy sell – of course, people who are receiving services should have some say in what those services are and how they are delivered.  It was another form of citizen involvement except, in this case, the citizens in question were among the most marginalized in society.

October 1985, Reville in Hansard – speaking in support of a provincial bill giving institutionalized mental health patients the right to vote.

A little-known opportunity that all back-benchers have is the private member’s bill.  Any member of the Legislature can table a private member’s bill and some members use private member’s bills as a way to bring attention to issues they care about.  On a Thursday morning in the Legislature, at least in my day – 1985-90 – a private member’s bill or resolution could be debated in the House.  Who got to present was decided by a lottery and my number came up twice between 1985-90.   So, I introduced Bill 10, an Act to Amend the Landlord and Tenant Act.  Why?  Because years before, when I was the chair of Neighbourhood Legal Services, I had discovered that the people on whose behalf I was advocating had no rights under the L&T Act;  roomers and boarders were licensees, that is, they had a license to occupy their room and that license could be revoked without notice and without cause – leading to garbage bag evictions in which your stuff was put into garbage bags and left on the curb.  So I introduced a bill that would make boarders and lodgers tenants.  And, for some reason or other, the government decided not just to let my bill go through but to suggest some useful amendments. So, Bill 10 was passed into law. At that point, only 6 private member’s bills had ever made it into law;  I was in exclusive company and very, very chuffed about it.

My number came up a second time so I introduced Bill 50 An Act to Amend the Mental Health Act. I wanted to enact some community mental health legislation that would require the least restrictive alternative when caring for people with mental health issues. (16) My bill passed on 2nd reading and was sent to committee for study. And there, alas, it died, as do most private members’ bills.  However, I am told that Bill 50 remains the most comprehensive, most progressive example of community mental health legislation ever.  Hah!

I didn’t write the two bills all by myself;  I got advice and help from all parts of the mental health community, starting with mad people and moving on through mental health professionals and mental health lawyers.

Room of people, some sitting in rows of seats and two men standing speaking
Reville listening to Dave Beamish when the CMHA brought service providers, family members and service users together for the 1st time, circa 1986.

Earlier I mentioned that provincial legislatures had to bring their legislation into compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  That’s what Bill 7 was about.  Bill 7 became famous because it spoke to same sex relationships but the bulk of the bill was about the Mental Health Act.   Again, I got lucky.  The NDP health critic, Evelyn Gigantes, MPP for Ottawa Centre knew I cared about the MHA and she invited me to help her carry that part of the bill.  With the help of Carla McKague, we drafted amendments. And, because the luck was really going our way, we were in a minority government situation in which opposition members can be especially influential.

Reville and colleagues standing in sun in front of water
With Kathryn Church and John Trainer in Egypt following the World Congress of Mental Health, circa 1987.

We got our amendments and, for a while, Ontario had the most progressive mental health legislation in Canada.  It wasn’t long before the backlash occurred:  the Ontario Psychiatric Association backed up by the Friends of Schizophrenics began to put pressure on the government to amend the MHA.   The government introduced Bill 190 which, again, I was able to amend because of the minority situation.  This time, I was able to write some amendments that improved the choice people had about whom they could choose to be their substitute decision maker should they become incompetent to make treatment decisions. Lucky me, lucky mad people.  For a while, in Ontario, mad people had more rights than not-mad people – a nice turning-of-the-tables, if you ask me.

Reville holding hands with older woman in close conversation
In Newfoundland with the CMHA, 1988: Reville speaking to Eva Walsh.

Something else happened during that period, something that was to change my life and my practice – as a provincial politician I had been “cleaned up” enough to be acceptable to the mental health system as a player.  In April of 1985, hard on the heels of a provincial election, I was recruited by John Trainor and Kathryn Church to serve as the “consumer” – read “madman” – of the National Mental Health Services Committee of CMHA.  CMHA had been funded by the federal government to run a project called The Framework for Support.  It was a conceptual model of how to support a person with serious mental illness in the community.  Trainor and Church had written the foundation document in 1984.  CMHA was now seeking to market their document and to develop implementation schemes.  I got to be part of that exercise.  It was a stunning opportunity.  At first mystified by the concept – it seemed too obvious to me – I began to learn that in most of the country, the concept was big news.  A kind of mental health Johnny Appleseed, I travelled back and forth across Canada explaining the concept to audiences of mental health professionals, academics, government bureaucrats, family members and “consumers” themselves. 

