The chair of the Alberta Review Board, whose job it is to review not criminally responsible (NCR) cases, has resigned after less than six months in the role, feeling she has “no support” from the justice minister or UCP government.
At annual hearings prescribed by the Criminal Code, Alberta Review Board members get updates on the condition, treatment and progress of people found not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial. They are then responsible for issuing decisions on what, if any, freedoms should be granted to the patients.
A well-known example in Alberta is that of Matthew de Grood — who killed five young people at a Calgary house party in 2014 and was found NCR by a judge after doctors said he experienced a psychotic break at the time of the killings and couldn’t understand his actions were wrong.
Jill Taylor was appointed chair of the Alberta Review Board on June 1, 2019, and identified issues she wanted to work with the Justice Ministry but says she’s been “ignored” by the Alberta government that she says has left her “no choice but to resign.”
‘Feeling used and unheard’
“There are critical unresolved issues, which are forcing my resignation. I am increasingly feeling used and unheard by Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer,” Taylor wrote in a press release.
“We do important work and, as chair, I’m tasked with the oversight of some of the most dangerous and vulnerable people in our community,” said Taylor in an interview with CBC News.
“To have no support for the ministry is incomprehensible.”
Taylor says it’s difficult to balance protecting the public with overseeing and reintegrating those who come before the board.
“I can’t make sure this board functions appropriately and in the best interest of the community without the support of the government. It’s clear they don’t have any interest.”
CBC News requested a comment from the justice minister but was told “the minister is unavailable.”
‘Empty and flawed’ process for victims
Taylor has been a lawyer for 28 years, though she worked as a justice of the peace for eight of those years. Before that, she worked as a nurse for 14 years. This job, she says, was the perfect balance of her nursing and law backgrounds.
“I believe people who are mentally ill to the point they don’t know what they’re doing need to be in a different system,” said Taylor. “I wanted to be at a level where I wasn’t just working for money…. I really believe in this legislation.”
Taylor says she began asking for meetings with Schweitzer or someone from the Justice Ministry. She says she wanted to discuss several matters including the “empty and flawed” victim impact statement process, hoping to make family members of those killed feel like the board was hearing them.
Taylor says nobody from Alberta Justice would meet with her and she was told to prepare a briefing note instead.
One prominent example of the kind of case that the review board handles is that of de Grood, 28, who killed the young people at the house party. He now goes before the review board annually.
Since then, he has been treated for schizophrenia-like symptoms and has made progress and is considered a low risk to reoffend. The board, on recommendations from de Grood’s treatment team, grants him additional freedoms every year.
On Oct. 1, the Alberta Review Board ruled that de Grood could be eased back into the community. The ARB said that, with prior approval, de Grood could leave Alberta Hospital in Edmonton unsupervised for day outings and, with added supervision, could spend up to three days in the city.
Three months after refusing to meet with Taylor, Schweitzer tweeted that he’d heard from people who were “frustrated and disturbed” after the review board’s decision to grant de Grood additional freedoms.
The minister publicly announced he would be asking the board to make changes to how it works with victims.
Taylor says she was “shocked” with Schweitzer’s tweet and says it was inappropriate for the justice minister to comment on a decision of the judiciary or the board — which is the same as judiciary.
Other ‘serious and urgent issues’
Taylor says there were other “serious and urgent issues” she had hoped to address with the ministry aside from a lack of communication and a flawed victim participation process, including:
- Concerns that no psychiatrists are applying to sit on the board.
- Discussion on whether the board should fall under the Health Ministry instead of the Justice Ministry, as it is in many other jurisdictions, so that there is no conflict given the Crown is a party in the cases.
- Board members not getting paid for the work they put into the board. For example, Taylor says she worked on the de Grood decision for two weeks but only received one day’s pay. She’s worried this is a factor keeping psychiatrists away.
- On one case, board members had differing stances on an issue of law so Taylor sought an outside legal opinion but she was told she wasn’t allowed.