Mentally ill killers could face tougher road to release

Ottawa is expected to roll out proposed changes to the Criminal Code on Thursday that would make it tougher for doctors to let out killers who are found not criminally responsible, CBC News has learned.

Proposed Criminal Code changes expected to be rolled out Thursday

The federal government will propose changes to how mentally ill offenders are treated 2:14

Ottawa is expected to roll out proposed changes to the Criminal Code on Thursday that would make it tougher for doctors to let killers out of custody if they've been found not criminally responsible, CBC News has learned.

MP James Moore is slated to make an announcement in Port Coquitlam, B.C., about significant changes to the Criminal Code.

CBC News has learned that the current annual review hearings into a mentally ill killer's detention could be pushed back to every three years, and changes to the law could make it more difficult for doctors to let them out.

Victims of crime have been lobbying for similar changes for years.

Carol de Delley’s 22-year-old son, Tim McLean, was beheaded by Vince Li on a Greyhound bus in 2008. Li was found not criminally responsible because of his schizophrenia and sent to a mental hospital.

"Review board time every year is heart-breaking all over again. Victims shouldn't have to go through that on an annual basis," de Delley told CBC News.

"A life for a life: If you took a life, you lose your freedom for the rest of your life — whether you're mentally ill or you’re not mentally ill."

'Still looking for her'

Darcie Clarke — whose ex-husband, Allan Schoenborn, killed their three children in Merritt, B.C., in 2008 — is now faced with the annual task of fighting Schoenborn's release. Schoenborn was found not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder.

Allan Schoenborn, found not criminally responsible for killing his three children, is now eligible to apply for day passes. (RCMP)

Now a patient at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Port Coquitlam, B.C., Schoenborn is eligible to apply for day passes. Stacy Galt, Clarke's cousin, hopes Schoenborn won’t be released any time soon.

"We all know he's still looking for her [Clarke]. Why do you think he wants to go to Starbucks and go to the pool?" she told CBC News in 2011.

Schoenborn's psychiatrist can't talk about him because of confidentiality issues but has written that Schoenborn has "little if any insight" into his illness and "a striking sense of entitlement," while the B.C. Review Board found him to still be "obsessed" with his ex-wife.

Schoenborn's yearly review was scheduled for Nov. 23 but has been postponed.

Balancing rights

Mayor Richard Stewart of Coquitlam, which neighbours Port Coquitlam and its psychiatric hospital, said public safety must be taken into account.

"We've seen examples of heinous crimes where someone, a year later, the system could give them the right to go to Starbucks for coffee," he said.

"I agree with those that say we have to change the rules to better balance the rights of everyone involved here. I think we have to balance the rights of the patient who hasn't been convicted of a crime with the rights of society that has to be protected."

Defendants determined to be mentally ill can be found responsible for a crime without technically being convicted.

Criminal Code changes expected Thursday could see those found not criminally responsible and detained in institutions like B.C.'s Forensic Psychiatric Hospital get status reviews every three years instead of annually. (CBC)

But SFU criminology professor Simon Verdun-Jones cautions there must be more compassion for the mentally ill.

"To indefinitely lock someone up on the basis of something they did while they were not criminally responsible, if they are not in fact dangerous — one should also bear in mind that the individual… is a victim of their mental illness," Verdun-Jones said.

Verdun-Jones said any changes to the Criminal Code could be vulnerable to a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for violating the rights of patients.