On the Framework’s dime, I also went to Egypt, England and the United States.  I learned so much about how to develop and promote new public policy.  And I met almost everybody who was anybody in mental health, not just in Canada, but all over the western world.  The thing that made it all palatable was that a key concept of the Framework for Support was self-help.  For a conference in 1988 at the University of Sussex in the UK, Kathryn Church wrote me a paper called User Involvement in Mental Health Services in Canada.  To my surprise, the paper was seen as leading edge public policy.  The paper was published several times, first by British Mind, CMHA’s counterpart in the UK and subsequently by mental health journals here in Canada.  Suddenly, I was on the map as a mental health policy maker.  I served on the Mental Health Services Committee for three years.  I also served a one year term on the board of CMHA National, just as it was beginning to accept consumers on its board.

CMHA Thanks Reville for his good work in Newfoundland, 1988

CMHA Certificate of Appreciation 1988 

A Madman is appointed Special Advisor to the Premier and becomes ever more popular as a speaker and pundit 

I had decided ten years in electoral politics was enough; I was fixing to retire when David Peterson, then premier of Ontario, called the next election, expected in 1990 or 1991.  In the 1990 election, after a very slow start, the NDP campaign suddenly caught fire and the NDP won a majority government.  The premier-elect Bob Rae asked me to stay on as one of his advisors.

Reville made good friends in government: personal letter from Minister of Housing Dave Cook, 1991 

One thing I wanted to use my new role to do was to close Oak Ridge, the maximum security mental hospital in Penetanguishene, Ontario.  Oak Ridge had been haunting me ever since I had visited there in the late 80s. I thought it was a terrible place to put people, no matter what they were alleged to have done.  The Minister of Health, Evelyn Gigantes, was in favour.  We put together a work group and began to sort through the issues.  In the end, we couldn’t pull it off – a huge disappointment.

The other key thing I did happened almost by accident.  In 1990, Ontario went into recession and the Rae government decided to try to stimulate the economy.  The premier put the word out to his cabinet – bring me proposals that will create jobs. I picked up the phone and called an old friend in the Ministry of Health. “Now’s the time,” I said, “we can fund consumer/survivor groups”.  And that was how the Consumer Survivor Development Initiative took flight.  In the first year, some 42 consumer/survivor groups were funded across the province.  The next year, the funding was made permanent.  Today in Ontario, some ten million dollars flows directly into the hands of mad people to support their initiatives that range from running businesses to publishing newsletters.

Flyer advertising "23rd Annual A-Way Express General Meeting and Celebration" large photo of keynote speaker David Reville
A-Way celebrates 23 years and David Reville

Appreciation from A-Way Courier for Reville’s support. 

Participation Certificate at 1st Psychiatric Survivor Food Service Exchange

Of course, I carried a lot of non-mental health files.  One of my most difficult was the basketball file.  Several groups of Toronto businessmen put in bids for a National Basketball Association franchise in Toronto.  Trouble was, the Ontario Lottery Corporation had an over-and-under game which invited gamblers to pick the margin of victory for, among other teams, basketball teams.  The NBA, mindful of gambling scandals that had undermined college basketball, forbids gambling.  From the point of view of the province, basketball betting brought in $8 million a year, non-tax revenue.  Ontario wasn`t going to give that up for nothing.  In the end, my team negotiated a package of benefits that the NBA and the Raptors would provide in exchange for the government giving up basketball gaming.

I spent four years in the Premier’s Office.   I learned a lot and I regretted a lot.  However, when the call came for applications to chair the Advocacy Commission, I cobbled one together and put it in, not quite on a whim but not really expecting to win the competition.  You may imagine my surprise when I was shortlisted.

Because of my location in the political environment, I got to be a B team pundit during the 1994 federal election.  I did a weekly radio show and, towards the end of the campaign, a breakfast television wrap-up.   My job was to be optimistic about the NDP’s chances (slim);  harder was remaining calm as the Tories plummeted to two seats in the House.

A Madman is Appointed Chair of the Ontario Advocacy Commission 
Group shot of Advocacy Commission with 2 rows of people
The short-lived Ontario Advocacy Commission, October 1994

Beginning in the early 80s, Ontario had developed a patchwork of advocacy services for vulnerable people.  There was the Psychiatric Patient Advocacy Office that did rights advice and advocacy for patients in Ontario’s psychiatric hospitals; there was the Adult Protective Service Worker program that did the same for people with developmental challenges who were living in the community.  There remained hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people who had no advocacy services at all.  The Rae government wanted to rectify that; early in its mandate, it brought in a bundle of legislation, the Consent to Treatment Act, the Substitute Decisions Act and the Advocacy Act.  The Advocacy Act would establish a commission with broad powers to intervene on behalf of vulnerable people wherever they were.  The Act set out a mechanism by which advocacy commissioners would be selected: the disability community would, in fact, elect a slate from which the Minister had to choose.  In the result, I was appointed chair and Pat Capponi one of the 12 commissioners, the majority of which, by law, had to be people with disabilities.  The story of the Advocacy Commission is beyond the scope of this paper and, in the end, it had a short life:  the Harris government repealed the Advocacy Act and dismantled the Commission in March, 1996.

