It has been six years since Matthew de Grood was charged with the murders of five young people at a house party in Calgary, Alberta, and four years since he was found to be Not Criminally Responsible for those offences.
It was concluded that de Grood was suffering from delusions, attributed to undiagnosed schizophrenia, when he caused the deaths of five schoolmates from a local university. He has been in a secure psychiatric facility ever since.
As we have discussed in previous posts, a finding of NCR is neither a determination of guilt, nor an acquittal. It is the beginning of alternative proceedings, which ultimately seek to determine if/when an Accused person can be released back into the community. Like all individuals found NCR, de Grood is required to appear before theReview Boardto assess his progress, and to evaluate what freedoms, if any, he may be granted as a result of said progress.
Back in 2016, the Crown suggested it would bemaking an Applicationto seek a “High Risk NCR” designation for de Grood. Had this designation been imposed, his appearance before the Review Board would have been extended to take place every three years instead of annually. However – it appears that the Application was never made. This was likely due to the fact that the relevant legislation – theNot Criminally Responsible Reform Act– did not go into force until July 11, 2014, nearly 3 months after the offences took place. As such, the law could not be retroactively applied to de Grood’s case.
At his recent hearing, de Grood’s counsel spoke of the progress he has made during his time at the psychiatric facility. He has been afforded the opportunity to spend the night at his parent’s home on several occasions, taking hospital transportation to and from medical appointments, and volunteering with Meals on Wheels. His counsel submits that de Grood should be granted an absolute discharge due, in part, to the progress he has made with his mental health issues, including being cooperative with taking his medication – and recognizing the devastating consequences that would come as a result of not taking it. He has also demonstrated a high level of remorse for his actions.
Defence counsel further acknowledged that de Grood’s case is extremely high profile. There are concerns regarding the public’s reaction to seeing him on public transit, and how he may face serious adversity in transitioning to a group home.
The Review Board reserved its decision, and accordingly, de Grood remains in a psychiatric facility with heavy restrictions on his freedoms.
On March 18, 2020, the BC court system responded to the coronavirus pandemic swiftly and without hesitation, reducing operations by the likes of which criminal counsel simply hasn’t seen before. Once it was confirmed how rapidly COVID19 spreads, the crowded confines of publicly accessed courtrooms were immediately deemed inappropriate – dangerous even. Since courtrooms often yield a congregation of some of society’s most vulnerable people, it made perfect sense to act defensively. These decisions, and many others effecting the justice system, were made only one week after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.
Unfortunately, there was a noticeable absence of urgency when it came time to protect the vulnerable inmate population overcrowded and totally confined within the walls of Mission Institution.
“In the worst-case scenario, CSC will need to order more body bags and find cold storage to stack up the bodies of those whose lives will be lost that could have been saved” – Justin Piche, criminologist, Criminalization and Punishment Project at the University of Ottawa
On March 31, 2020, federalPublic Safety Minister Bill Blair recommendedthat the Correctional Service of Canada (“CSC”) immediately consider the release of non-violent inmates to mitigate the unavoidable reality that the virus could, and would, devastate the wellbeing of prison populations. His recommendation came on the heels of the CSC announcing the first two positive COVID-19 cases in federal institutions in Quebec.
On April 4, 2020, the CSC announced 4 confirmed cases at Mission Institution, leading to a lockdown of the facility.
By April 8, 2020, there were 11 confirmed cases, all inmates. Nearly one month had passed since the WHO declared a global pandemic.
By April 18, 60 inmates and 10 staff tested positive, and the CSC marked its first coronavirus related inmate death, exactly one month after the courts effectively shut down.
By April 25, 2020, 106 inmates and 12 correctional officers were confirmed to be infected, representing the largest outbreak in the Canadian Correctional System. On this date, the CSC advised that all inmates at Mission Medium Institution had been tested, but in any event, new cases were continuing to be discovered.
While disturbing, none of these developments are surprising. The largest incidence of outbreaks has been at long-term care homes – combining close quarters, limited mobility, and care-workers employed at more than one facility is a recipe for disaster when it comes to COVID-19, a pathogen that spreads and infects without discrimination. The same vulnerabilities exist within the correctional system, where they are intensified. Inmates and corrections staff are simply unable to practice crucial social distancing. Personal protective equipment for inmates has not been prioritized as it has in other sectors, despite these individuals being at a much higher risk of getting sick.
The CSC responded to COVID-19 by prohibiting visits to inmates, temporary absences, work releases, and inmate transfers between correctional facilities. While these steps likely helped to curb the spread of the virus, as a whole, they are grossly inadequate. Without a vaccine, social distancing remains our greatest defence against the virus. For the inmates at Mission Institution and those incarcerated at facilities across Canada, proper protective equipment is hard to come by, but hope is even harder.
It has been over one year since Dr. Perry Kendall to declare a Public Health Emergency in British Columbia.
That emergency announcement has not been retracted, but now, the Federal government is beginning to take additional steps to combat the ongoing crisis.
On May 2, 2017, Bill C-224, to be known as the Good Samaritans Drug Overdose Act, was unanimously passed in the House of Commons by MPs from all parties.
The bill aims to ensure that individuals who seek emergency help for someone suffering from an overdose can do so without fear of being prosecuted for drug possession offences. Additionally, it will protect those same individuals from facing breach charges related to drug possession.
The passing of Bill C-224 is fundamental in encouraging anyone witnessing an overdose to seek emergency medical treatment for that individual.
Perhaps 1,000 doesn’t seem like a huge number – but do remember to that in the entire year of 2012, there were only 12 deaths attributed to Fentanyl overdoses.
In 2013, that number jumped to 50.
Fast forward to 2016, and that number climbs to 575 (roughly 47 people per month).
There is no question about the existence of a relationship between criminality and drug abuse. The two are not mutually exclusive, but are by no means estranged either. There is a direct link between them – profiting from crime (theft, fraud, etc) is the often only way to fuel addiction.
Our Provincial Government, however, is not obtuse to the unique circumstances that plague Vancouver’s drug scene. Vancouver’s Downtown Community Court is the first of its kind in Canada and serves roughly 1,500 people per year. It is a purpose-designed courthouse, and strives to bring resources for justice, health, and social services to the Vancouver community. Matters will be referred to the Downtown Community Court when the offender requires assistance to deal with underlying issues such as homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health problems.
With enactment of the Good Samaritans Drug Overdose Act, citizens do not have to worry about being penalized for seeking emergency assistance for someone who is overdosing. And rightfully so. Our government’s first priority should be harm reduction for every individual battling addiction, with no agenda to balance that objective with the war on drugs.
Bill C-224 does not however provide any immunity from prosecution for drug trafficking or other drug related offences.
There could not be a worse time to find yourself charged with an offence related to Fentanyl. Being charged with possession in circumstances unrelated to those discussed above can result in a lengthy term of incarceration, lifetime travel restrictions, and a host of other consequences. Contact a Vancouver Criminal Lawyer at Tarnow Criminal Law today for a free consultation.