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Rob Shaw: Eby asks retired Abbotsford police chief to review the baffling release of a 'significant threat'

Premier says Bob Rich will have the resources needed to get to the bottom of it
BC Premier David Eby announced his appointment of a retired police chief to review circumstances that released a "significant threat" on a day pass.

Premier David Eby has tapped retired Abbotsford police chief Bob Rich to get to the bottom of how the man accused of a triple-stabbing in Chinatown last weekend got an unescorted day pass from a forensic hospital, even though new documents show the BC Review Board deemed him a “significant threat” to public safety.

“We will ensure Mr. Rich has access to all of the documents and individuals he needs in order to share details with British Columbians about how it can possibly be that this man was released into the community,” Eby said Thursday.

The premier reiterated his disbelief at the failure of the criminal justice system to keep the public safe from a known violent offender, after expressing earlier this week “white hot anger” at the BC Review Board.

Questions about the stabbing continued to grow Thursday after I obtained the BC Review Board’s seven-page decision about Blair Evan Donnelly, dated April 13.

“The Board concluded that Mr. Donnelly continues to meet the threshold of significant threat,” it read.

“He requires significant supervision to ensure he does not cause further harm to the public.”

Yet, somehow, between that board decision in April and last weekend, Donnelly was given an unescorted day pass from the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital.

While out on that pass on Sunday, police allege Donnelly stabbed three people at a celebration in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

There were plenty of warning signs that Donnelly was unsafe.

He killed his 16-year-old daughter in Terrace in 2006 by stabbing her in the neck, heart and back.

“Mr. Donnelly had been planning to murder his wife but changed his mind in response to his delusional belief that it was his daughter that God wanted him to kill,” wrote the review board.

He was found not criminally responsible due to mental illness and remanded into custody at the provincial psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam. Since then, he’s stabbed two other people, the board notes. He shows very little warning signs before his violent outbursts, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Mandeep Saini told the review board in April.

“Dr. Saini testified that Mr. Donnelly presents a high risk of relapse given his pattern of rapid decompensation and violence in the past,” he said.

“The accused has reoffended after long periods of remission between violent episodes and without any significant warning signs, which Dr. Saini described as being a unique feature of his mental illness.

“Therefore, a cautious approach is necessary to protect the public. Mr. Donnelly has complained that his reintegration is too slow, and this suggests he lacks understanding of the level of risk he poses to the community.”

Eby said he can’t believe Donnelly was ever allowed to walk the streets after reading the documents.

“When I read it, it seems to clearly conclude this man was a significant risk, shouldn’t be released and yet somehow between that decision and the event in Chinatown this individual was in fact released into this community,” he said.

“And that is exactly what I want Mr. Rich to dig into. How is that possible?”

For now, Eby said the review will be confined to Donnelly’s case, and a probe of whether any other dangerous people are out on day passes from the forensic hospital.

He agreed that the BC Review Board has not done a good job in communicating with the public about the case (it has said nothing, refused to release documents and stonewalled journalists) but that any larger reforms are secondary to an immediate answer to the Donnelly case.

“I have lots of broader questions coming up about the process and the system, but at the end of the day the core question, about how a violent psychotic individual was released into the community to attack innocent people, is the question that needs to be answered.”

Not good enough, said BC United critic Elenore Sturko.

“The more I learn about this case, of what happened at the Chinatown festival, the sicker I feel, to be honest,” said Sturko, a former RCMP officer.

“I’m happy to hear that David Eby is asking for a review. But it better be a transparent review. And we better have access to that. The public needs to see where the failure was, because clearly there was a failure.

“And if we’re going to have any trust going forward in the systems that are in place to protect the public, there needs to be transparency — which, unfortunately to date, there hasn’t been a lot of from this government.”

The premier has moved quickly to put a review in place into how the stabbing occurred, and whether the public is at risk from anyone else. His outrage has mirrored that of the general public. Generally, he’s handled it well.

But there are clearly larger problems at play, both in terms of how the BC Review Board dealt with this case, how it has responded to immense public criticism and why it hasn’t taken steps to investigate this incident itself.

The board is making decisions on behalf of the public. But it appears to have no accountability — worse, it doesn’t seem to care when public trust in its entire mandate implodes.

The board members serve at the pleasure of the provincial government. If Eby wants to restore public confidence in this process his next move seems clear: Fire the board, and appoint a new crew committed to actually doing much better.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. [email protected]