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Alberta top court says board was 'unreasonable' to rescind freedoms, reinstates Matthew de Grood's privileges

The province's top court has overturned the Alberta Review Board's decision to rescind some of Matthew de Grood's freedoms and has put into place conditions that would allow his gradual transition into a 24-hour monitored group home, with his doctor's permission.

Lawyers appealed board's rejection of treatment team recommendations for killer

Matthew de Grood killed five people at a Brentwood house party in northwest Calgary on April 15, 2014. (The Canadian Press)

The province's top court has overturned the Alberta Review Board's decision to rescind some of Matthew de Grood's freedoms and has put into place conditions that would allow his gradual transition into a 24 hour monitored group home, with his doctor's permission.

De Grood was found not criminally responsible (NCR) for killing five people at a house party in 2014 after a judge ruled he was suffering a psychotic break at the time and didn't understand his actions were morally wrong.

Earlier this month, he appealed the Alberta Review Board's decision to deny further freedoms recommended by the medical team which works with de Grood. 

The Alberta Court of Appeal ruled the board should not have rejected the recommendations made by de Grood's treatment team last September. 

The court also reinstated other privileges after finding the board was "unreasonable" in taking them away.

"The evidence indicated that Mr. de Grood's schizophrenia has been in remission since 2015 and that there are no troubling behaviours," wrote the appeal court.

The Alberta Review Board (ARB) is tasked with an annual review, prescribed by the Criminal Code, into the progress and treatment of people found not criminally responsible (NCR) of crimes committed while suffering psychosis.

At the trial, a judge heard de Grood believed the devil was talking to him and that a war was about to begin, signalling the end of the world, when he arrived at the 2014 party, which was being held to mark the end of the school year.

He killed Zackariah Rathwell, 21; Jordan Segura, 22; Kaitlin Perras, 23; Josh Hunter, 23; and Lawrence Hong, 27.

In 2016, the judge ruled de Grood was NCR. He's since lived at a secure psychiatric facility and is on medication.

Forensic psychologist and lawyer Patrick Baillie says the court's decision was the right call. 

"Matthew is making good progress and will continue to be closely monitored by the treatment team," said Baillie. "That's the way the NCR verdict is supposed to work: with reintegration when it's safe."

From left: Zackariah Rathwell, Lawrence Hong, Kaitlin Perras, Jordan Segura and Joshua Hunter were stabbed to death April 15 while celebrating the end of post-secondary classes. (Photos from Facebook)

Last September, de Grood's treatment team recommended that with his doctor's approval he be given additional freedoms which could see him transitioned into a 24-hour supervised group home. 

During de Grood's appeal, the panel of judges heard the board "engaged in speculation," "dwelled on what ifs" and ignored evidence, argued lawyer Allan Fay.

Reinstated freedoms

The court noted that de Grood has good insight into his mental health and has a family fully committed to supporting him.

If de Grood were to be transitioned to a group home, it would be a gradual process beginning with week-long stays closely monitored by his medical team, which would keep an eye on his stress levels and suitability to community living. 

The group home staff would also be capable of monitoring de Grood. He would still be under full warrant of committal, so at any time he could be brought back to hospital if there were any concerns.

The court has also ordered de Grood to meet with his treatment team at least once a week, if he is living in the community, and appear before the ARB if ordered.

De Grood's reinstated freedoms include:

  • Passes for up to three days and two nights in Edmonton. supervised by a responsible adult, with prior approval of the treatment team. 
  • Travel within Alberta for up to one week, supervised by a responsible adult, with prior approval of the treatment team. Travel to and from Edmonton may be unsupervised. 
  • Residence in an approved 24-hour accommodation in the Edmonton area.

Board's political connections

The board rejected those recommendations despite accepting the same freedoms just one year earlier. 

The court pointed out that there were no changes in de Grood's condition between the board's acceptance of the treatment team's recommendations on Sept. 18, 2019, and its rejection of the same recommendations a year later, on Sept. 7, 2020.

But back in September 2019, there were several different board members and a chair who has since resigned, citing a difficult relationship with the justice minister.

Since then, former justice minister Doug Schweitzer appointed a new chair and several new board members to the Alberta Review Board.

Board found to have 'ignored evidence'

Lawyers who work on NCR cases have voiced concerns that in the last 18 months, the ARB has become politicized under the United Conservative Party with several new board members chair, several of whom have connections to conservative parties.

Several board members have connections to conservative parties, including former Wildrose interim leader and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Heather Forsyth, former Manitoba PC MLA Gerald Hawranik as well as Gerald Chipeur, who served as general counsel to the Conservative Party and also did work for the provincial PCs. 

"The Review Board is a judicial body and should be independent from politics," said Baillie. "The minister saying it's time for a 'reset' and then appointing people with a particular view betrays the need for that separation."

Jacqueline Petrie, who handles NCR cases and board reviews out of Edmonton, said she has concerns about the high-profile ties to the conservative government, politicizing the quasi-judicial board.

"This does seem like more political appointments than fair and arms-length appointments," said Petrie.

The Court of Appeal overturned two of the ARB's recent decisions which restricted the recommended privileges of NCR patients, finding the panel ignored evidence in one case and in the other ruled the disposition was "not fair" and did "not accord with the hearing evidence."

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