A woman whose brother was killed by his son while the son was in a psychotic state is applauding a proposed new law that could keep mentally ill people found not criminally responsible for their violent acts locked up for longer before their cases are reviewed.
LeeAnn Ramsay said in an email interview with the North Shore News the proposed federal law announced last week by Prime Minister Stephen Harper is "long overdue."
"The government is on the right track here," she said.
Ramsay's brother Donald Ramsay was killed and his wife Wendy Ramsay was seriously injured on Nov. 5, 2011, when their son Jordan Ramsay bludgeoned the couple with a wrench in their North Vancouver apartment.
Last summer, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Deborah Kloegman found Jordan Ramsay not criminally responsible for his father's killing by reason of a mental disorder.
Ramsay has been confined to a forensic psychiatric hospital in Port Coquitlam. His custody status is up for review by the B.C. Review Board in August.
But LeeAnn Ramsay said she hopes the new legislation will keep her nephew in hospital much longer before his case is examined. "I am very concerned that he is up for review in a few short months," she said.
"I am confident when I say that he would definitely be a danger to society and should never be let out."
Under the proposed law, people like Jordan Ramsay who commit serious violent acts while mentally ill could be locked up for up to three years before their case is reviewed. The proposed law creates a new category of "high risk" patients who have committed violent acts, who will also not be allowed unescorted day passes or be released unless a judge agrees.
Because of his unwillingness to stay on medication, her nephew is "about as high-risk as it gets," said LeeAnn Ramsay.
But she added the government also needs to do more to help mentally ill people stay on their medication before they commit violent acts. In her own family's case, her nephew was supposed to be on mandatory anti-psychotic injections, but there was no follow-up, said his aunt.
In making the latest 'tough on crime' announcement, Harper said the bill is meant to give greater protection to the public and ensure that victims of crime get greater consideration.
But a North Vancouver lawyer who often represents mentally ill clients before the review board says he sees little benefit to the proposed law.
Dan Sudeyko, who represented Jordan Ramsay during his court case and who has often represented mentally ill clients during review board hearings, called the law unnecessary and an attempt to win political points.
"People have this perception there are all sorts of mentally ill people who have been let out when they should have been held," he said.
But Sudeyko said in his experience, people almost always spend longer locked up in the psychiatric hospital than they would have in a regular jail.
Sudeyko said judging by some of the comments he heard about Jordan Ramsay's case, the public still doesn't understand mental illness.
"This kind of reactionary response by the government just increases that," he said.
"It's as much to do with our health system as it has to do with our corrections system."
Herschel Hardin, president of the North Shore Schizophrenia Society, agreed with Sudeyko that the risk posed by people who commit crimes when they are mentally ill should be dealt with as a medical issue.
"You cannot blame a person for being ill," he said. "Some people respond very quickly to medication."
Hardin said one problem with the proposed law is that the seriousness of the crime committed while someone is mentally ill doesn't necessarily correlate with the risk of reoffending. Recidivism rates of people declared not criminally responsible for their acts is much smaller than that of those released from regular jails, he added.
Hardin said good follow-up and proper treatment for the mentally ill is crucial, including a willingness to commit people to hospital if needed. Hardin said too often people with mental illness are failed by the medical system.
In the case of Allan Schoenborn, who killed his three children in Merritt in 2008, many professionals dealing with the family recognized a serious risk in the weeks leading up to the tragedy, "yet nothing was done about it," said Hardin. "It's that kind of system failure that should be given a great deal of attention."