The too-fast eligibility for an escorted community pass given to a psychotic killer of his three children in British Columbia feeds the Conservative tough-on-crime agenda. That agenda depends not so much on rising crime (or a perception of it) but a feeling that the justice system has lost its way. Thus, even a scattershot approach like Stephen Harper's, which could add a billion dollars or more in costs each year without making communities appreciably safer, finds a receptive audience.
It was just three years ago that Allan Schoenborn slashed the throat of his 10-year-old daughter and suffocated his two sons, ages eight and five. And it was just one year ago that the B.C. Review Board said that he had "little, if any, insight" into his "major mental illness," and that paranoid, antisocial, narcissistic and borderline personality disorders (he has been diagnosed with all of them) are "notoriously stable and difficult to ameliorate through treatment."
What does the law say? In 1992, the Supreme Court of Canada said, justifiably, in R. v. Swain that individuals deemed not guilty by reason of insanity (as it was then called) should have their cases reviewed regularly, if they are to be held indefinitely. The federal government passed a law providing for a review at least once a year. That law says the "least onerous and least restrictive" form of custody must be applied, consistent with public protection.
But on which side should a review board err? Psychiatry is, as the Supreme Court has said, an imprecise science. Doctors aren't sure what the sources of Mr. Schoenborn's delusions are. He is said to be "progressing well;" he has been taking medication, attending programs at the forensic hospital in which he is incarcerated, and shows "some increase in insight," Bernd Walter, the review board chairman, said. With the board's granting of eligibility for an escorted pass, the decision falls to the hospital director.
Not good enough. Public protection ought to come first, and the law should say so more clearly. This can be done without spending billions on prisons. For now, though, a reprieve: Mr. Walter says the case will be reviewed again, in light of new information that Mr. Schoenborn's ex-wife, Darcie Clarke, lives in the community where he would be escorted if given a pass. The decision needs to be reconsidered.