New Bill Designating Mentally Ill Man as "High-Risk" Faces Court Challenge

Can a law be imposed retroactively?

Following Allan Schoenborn's murder of his three children in 2008,  a British Columbia Supreme Court eventually found him not criminally responsible for the killings.   Since that time, Canada's Conservative government has enacted tough new legislation designating such offenders as "High Risk Accused" with tightened restrictions over release into the community.    At the time that Bill C-14 was enacted, Prime Minister Stephen Harper personally announced the legislation at a press conference held along with the family of Schoenborn's victims, including his ex-wife Darcie Clark.    Now, a BC court is weighing whether Bill C-14 should apply to Allen Shoenborn, who has already been granted escorted passes into the community, despite his crimes occurring years before the bill was passed.

On April 6, 2008, Darcie Clark returned to her trailer home in Merritt, B.C. to find her three children - Kaitlynne, 10, Max, 8, and Cordon, 5, had been killed in their beds.  Clark had placed the children in their father's care despite her opposition to any attempt at reconciliation.   Clark found the bodies arranged as if they were asleep though Kaitlynne had been struck repeatedly with a cleaver and all three had been smothered.  The messages, "Forever Young", and "Gone to Neverland" had been scrawled in blood and soy sauce. 

After Schoenborn's arrest, he told police that he had killed his children because he believed them to be at risk for abuse.   Days before the killings, Schoenborn was arrested for an incident at his daughter's school in which he threatened a young girl who had upset his daughter.   While police attempted to hold him for a judicial review, a justice of the peace granted him bail.  The murders occurred shortly afterward.

Despite his volatile behaviour, including frequent outbursts during his trial, Allen Schoenborn was later found not criminally responsible and he was detained at a suburban Vancouver psychiatric hospital.  After a lengthy tribunal last winter, including psychiatric testimony, it was ruled that Schoenborn's rehabilitation plan be approved, including escorted passes into the community.   Given the high profile over his case, and the passage of Bill C-14, B.C. crown prosecutors initiated the process to have him declared a "high-risk accused" which would ensure that he remain in hospital indefinitely.  

According to psychologist and lawyer Patrick Baillie, prosecutors are attempting to apply the bill retroactively.  "He has been progressing through treatment, he has been compliant and an excellent example of what treatment is supposed to look like,"  Baillie said.  "And instead, the response from the prosecutor is to seek to have him yanked back inside with no passes."

Since a recent case in Quebec has already ruled that Bill C-14 cannot be applied retroactively,  B.C. prosecutors face an uphill battle to invoke it for Allan Schoenborn.  In the meantime, the current proceedings are likely to stir up painful memories of the 2008 murders as Schoenborn's fate is determined.

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