Gay activist's death prompts custody pass review

Government officials in Nova Scotia will review the release from custody of a man accused of beating a gay rights activist to death.
Friends of Raymond Taavel participate in a vigil on Tuesday in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Mike Dembeck/Canadian Press)

Government officials in Nova Scotia will review the release from custody of a man accused of beating a gay rights activist to death.

Andre Denny is charged with second-degree murder of Raymond Taavel.

Taavel, 49, was killed early Tuesday after leaving Menz Bar on Gottingen Street.

Denny was arrested soon after in a nearby alley.

Denny, 32, was a patient at the East Coast Forensic Hospital. He was issued a temporary pass on Monday but never returned to the facility.

John Gillis, a spokesperson for Capital Health, says the Criminal Code Review Board granted the pass. It's composed of a group of lawyers and psychiatrists.

"That review board takes advice from our clinicians. Some patients would have passes for an hour, a day, or a weekend, either supervised or unsupervised based on how a patient is complying with their treatment, you know their needs and recovery," he said.

Peter Lederman, chair of the review board, said the review board gave the hospital the right to discharge Denny based on his history.

Denny was first admitted to the hospital in 2009, when Lederman says he responded well to the program and was initially successful when he returned to Eskasoni, a small Mi'kmaq community on Cape Breton Island.

Denny returned to the hospital last fall when he was found not criminally responsible for assault causing bodily harm, Lederman said. 

The board then met in February, where they heard reports from Denny's doctors and the staff.

"We felt it would be best for Andre if we could get him back into his native community as quickly as possible because he had been very successful there the last time. So we granted a conditional discharge, knowing that it wouldn't be implemented quickly and it would take some time for the hospital to do it," he said.

Lederman said the board grants a ceiling of privilege, but it's up to the hospital to determine exactly what that means for each patient.

"Andre was under the control of the clinical team at the hospital. In their judgment, they considered it safe to let him out. And it's not the board's job to second guess that in advance and say 'maybe you shouldn't do that.' It's their job to do that and they should only do it if they consider it safe to do it, and they obviously did."

Lederman said he was shocked when he heard of Taavel's death.  "I've been the chairman for 10 years and this is the first occasion when something like this has happened.  And there have been literally hundreds of people going through there.  So it's extremely unfortunate and it's a horrible occurrence," he said.     

Province to investigate

The province has launched a review to determine whether all policies and procedures were followed, and whether they are adequate.

"I respect the fact that mental illness is a disease and that it's a medical issue not a criminal issue," said Ross Laundry, the province's minister of justice.

"What we have to determine here, is the incident related to criminal behaviour or the mental illness and then what systems or processes do we need to evaluate or re-assess to try to minimize or reduce these incidents ever happening again."

The deputy minister of health and wellness, the deputy minister of justice and the CEO of Capital Health will lead the joint review.

A progress report is expected in 30 days.

Denny has been returned to the East Coast Forensic Hospital.