Thursday, April 10, 2008

An inquiry is needed into the Merritt deaths

The murder of three children in Merritt would be terrible, no matter what the circumstances.
But if the crime could have been prevented. . .
There are real questions about whether Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon Schoenborn had to die. Worse, the same questions have been raised in earlier cases.
And the issues aren't just ones of judgment. The police, prosecutors and courts apparently didn't have access to critical information. Information that perhaps could have saved the children's lives.
The questions have been piling up in the days since the children were found stabbed to death. Their father, Dwayne Schoenborn, is the suspected killer. He was looking after them last Sunday while their mother went shopping. She returned to find them dead; he hasn't been seen since.
Bad things happen in this world. But there are questions about whether this very bad thing had to happen.
The early questions - or criticisms - have focused on whether Schoenborn should have been in jail.
In the seven days before the murders, Merritt RCMP had several dealings with him. They went four times to the trailer were the children's mother, Darcie Clarke, lived with them. Three were at the request of the Ministry of Children and Families; once to arrest Schoenborn for an outstanding warrant for driving while suspended.
That wasn't all. RCMP officers arrested him for being drunk in public. And four days before the murders, Schoenborn was arrested at his children's school. He was accused of threatening the principal and a child who he thought had harassed his daughter.
The RCMP said they wanted Schoenborn held in custody until his court appearance. But Merritt court had closed.
So the RCMP telephoned a Burnaby office where justices of the peace are on call for such occasions. The justice who answered the phone decided Schoenborn wasn't a flight risk, as police alleged.
He ordered him released on $100 bail, and to stay away from the girl and the principal and keep the peace.
I can't second-guess the order.
But I wonder if that's the right way to make such a decision - over the phone, in a hurry. The process does ensure people - still innocent- aren't locked up for any longer than necessary. And it saves money. But is it sound? Does the justice of the peace make a less sound decision when he can't see the suspect? Are the RCMP officers able to present the legal issues as effectively as a Crown prosecutor.
There is a more significant problem. Last year, Schoenborn was charged with threatening to kill his wife. The charge was stayed, but an order limiting his involvement with her was put in place. He violated that order in February.
But the justice of the peace apparently knew none of that. The stories have varied. Some reports say the RCMP didn't know; some say they faxed the information to the justice of the peace.
It doesn't matter. In an age where millions of complex transactions are made every few minutes, the justice system apparently can't communicate critical information about suspects. With tragic results.
This isn't a new issue. Last year, in Victoria, Peter Lee killed his wife, his son, two in-laws and himself. Police believed Lee should be held in custody after an earlier incident in which he had attempted to kill his wife. Crown prosecutors disagreed.
Attorney General Wally Oppal promised a review of the release process then. But nothing has changed. An inquest is scheduled to start April 28. Too late for the three children, and too narrowly focused to produce useful results anyway.
There are other issues, harder to nail down but important. Schoenborn had a mental illness and alcohol addiction. Was he helped? A coroner's inquest has already ordered. But that won't answer anything but the most basic questions.
Oppal has the power to order a public inquiry into the deaths and anything that could have been done to prevent them.
Footnote: The RCMP have faced tough questions as well. It took 20 hours from the time of the murders - until a media relations officer arrived - for the police to confirm that Schoenborn was a suspect. That delay. Some citizens say, put them at risk and allowed the prime suspect the chance to leave the area.


Anonymous said...

Again the whole matter comes down to dollars. The present government spends its dollars on its 'friends' and not where it is most needed.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I went to a minimum security prison with a group of teens in alternate education. The trip had been set up by a classroom teacher who was ill equipped to know that it was not news to many of them who had visited parents or family in the facility. His wish to have them realize the hardness of the inmates and situations were further potentially altered by the fact our inmate tour guide was charming and likeable. One of the kids asked the reason for his incarceration. He was ending a term for threatening to kill his wife. The kid responded with, 'but you didn't mean it.'. "No, I think I did mean it, but that isn't the point, she thought I did and that made it no okay'. I was grateful for his taking responsibility in their eyes risking being less of a nice guy. The whole idea that threats aren't to be taken seriously if made in anger, or by otherwise likeable people leave open this space for things to go horribly wrong.

DL said...

The odds of Campbell and Company setting up a public enquiry seems unlikely. The AG in the house today says .Wait as the coroner will be doing some work in that direction.They don't call him stoewally for nothing