Toronto

CAMH announces external review as concerns mount over disappearances

On the heels of a man going missing from Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and somehow boarding an international flight, the centre's president has announced an external review of its processes around passes and privileges for patients.

Catherine Zahn says facility has to manage duty to protect public and provide treatment

Dr. Catherine Zahn made the announcement Wednesday, just over a week after it came to light that Zhebin Cong, found not criminally responsible in a 2014 stabbing death, had left the country while on an unaccompanied community pass. (CBC)

On the heels of a man going missing from Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and somehow boarding an international flight, the centre's president has announced an external review of its processes around passes and privileges for patients.

Dr. Catherine Zahn made the announcement Wednesday, just over a week after it came to light that Zhebin Cong, found not criminally responsible in a 2014 stabbing death, had left the country while on an unaccompanied community pass issued in accordance with the terms of his Ontario Review Board disposition.

Cong, said Toronto police, boarded the flight on July 3 — the same day he went missing. When he didn't return to the facility, CAMH says, it notified police.

"The forensic mental health system is often the subject of great debate and of public scrutiny – as it should be," Zahn said at a news conference.

"The review will look at incidents over the past several months to inform CAMH practice in the context of the broader forensic psychiatry system, and to provide concrete recommendations for our organization."

Move comes amid string of questions

Zahn explained CAMH's duties when it comes to providing care involve a duty to protect the public and a legally-binding duty to provide treatment to patients with the goal of reintegrating them into the community. 

"However, I understand how events of the last number of months have caused people in the community to be concerned about our ability to effectively manage that fine balance," Zahn said.

The facility is now in the process of naming a chair and identifying international experts who could provide recommendations as part of the process, she said.

Zahn also said she's asked for the review to be completed by the end of the year to "allow us to enact change as expediently as possible in order to rebuild trust in our program and in our organization as quickly as possible."

Zhebin Cong, 47, boarded an international flight on July 3 - the same day he went missing. (Toronto Police Service)

The move comes amid a string of questions about just how Cong had been able to leave the country, something both Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford voiced concern about.

"The case of Zhebin Cong based on the facts reported publicly so far is very troubling," Tory said in a letter at the time. "I believe everyone involved in this case should be as transparent as possible with the public about this situation as they get answers."

Another disappearance this week

Ford, for his part, referred to Cong as a "nutcase" in an interview on Newstalk 1010, decrying allowing "crazy, crazy people that want to go around chopping people up" to walk free.

Those comments were followed by an official statement from Ford's office, that called Cong's case "disturbing and outrageous."

"The fact is, a person who murdered someone using a meat cleaver was deemed low-risk to the public and was out on the street for two weeks without the public knowing. Furthermore, he was allowed to get on a plane with law-abiding citizens and fly out of Canada and escape," the statement said.

As recently as April, Cong was found to pose a "significant threat to the safety of the public," according to review board documents.

Ford on Tuesday announced the province will be undertaking a review, after another man deemed not criminally responsible for violent offences also walked way from the facility. Tory too called for an independent review.

A 27-year-old man went missing for several hours Monday, but was located in the city's west end the same day and returned to hospital security, Toronto police say. 

Court documents say the man had gone absent without leave from the hospital on two occasions and has attempted to leave another time.

Police have launched two investigations into Cong's disappearance, while Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones has said the government would look at possible legislative changes to deal with patients who've been found not criminally responsible.

CAMH also announced last week it's implementing various actions in the wake of Cong's disappearance, including having a physician-in-chief oversee a reassessment process for unsupervised community access permissions, and adding more clinical and security staff at all forensic units.

 

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