The chair of the Ontario Review Board says that because missing patient Zhebin Cong was not deemed a flight risk, it doesn’t appear his passport was seized.
But Justice Richard Schneider said Mr. Cong did not have permission to leave the Greater Toronto Area and that if he returns to Canada, he can be arrested and brought back to Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
Earlier this week, police revealed Mr. Cong, a CAMH patient who was found not criminally responsible (NCR) for murder in 2016, went missing from the facility while on an unsupervised day pass on July 3 and boarded an international flight the same day.
Justice Schneider, who oversees the ORB, an independent tribunal that sets supervision parameters for people found not criminally responsible for offences, said ORB decisions pertaining to Mr. Cong’s case do not indicate he was a flight risk. He was allowed to leave CAMH on unsupervised day passes numerous times with no incidents in the months leading up to his flight from Canada.
It’s not known what travel documents Mr. Cong used to leave the country. While Mr. Cong may have had access to his own passport, Justice Schneider said it’s also possible he fled the country under a false identity. In general, NCR patients can have access to travel documents, as well as a driver’s licence, money, computers and phones. But if their behaviour poses a risk, such as dangerous driving or making plans to leave town, their documents can be seized, Justice Schneider said.
“We don’t just take stuff from people for no good reason.”
While Mr. Cong had long expressed a desire to return to his home country of China, the most recent ORB decision in his case, released in May, said there was no impasse on the subject. CAMH officials were encouraging Mr. Cong to apply for supervised, CAMH-approved housing in the community, but he balked because he wanted to return home. Officials said they would continue working to try to find a housing solution in Toronto. The report also noted that Mr. Cong, who has schizophrenia, was doing well in treatment and that his symptoms had dissipated. (People with schizophrenia or other mental illnesses rarely commit acts of violence.)
In Canada, individuals who are deemed NCR, such as Mr. Cong, are treated as patients for an indeterminate period, but the goal is rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Patients can earn privileges, such as day passes for supervised or unsupervised community access, based on their progress in treatment. According to Justice Schneider, the case of Mr. Cong shows widespread misunderstanding of how this system works.
Justice Schneider said he has heard of other NCR patients who have gone AWOL and left town, although this is the first instance he can think of where a patient left on an airplane. But over all, such incidents are rare, he said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said during a radio interview on Thursday that people such as Mr. Cong should be locked up forever and he questioned why some NCR patients are allowed out of mental-health facilities.
Mr. Ford has demanded answers from the police, CAMH and the ORB over the incident, and Toronto Mayor John Tory has called on the province to launch an independent review. The police and CAMH are investigating, with the hospital also conducting a review of all patient passes and privileges.
After Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders had pledged to seek a Canada-wide warrant for Mr. Cong, the force confirmed on Friday that a non-criminal warrant has been issued. Justice Schneider said NCR patients who breach the terms of their stay, set out by the ORB, have not committed a criminal offence and can be arrested without a warrant and returned to a health-care facility.
With reports from Matthew Lapierre