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Alberta justice minister seeks review after killer Matthew de Grood gets more freedom

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer intends to formally request changes to the standards of release for the Alberta Board, after Matthew de Grood received more freedom.

Experts say process working as intended but victim's family wants changes

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

The justice minister is seeking a change in process after the Alberta Review Board granted mass killer Matthew de Grood more freedom, causing an uproar among many Albertans.

Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer tweeted Thursday his intent to formally request that the Alberta Review Board include the maximum possible input of victims during the hearing process.

Schweitzer is also asking that Ottawa do a review of the standards of release.

On Twitter, Schweitzer said he told his department "to examine any and all other options around the review board process to respect victims."

Patrick Baillie, a forensic psychologist and criminal lawyer in Calgary, says he has "no concern" with Schweitzer raising these issues but noted that victim involvement in review processes has already been enhanced.

"If you look at the legislation, which was amended a couple of years ago ... there was an enhanced role given to victims," said Baillie, on Alberta at Noon.

He says the review board is required to let victims know when hearings are taking place and to seek their input.

"If you look at the list of victims who appeared before the review board in Matthew's case on September 17th, most of the family members of the victims were there."

In response to Schweitzer's intent to approach Ottawa, Baillie says the province can do little as review boards are under federal jurisdiction.

"But justice ministers have their federal-territorial-provincial meetings on a regular basis, and if this is something that [Schweitzer] wants to bring up with his federal counterparts and with other ministers across the country, there may be a way to do that."

Community release

On Oct. 1, the Alberta Review Board ruled that de Grood, who was found not criminally responsible after killing five young people in Calgary in 2014, can be eased back into the community.

With prior approval, de Grood will be able to leave Alberta Hospital in Edmonton unsupervised for day outings. With added supervision, he can spend up to three days in the city.

The board has also decided de Grood, 28, will be able to travel within Alberta for up to a week, as long as the trip has been OK'd and he is with a responsible adult.

This is standard procedure for the review board, says Baillie.

"It is a logical step in the process of reintegration," Baillie said on The Homestretch.

"I certainly understand the concern that has been raised about unsupervised activities in the city of Edmonton."

Baillie also said that the whole purpose of the process de Grood is going through is to eventually bring him back into the community, in a responsible way.

From left: Zackariah Rathwell, Lawrence Hong, Kaitlin Perras, Jordan Segura and Joshua Hunter were stabbed to death while celebrating the end of post-secondary classes in April 2014. (Photos from Facebook)

"The focus of the NCR (not criminally responsible) process is reintegration into the community, it's not a punitive process," said Baillie.

"The review board is required to take into account public safety as their paramount concern and to then look at what is reasonable for an individual such as this."

Baillie says de Grood will be monitored as he is allowed certain freedoms in the community.

Based off of how that goes, the board will eventually decide if he should be free to live in a 24-hour supervised group home in Edmonton.

"If he is, in effect, having a bad day, if he is not taking his medication, if there are any signs or symptoms of an individual who is starting to deteriorate, then he doesn't get those unsupervised privileges in the community," said Baillie.

Mental state

The psychiatrist in charge of de Grood's medical treatment said the man's risk of reoffending is low.

But Dr. Santoch Rai also told the Alberta Review Board that if de Grood were to commit another offence, it would be severe.

A judge in 2016 found de Grood not criminally responsible for the killings because he was suffering from schizophrenia when he arrived at the Calgary party, which was being held to mark the end of the school year.

A trial heard that de Grood, who was then 22, believed that the devil was talking to him and that a war was about to begin, signalling the end of the world.

Dr. Kenneth Hashman, a psychiatrist who heads the forensic psychiatry services for Alberta Health Services in southern Alberta, says schizophrenia is a major mental health problem and happens as a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking and general impaired contact with reality, says Hashman.

De Grood has a form of schizophrenia that includes persecutory delusions. This means an individual believes they are being persecuted by outside forces.

His condition is not curable, says Hashman, but it can be managed through medication.

Hashman says de Grood should be monitored very closely, so should he not take his medication, those watching him would quickly know.

"What we need to look at is these individuals would have a daily communication with their treatment team. They have a very detailed understanding of their early warning signs and their risk of a relapse," Hashman said on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"Prudence is really what is required. We need to make sure that those individuals are stable for very lengthy periods of time before they're given any privileges."

Barclay Hunter, the father of stabbing victim Joshua Hunter, says he thinks Matthew de Grood should be monitored for life. (Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC)

Victim's family wants change

Barclay Hunter, who is the father of Joshua Hunter, one of de Grood's five victims, says he doesn't think de Grood or others like him in cases like this should ever get absolute discharge.

"I think in cases that are extreme like this that he should never be considered for absolute discharge, he should be monitored for his whole life," said Hunter on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"And I think society needs to understand that this is the way the system is set up and so our outcome is to have people like this designated as high risk and never be open for absolute discharge."

Hashman says there is a relatively new designation in the Criminal Code called a "High Risk NCR designation" that partially addresses this.

It means individuals who commit a very serious, violent offence will appear before the review board every three years, instead of every year.

This designation also means the board would have to allow freedoms to serious violent offenders, "in a much more prudent fashion with graduated privileges" and with more supervision.

"[In these cases] the board also has no ability to give the individual privileges outside of the hospital and the only thing they can recommend is that it goes back to the Court of Queen's Bench to consider whether that designation should be removed."

In de Grood's case, however, the Crown never applied to have him designated high-risk NCR.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener, the Homestretch, Alberta at Noon and The Canadian Press