Number of missing CAMH patients causes victim’s friend to feel ‘revictimized’
Stacey Fox says she has spent the last three years living like a prisoner in her own home.
“I live in a gilded cage,” she said, terrified she will run into the man who stabbed her best friend 127 times, killing her.
She’s talking about John Lai, who was found not criminally responsible in the death of Cindy Torbar in 2016.
Lai was diagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to receive treatment at Ontario Shores, a facility just two-and-a-half blocks from the Fox’s Whitby residence. To make matters more stressful, she said he was given supervised 12-hour community passes.
Each time Fox saw Lai out in public, she said it would trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s hard to get therapy when you are being re-victimized over and over and over when you have to run into him on the GO Train, on the bus, at Metro,” Fox said, holding back tears.
At Lai’s Ontario Review Board hearings, Fox and her family hoped for his transfer. Finally, in late-February word came down he would be moved to Toronto under the care of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. While Fox said she was initially relieved, when she began to read about the number of patients disappearing from the mental health facility, she started to panic.
“Every time another story would come on the news, it was like being re-victimized over and over and over,” said Fox.
In July alone, four men considered to be a threat to public safety disappeared from the hospital.
One of them, Zhebin Cong, is still missing, believed to have somehow fled the country to China.
The 47-year-old was found not criminally responsible in the death of his roommate, who was killed with a meat cleaver in 2014.
On Friday, Ontario’s premier called Cong an “animal” and said that people with mental illness who commit crimes should be in jail.
“We’ve got to put these people away, and if they have mental health issues, they can be dealt with in jail, simple as that,” Doug Ford said.
“I’m passionate about helping people who have true mental illness … Stop sympathizing with axe-wielding murderers and all this bleeding heart stuff.”
When people are found not criminally responsible because of mental illness, the Ontario Review Board manages their cases and puts them through a process that gauges if they are ready to be placed back into the community. Once the ORB believes this to be the case, a patient can be given either supervised or unsupervised passes and can also be moved into outpatient care.
However, in most of these cases, it is up to the hospital to determine how a patient is doing on a day-to day basis.
In the wake of the disappearances, CAMH announced an external review of procedures for granting passes and privileges. An internal review is also underway.
WATCH: In an interview with NEWSTALK 1010 Thursday, Premier Doug Ford referred to the patient detained at CAMH as a ‘nutcase’
For Fox, the word of a review is little comfort.
“I think we… the ORB… gives the hospitals too much power,” she said, adding that she believes the system is failing on multiple levels.
For example, she says while she was told Lai would be transferred, she was never notified when he was actually moved.
Under the ORB rules, a notice of transfer must be made but no exact date is required.
“A transfer date is subject to when a bed or space available comes open. There’s no exact date. It is something that is extremely difficult to specify,” Richard Schneider, chair of the ORB, told Global News over the phone.
Concerned and frustrated, Fox decided to contact Durham police herself, to find out if he had been transferred.
In August, Fox found out Lai had likely been transferred in May.
“Had we known, my summer would have looked very different. I am sure my 13-year-old daughter would have had a better summer… for her to go to get ice cream or go to Tim Horton’s and not have to be home within an hour,” she said.
In an email to Fox, a Durham police detective who Global News agreed not to identify, wrote that the move was also news to him.
“When I contacted you and advised you Lai was finally transferred to CAMH, I too was surprised,” the detective wrote.
“CAMH has a lot on their plate right now and they deserve it. It’s not the fault of the police in Toronto or anywhere when these patients get released. It falls squarely on the doctors and the ORB! I hope they get their marching orders from the government over their ineptness.”
Durham Police said this did not reflect the services views.
CAMH did not respond to our request for comment.
According to ORB documents, Lai lives in Toronto in a family home as an outpatient of CAMH and has been given GO Train passes. Fox said it’s news that makes her nervous, hoping she and others who are in a similar situation will be consulted during CAMH’s external review.
The results are expected before the end of the year.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.