The horrifying murder of three children in Merritt was impetus for new federal legislation designed to make it harder for people who commit violent crimes but are found not guilty because of a mental disorder to gain back their freedom.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the bill in Burnaby Friday. He met beforehand with Darcie Clarke, the mother of Kaitlynne, 10, Max, 8 and Cordon, 5, killed by their father, Allan Schoenborn.
The three children were found dead by police in the family’s trailer in Merritt in April 2008. Schoenborn was arrested several days later. He killed Kaitlynne with a knife and smothered the two boys.
Introduction of this bill comes on the eve of another B.C. Review Board hearing to determine the future of Schoenborn, who was found not criminally responsible following a trial for the murders.
If the bill passes, Schoenborn and others deemed to be high risk will wait every three years, instead of yearly, for a hearing by the B.C. Review Board to determine their progress toward release.
Kamloops MP Cathy McLeod acknowledged the legislation stems in part from Schoenborn’s horrific crimes. He was originally granted day passes by the review board in 2011 but that was quickly revoked after a public outcry.
“It creates a new designation — high-risk, not criminally responsible,” said McLeod.
“With the new designation there’s a number of changes. They shouldn’t be eligible for unescorted passes. They’d also have to wait three years for a hearing with the mental health review board.”
Another local high-profile case of a person found guilty but not criminally responsible is Joshua Steel, who killed his father, Phil, in a psychotic rage.
Mark Lindsay, who stood trial in Kamloops on aggravated assault, weapons and robbery charges in relation to separate attacks on an undercover police officer and a cellmate at KRCC, is in the midst of a hearing to determine whether he is criminally responsible.
Under the new legislation offenders deemed high-risk in court will not be released until a judge removes the label — taking it out of the hands of the review board.
“Everything we asked for for two years has come to fruition,” said Dave Teixeira, a Port Coquitlam resident who befriended Clarke in the aftermath of the tragic Schoenborn killings.
“He (Harper) said there are imbalances in the system that are being corrected now. It reassuring people are listening — more than that, they’re putting it into action.”
But a Kamloops lawyer said the legislation is a result of emotion over the deaths.
“The whole purpose is so we don’t throw people in jail for murder for life if they didn’t have the proper mental capacity,” said Alexander Watt.
While McLeod said the legislation will only apply to those deemed high-risk, Watt questioned the real outcome beyond the three-year terms of review that will keep people in mental hospitals longer.
Review boards that determine how and when mentally ill people who commit crimes are released typically include a psychiatrist and a judge. Under new legislation, judges will make the determination with advice from lawyers and psychiatrists.
“To just change the legislation and say we’ll designate someone as high risk and not let them out until that designation disappears doesn’t make sense. . . . Psychiatrists are supposed to determine whether that risk is alleviated. It’s not doing anything different.”
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FAMILY GOES INTO HEARING WITH FEAR
Family of three murdered Merritt children will go to a B.C. Review Board hearing Feb. 15 knowing almost nothing about Allan Schoenborn’s plans.
“He could look for everything from a pass to a full discharge to being relocated,” said Dave Teixeira, who has befriended Darcie Clarke in the aftermath of Schoenborn’s murder of their three children.
The hearing is set for Friday, Feb. 15, in front of a panel. The public is permitted to attend, but Teixeira said Schoenborn has chosen to release nothing in advance of the hearing.
“We anticipate Allan Schoenborn will show up.”
The family, through Clarke’s cousin Stacy Galt, released a statement Friday following news of the legislation. The family has asked for unanimous support of the bill by lawmakers.
“There is an imbalance in the system — and this legislation corrects that….,” Galt said in a prepared statement. “An imbalance which has my family going into a hearing next week without knowing what Allan Schoenborn wants.
“Day passes? A full discharge? Perhaps a desire to relocate to another province where my cousin Darcie cannot easily remind the Review Board of this man’s actions? We do not know because this hearing — which has been postponed twice in the last year at the request of a man who will never serve a day in jail for murdering three beautiful children — my niece and nephews — because the current system says victims have no right to know.”
The family noted 12 people have disappeared in the past year from provincial forensic psychiatric hospital Colony Farm while on passes, three of whom remain at large.
Teixeira said it will be possible for Schoenborn to come under the new legislation if it is passed by the House of Commons. The family will likely make an application to a judge in early 2014 that Schoenborn be determined a high-risk offender under the legislation.