A Madman, Out of Work, Starts a Consulting Company
Reville sitting at office desk
David Reville & Associates: the politician becomes a consultant.

When I suddenly found myself out of work, I rented what had been the bathroom in an old industrial building.  David Reville & Associates (DRA) was going to offer social research and community development.

After a slow start, DRA undertook contracts with consumer/survivor groups and governments including the Ontario Council of Alternative Businesses (now Working for Change), George Brown College, Parkdale Green Thumb Enterprises, Houselink Community Homes (a Toronto supportive housing provider) and the Bank Ombudsman. And I caught another stroke of luck. In 1998, the Queen St. Mental Health Centre, the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, the Addiction Research Foundation and the Donwood Institute amalgamated, forming what would be called the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.  DRA was brought in to help the four organizations merge.  When CAMH decided on a major renewal, DRA led the consultations that lead to an Official Plan Amendment and to the design of the first phase of construction.

Reville and young man looking at model of housing development
Reville and CAMH’s Head Start Housing Project, 2003: David Reville and Associates did the stakeholder consultation with a planner in tow

I’ve got two maybe three more stories before I stop. If you’re interested in knowing what I’ve been up to in the last decade, please read “Is mad studies emerging as a new field of inquiry?” Chapter 17. LeFrançois, B.A., Menzies, R. and Reaume, G. (Eds.). Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies.Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press Inc., 2013.

The Revenge of the Mad Student and the Emergence of High-Knowledge Crazies 
Group shot of 9 people
By 2004 Reville had found an academic home in Ryerson University’s School of Disability Studies.

Something important happened at York University in 2005.   Lucy Costa, a self-described lunatic, was enrolled as a student; she became increasingly irritated at having to take her professors on for making derogatory remarks about mad people.  Lucy already knew some things about self-help;  she had worked for the Queen St. Patient Council, the voice of patients in Canada’s largest mental hospital.  She decided to start a self-help group for mad university students – the Mad Students Society.  (17)  The Mad Student Society eventually began to produce a new kind of activist; I call these new activists “high knowledge crazies”.  They have post-graduate educations and many of them are pursuing graduate work in which they start from mad knowledge.  Already Ryerson University employs three high-knowledge crazies as instructors; two of them had been Mad Students as TAs and RAs.

Mad Movement shows its sophistication

Poster featuring woman with dark eye makeup advertising "This is Madness!" art exhibit
In 2010 Reville’s students created art for This is Madness! exhibit, now an evolving student gallery.

A couple of things happened in the spring and summer of 2011 that I believe show the sophistication of the mad movement today and the way in which the existence of funded self-help groups has created a base for ongoing activism.  In early 2011, when it became evident that the mental health system had begun to appropriate survivor stories and use them for its own ends, a collective drawn from the self-help movement and the mad-positive academy formed around what it called “hands off our stories“ and the proliferation of what it termed “patient porn”, the wholesaling of stories of mental illness, despair, treatment and recovery.  Seeing this practice as privileging particular kinds of stories (read “recovery” stories) from particular kinds of storytellers (read “middle-class) telling only particular kinds of stories, the Recovering Our Stories collective called the mental health system on the practice. (18)

In June of 2011, the Ministry of Health unilaterally and quietly announced that it was divesting the Psychiatric Patient Advocacy Office to the Ontario Division of the CMHA. While psych survivors had long criticized the PPAO’s location within the Ministry of Health, it did not see CMHA Ontario as a good location for advocacy; after all, CMHA Ontario was the provincial arm of a network of service providers at the local level.  By now, tech and media savvy[2], a group of activists quickly brought pressure to bear on the Ministry and the Minister and, within one month, the Minister announced that she was postponing the divestment pending broad consultation. (19)


In the fall of 2011, three old mad activists bumped into one another in front of an art gallery on East Cordova in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. (20)  One of the old mad activists was me.  There, across the street, a familiar figure.  Lanny Beckman, the founder of the Mental Patients Association, looked exactly like himself plus 35 years.  I’d been waiting to meet him for the longest time.  As he reached my side of the street, a helmeted figure on a bicycle arrived.  “OMG,” cried Irit Shimrat, as she emerged from under her helmet. “My two favourite madmen.” Between us, I calculate 114 years of mad activism.  Who knew what would happen as we started to creep out from under psychiatry all those years before?


