PORT COQUITLAM — For several years now, Stacy Galt has lived in fear.
Not only for herself, but also for her cousin Darcie Clarke.
That fear for the Tri-Cities residents is sparked by the thought of Allan Schoenborn, the child killer now in custody at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam.
Galt believes if he is ever given freedom, he will kill her cousin, and go after her too.
But the two women will get a measure of relief after the federal government announced significant reforms to how the justice system deals with those considered not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial.
“I want to be able to walk out my door and know that there’s nobody there that’s going to get me, that’s going to be looking for me — and Darcie wants the same,” an emotional Galt said Thursday at a press conference in PoCo to announce the proposed changes.
“We just want our children to be protected, and we want them to grow up safe and hopefully this [the legislation] is going to help.”
The proposed changes include lengthening the time between annual review hearings for offenders, giving victims greater involvement in the process and ensuring public safety is at the centre of consideration when such offenders apply for escorted releases.
Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam MP James Moore, who made the announcement on behalf of the Conservative government, called the proposed changes a “rebalancing” of the system to make sure victims are at the heart of the legislation.
“To me it’s morally unacceptable that victims of a crime should be further victimized by a process that’s so blunt about their engagement in the process, and it’s morally wrong for victims of crime to not feel safe in their community,” he said.
The MP couldn’t provide specifics on the legislation citing parliamentary rules, but indicated full details of the reforms will be made available when the legislation is tabled in Ottawa in January.
The community was outraged when it was learned Schoenborn, who killed his three children in 2008 in Merritt but was ultimately found not guilty of murder by reason of mental disorder, applied to the B.C Review Board for escorted access to the community to get a coffee and go to a local pool.
Eventually, he withdrew the request for escorted day passes.
But Moore suggested the situation with Schoenborn brought shortcomings of the justice system to light.
He said his government has heard from victims who want a greater voice in the system.
“The fact that victims live in fear because they can’t have confidence that they will know if, or when their abuser is free on a day pass in their neighbourhood is simply wrong, unjust and offensive to Canadian instincts of justice,” Moore said.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart, who at times has been critical of the process surrounding Schoenborn and the review board, applauded the changes.
“We need to make it so that victims count a little bit in the process,” he said, noting he was embarrassed at how little input victims had in the review process.
As for Galt, she thanked the government and urged all MPs to support the legislation, suggesting it is what families of victims all across Canada have been asking for.
In the meantime, the Provincial Health Services Authority released what is essentially an FAQ on the forensic hospital’s security and safety, in the wake of a pair of patients who went missing earlier this year.
The release noted since 2010, a total of 42 unauthorized absences have been recorded, compared to 19,000 leaves being granted.
There have been five absences so far in 2012.
Earlier this year, two patients went missing on unescorted day passes. David Fomradas, 34, and Gregory Schleen, 49, went missing from the hospital within days of each other back in May.
Vancouver police picked up Schleen in August, while six months later, Fomradas remains at large.
The pair's disappearances sparked two reviews of the hospital's unescorted day-pass program and an outcry from politicians and residents in the community.
The hospital also temporarily suspended the program until an internal review was complete.
The PHSA noted following the review in July, which found the hospital to be in compliance with all policies and procedures, day passes were reinstated.
The recent FAQ also noted if a patient fails to return on time from an authorized leave, even if it is for only 15 minutes, the RCMP are notified.