Alberta’s justice minister says he’ll be pushing for changes after a review board ruled a schizophrenic man who killed five young people can be eased back into the community with his doctors’ approval.
“I’ve heard from many Albertans who are frustrated and disturbed by this decision. I’ll be formally requesting that Alberta’s review board ensure a maximum possible role for victims to be part of the hearing process and advocating that Ottawa conduct a review of standards of release,” Doug Schweitzer said in a Twitter post Thursday.
“I’ve also instructed my department to examine any and all other options around the review board process to respect victims.”
Schweitzer’s office declined to provide further comment.
The Criminal Code says victims may file statements describing physical or emotional harm, property damage or economic loss they have suffered as a result of an offence.
They are allowed to read their statements before the board unless it decides doing so would interfere with the proper administration of justice.
Patrick Baillie, a lawyer and psychologist who works in the courts, said the review board is meant to decide whether a person in care poses a risk and the Criminal Code doesn’t make clear how victims’ views should play into that.
“So we invite victims to participate and we read their submissions when they do participate, and then we essentially ignore their submissions because they’re not what the review board is supposed to be looking at.”
A judge found Matthew de Grood not criminally responsible in the 2014 stabbing deaths of Zackariah Rathwell, 21; Jordan Segura, 22; Kaitlin Perras, 23; Josh Hunter, 23; and Lawrence Hong, 27, at a house party in Calgary to mark the end of the school year.
De Grood’s trial in 2016 heard that de Grood, who was 22 at the time of the stabbings, believed the devil was talking to him and a war signalling the end of the world was about to begin.
He was found not guilty because he was suffering from a mental disorder and did not understand at the time that his actions were wrong.
The review board’s role is to oversee his treatment and gauge annually whether he is a threat to public safety, not to punish him.
The board ruled this week that, with the approval of his doctors, de Grood will be allowed supervised outings from Alberta Hospital in Edmonton into the city, where his parents now live. Depending on his progress, he may also be allowed unsupervised city day passes.
With the approval of higher authorities at Alberta Hospital, de Grood could be granted supervised passes for up to three days in Edmonton. Those authorities could also OK travel in Alberta for up to a week, as long as he was with a responsible adult and received prior approval.
At his recent hearing, families of his victims said their suffering continues as de Grood gains more freedoms. They objected to government-funded support and treatment he receives while they get nothing to help them with their own trauma.
Baillie said Schweitzer seems to be reflecting concerns he’s heard from constituents that de Grood’s reintegration is happening too quickly.
The public should understand what the decision actually means, he said.
“What the review board has actually decided is to delegate responsibility to the treatment team for the enhanced privileges that may come some time in the next 12 months,” he said.
“The review board hasn’t granted unsupervised access to Edmonton. That’s not what the decision says.”
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press