Sentencing hearing delayed as Alberta courts struggle with backlog in psychiatric reports

An Edmonton woman convicted last November of manslaughter in the death of a 19-month-old boy will have to wait until June 1 to be sentenced. 

Tasha Mack’s sentencing hearing was scheduled to be held on Friday, but defence lawyer Ajay Juneja said he and the Crown did not receive a psychiatric assessment report until late last week.

Anthony Raine died in April 2017 from blunt force trauma to the head. His body was covered in bruises when it was discovered behind a north-Edmonton church three days after it had been left there.

Mack and her ex-boyfriend, Joey Crier, had custody of the boy at the time. Crier, the biological father, was also found guilty of manslaughter. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 1.

The Mack sentencing delay has upset members of the victim’s family.

“I don’t know when they’re going to have some peace and move on with their lives,” family spokesperson Luci Johnston told CBC News. “When is there going to be some accountability on what they’ve done to little Anthony?”

Tasha Mack’s sentencing hearing has been delayed until June 1, 2020. (Facebook/Tasha Mack )

Juneja said his client is also frustrated with the delay. 

“She was extremely disappointed,” Juneja said. “She very much wanted to get on with her life, to know her sentence, to be able to achieve some certainty with regards to her future.” 

Mack, 28, has been in custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre for the past three months. Her lawyer said she has spent most of that time in 23-hour a day segregation due to the publicity surrounding the case. 

Now she faces at least another three months with the same conditions until her rescheduled sentencing hearing. 

Routine assessments to end June 1 

Juneja said the wait for psychiatric assessments has increased significantly over the past year. 

“It’s gone from a matter of six to eight weeks to approximately three to four months,” he said. “The longer it’s delayed, the more significant of an impact it has on the accused, the victims, on everyone involved in the criminal justice system.”

Alberta Health Services said this week it plans to stop providing “routine” pre-sentence reports on June 1. 

“AHS will continue to provide legally mandated assessments, such as those ordered pursuant to the Criminal Code of Canada to determine fitness to stand trial, criminal responsibility, or long-term/dangerous offender status,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson wrote in an email.

He said AHS has seen a 95-per-cent increase in court-ordered assessments over the past three years and now receives more than 600 requests annually from Calgary and Edmonton. 

“These reports cost the health-care system over $1.5 million a year, with little direct clinical value,” Williamson said. 

Juneja said he thinks the $1.5-million annual cost is a small price to pay and called the AHS decision “a terrible idea.”

Defence lawyer Ajay Juneja says doing away with routine forensic assessments is ‘a terrible idea.’ (Manuel Carrillos-Avalos/CBC)

“Doing away with them, in my opinion, would be an extreme disservice to the criminal justice system,” Juneja said. “These assessments are very important. They help identify the risk assessment on behalf of the accused. They recommend treatment programs that could benefit the accused with regards to rehabilitation into society, with minimizing and mitigating risk in dealing with issues that sometimes have led to the offence.”

Crown prosecutor Damian Rogers agreed forensic assessments can be a useful tool in determining a fit sentence for some offenders, especially those with complex mental health issues.

“We certainly do have a concern as prosecutors that our ability to make good decisions that protect the public and achieve rehabilitation of offenders will be adversely affected if these sorts of reports aren’t available to us,” said Rogers, president of the Alberta Crown Attorneys’ Association.

Williamson said assessments will continue to be conducted when the courts determine they’re necessary to determine risks and recommend treatments.

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