Schoenborn tests mental health law

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British Columbia Review Board: “All parties agree that Mr. Schoenborn continues to pose a significant threat to public safety, and the Board has no hesitation in coming to this conclusion.”

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The veteran Vancouver lawyer took a break from skiing with his family to respond to another media inquiry into notorious client Allan Schoenborn, now eligible for a multi-week bail.

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“We’re actually in Whistler together right now!” joked Rishi Gill. “He’s a surprisingly good mogul skier!”

Of course, Schoenborn, 54, was not at the station.

Dark humor was Gill’s way of dealing with the many people – including doctors, police, prosecutors, judges and journalists – who believe that mental illness should be treated with compassion until a delusional person goes on a rampage and seems to be using it as an exit-card without jail.

“You’ll never get the public to get over the horrific nature of the offense,” Gill insisted. “It’s kind of understandable. The big issue is what happens in the justice system to treat it fairly. It could easily have been much worse for him. It was really a special case. This is not indicative of what normally happens.

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With a mugshot alone that would scare MMA champion Conor McGregor, the hell-he-is-not-guilty-and-should-be-in-jail outrage over Schoenborn remains palpable 14 years after his cognitive dysfunction turned violent.

In April 2008, he slaughtered his daughter and suffocated his two sons in the family trailer in Merritt. He fled, eluding a dragnet for 10 days before emerging from the disheveled and incoherent desert.

He said he believed his children – Kaitlynne, 10, Max, 8, and Corden, 5 – were victims of sexual abuse and that he was saving them.

Kaitlyn, Max and Cordon.
Kaitlyn, Max and Cordon. Photo by Les Bazso /PROVINCE

“The day he was arrested,” Gill recalls, “he was emaciated, he had cut his wrists to the bone. The cop said, ‘If he’s not to be admitted, we’ll question him.’ So the doctors said he didn’t need to be hospitalized, he was fine. I was furious. I was so frustrated how much we had to fight for the guy.

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Prosecutors insisted that Schoenborn’s explanation was nonsensical and that he intended to hurt his wife, Darcie Clarke, who was shattered by the murders and, on May 30, 2019, died of a cardiac disease.

On February 22, 2010, however, Schoenborn was found not criminally responsible on three counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to medical treatment indefinitely with an annual review.

Since then, he has been in the Coquitlam Forensic Psychiatric Hospital.

Born in Winnipeg, the second of three children, Schoenborn developed an addiction to alcohol and drugs and showed signs of mental illness at age 19.

After dropping out of 10th grade, his life was one of drug addiction and petty crime until 1993, when he met his wife.

While he was settling down, he couldn’t maintain a stable relationship. Schoenborn soon developed paranoid delusions that Clarke was cheating on him and that their children were fathered by another man.

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Before the murders, he was separated from her, homeless and hearing voices. He was in the middle of a divorce and had lost his job because of his mental instability. His world had collapsed.

Schoenborn has now received counseling about substance use, completed a “social communication skills” course and undergone cognitive behavioral therapy for psychosis.

“He went to treatment. He’s better than he was three or four years ago,” said Gill, a junior at the Schoenborn trial of retired attorney Peter Wilson who won the not criminally responsible verdict.

Allan Schoenborn, who is currently being held in a psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam, faced the British Columbia Review Board for its annual hearing.
Allan Schoenborn, who is currently being held in a psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam, faced the British Columbia Review Board for its annual hearing. PROVINCE PROVINCE

Two years ago doctors thought he should remain detained but was ready for some freedom – unescorted day passes at the discretion of the hospital director for sports, lattes at Starbucks, etc. .

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Schoenborn has been on many outings from the Coquitlam institution — visits with his mother, trips to parks, restaurants and shops, unescorted time off for job training in Surrey — all without incident.

Reconsidering the risks of giving him more freedom, the BC Review Board’s most recent three-person panel decided he had made some progress, but not enough.

“All parties agree that Mr. Schoenborn continues to pose a significant threat to public safety, and the panel has no hesitation in reaching that conclusion,” he concluded. “There is no doubt between the parties that the necessary and proper decision in this case is a custody order. We agree. There is no exit plan in place that would allow Mr. Schoenborn to reside in the community.

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Yet while he must remain confined for at least a year, the panel decided that longer night visits, of up to 28 days, would help his reintegration into society.

For many, including Clarke’s family, this case proves that the system is broken and the law needs to be changed.

Gill strongly disagrees: “This is an example of what the law is for and how it should work. It was a savage crime. He’s not a likeable character. It could and usually goes the other way.

The panel noted that Schoenborn’s psychotic illness “has been in remission for many years and … is fully controlled by an injectable form of long-acting antipsychotic medication” that even if he were to stop taking it, he would have to several months before his psychosis reappeared.

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He has a long way to go, Gill pointed out.

“But it was the right result and that’s how the system is supposed to work. It pushed the system over the edge, but it shows how these people should be treated. It could have easily ended up in jail for the rest of his life. … If he’s ever released, I don’t think the public will hear from him again.

imulgrew@postmedia.com

twitter.com/ianmulgrew

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