(1) An early reader reported confusion about my romantic entanglements.  Which wife was that?  She wanted to know.  This might help straighten out some of the tangles:

1963 – 1968 Stephanie One son
1968 – 1972 Katrina One son, one daughter
1972-present Cathy Jones Step mother of the children

from 1968-1972;  grandmother of the daughter of my daughter


(2) For a wonderful biography of Gwendolyn MacEwan, see Sullivan, Rosemary. (1995) Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn MacEwan.  Toronto. Harper Collins.

(3) To learn more about self-labelling, see my webdoc “self-labelling and identity”;  it’s available on YouTube.

(4) Beam, Alex. (2001) Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premier Mental Hospital. New York. Public Affairs.

(5) See “Schizophrenic Shit-Disturber.” Burstow and Weitz (Eds.) (1988) Vancouver, New Star Books. p. 285.

(6) Reaume, G. (2000) Remembrance of Patients Past: Patient Life at the Toronto Hospital for the Insane, 1870-1940.  Toronto.  University of Toronto Press.

(7) I was delighted to be part of the solution to this problem, a dozen years later.  Hansard. Ontario Legislature. 1985/10/21.  See Appendix #1.

(8) Mr. Allan McChesney (LL.M. ’89) has been selected as one of three Law Foundation of Ontario (LFO) Community Leadership in Justice Fellows for the 2009-10 academic year, and will partner with the University of Ottawa’s Human Rights Research and Education Centre (HRREC). Mr. McChesney, Senior Legal Researcher at Reach Canada, will explore possibilities for cross-disciplinary research and education, professional training and public education on disability and law issues; he will contribute to efforts supporting “Barrier-free Access to Courts for Persons with Disabilities” in conjunction with Reach Canada, practicing lawyers, law students and other community stakeholders; and he will occasionally guest lecture on law and policy issues related to disabilities and disability accommodation in Canada and at the international level.

(9) NLS was Ontario’s first community legal clinic with a neighbourhood board. (Toronto’s law schools had clinics but they had clinical objectives i.e. they were training lawyers in poverty law).  Today there are 71 community legal clinics in Ontario.

(10) Shorter, Edward & Healy, David. (2007) Shock Therapy:  A History of Electroconvulsive Treatment in Mental Illness. Toronto. University of Toronto Press.   The authors claim that because of the public revulsion at the shock scene in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, psychiatrists began to see ECT as a treatment of last resort;  Shorter and Healy argue that it should be a treatment of first resort.

(11) Yes, it would.  However, you’d need to be careful about the brick you chose;  too soft and the brick would began to disintegrate and that would prevent the flapper valve from closing properly and you’d end up using more water.  Too bad I didn’t invent the dual-flush toilet just then.

(12) Still called “aldermen” in those days.

(13) Carla went on to become a leading mental health lawyer.

(14) Later, Pat decided that she’d made a mistake by encouraging the growth of supportive housing.  Her complaint was that supportive housing created lots of jobs for housing and support workers but left all sorts of psych survivors on the outside looking in.

(15) I had never been subject to the Mental Health Act.  The first Ontario Mental Health Act was written by Barry Swadron in 1968, after I had been discharged.  45 years later, I am a member of the Coalition for Independent Psychiatric Patient Advocacy that includes Marshall Swadron, Barry’s son.  Live long enough…

(16) Actually “re-introduced” is more accurate;  Bill 50 was a collection of amendments I had moved in relation to Bill 7;  they were ruled out of order at that time.


(18) The story of this action may be found in Costa, L. et al (2012). “Recovering our Stories: A Small Act of Resistance,” Studies in Social Justice, 6, 1, 85-101.

(19) The coalition quickly set up a facebook group and a website;  it developed model letters that activists could send to their MPPs, the Minister and the Ministry.  It developed alliances with progressive psychiatrists and with service providers.  It got in touch with friendly journalists who wrote “what’s going on” columns.  As a veteran of many such battles, I have not seen such a quick victory.  Mind you, it’s not over yet.  See for updates.

(20) If this were a movie, there’d be a voiceover saying “this meeting sponsored by the History in Practice: Community-Informed Mental Health Curriculum project.”