The mental health review board is biased in handling the Matthew de Grood case, lawyers say

Petrie claimed the Alberta Review Board has been affected by bias — pointing to previous comments by a former justice minister on de Grood’s case

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Alberta’s highest court is being asked to decide the fate of the man found not criminally responsible for the deaths of five people in Calgary’s worst mass killing after the man’s lawyer made claims of political bias on the part of the mental health review board handling the case.

The Alberta Court of Appeal on Wednesday heard arguments in the case of Matthew de Grood, who was asking the court to overturn an earlier decision by the Alberta Review Board confining him to a 24-hour supervised group home in Edmonton.

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Jacqueline Petrie, de Grood’s lawyer, said the board misinterpreted medical evidence when it deemed de Grood a significant threat to public safety at his last annual review. She said de Grood — who was an undiagnosed schizophrenic when he fatally stabbed five people at a University of Calgary-area house party in 2014 — is legally entitled to the least restrictive conditions compatible with public safety.

De Grood is seeking an absolute discharge, which would free him from review board supervision, or a conditional discharge allowing him to live at home with his parents.

“This happened at a time when nobody knew he had schizophrenia and needed medication,” Petrie said of the 2014 killings. De Grood is now “completely and utterly committed” to his treatment, he told the three-justice appeal panel.

Petrie also claimed the review board had been affected by bias — pointing to previous comments by a former justice minister about de Grood’s case, as well as the alleged direct recruitment of board members following outrage over a previous decision in the case.

In particular, Petrie took issue with the chairman of de Grood’s 2022 hearing, Gerald Chipeur, who she says made “punitive” rulings against her client and “overwhelmingly favored the victims’ families.”

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Petrie noted Chipeur was traveling with then-premier Jason Kenney at the time he was making those rulings, which she said raises a “reasonable apprehension of bias.”

The Crown, for its part, says there is no reason for the Court of Appeal to interfere with the review board’s decision.

The chairman’s hearing is biased, the lawyer says

De Grood was 22 when he killed Kaitlin Perras, Lawrence Hong, Jordan Segura, Zackariah Rathwell and Joshua Hunter at an end-of-semester house party on April 14, 2014. He was charged with five counts of first-degree murder but was found not criminally responsible by Justice Eric Macklin in 2016. De Grood was transferred to Alberta Hospital Edmonton in 2018 after his treatment team expressed concerns about the “toxic community environment” in Calgary.

In 2019, the Alberta Review Board — which is made up of lawyers and medical professionals appointed by the provincial government — allowed de Grood to transition out of Alberta Hospital Edmonton into a supervised group home and permitted unsupervised day passes for Edmonton and the surrounding area. The decision was met with backlash, such as that of then-UCP justice minister Doug Schweitzer took the rare step of publicly commenting on the case. He acknowledged those “frustrated and disturbed” by the decision and said he would ask the arm’s length board to “ensure a maximum possible role for victims” at hearings. Schweitzer also said he would advocate for the federal government to review standards of release.

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Chipeur Schweitzer
Former Alberta justice minister Doug Schweitzer, left, and Alberta Review Board member Gerald Chipeur, right.

Chairwoman Jill Taylor, who was appointed to the review board by the NDP, resigned in the wake of Schweitzer’s comments. Board members with conservative political backgrounds, including Chipeur, were subsequently appointed.

Petrie says de Grood is a “model patient” who is a low risk to reoffend. She took a particular issue with Chipeur’s rulings on how families of de Grood’s victims are allowed to participate in hearings. Saying she did not wish to deny families their right to speak, Petrie said she nevertheless had safety concerns because one victim’s parent accessed private health information about de Grood and his family — including their addresses and contact information — while employed by Alberta Health Services. Petrie said the parent — who was disciplined by AHS — also made an “implied threat” in a victim impact statement, which was redacted prior to the hearing.

Chipeur declined to hear evidence about the breach, and shot down a request to exclude families from the hearing after they had read their victim impact statements.

Petrie faced tough questions throughout Wednesday’s hearing from Justice Frans Slatter, who heard the case along with Justices Kevin Feehan and Michelle Brighton. In particular, Slatter repeatedly asked what impact Chipeur’s decision about victim participation had on the fairness of de Grood’s hearing.

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Claim ‘meritless’: Crown

Crown lawyer Matthew Griener said Petrie’s claims of bias are “meritless.” He said there was no evidence on the record that Chipeur was directly recruited by Schweitzer, nor that Chipeur had a professional relationship with former prime minister Stephen Harper.

In an earlier decision declining to recuse himself from de Grood’s hearing, Chipeur said he has represented provincial and federal political parties across the political spectrum. He acknowledged traveling with Kenney but said it was a business trip “related to advancing the trade interests and business interests of the province of Alberta.”

Griener said the review board’s decision was ultimately reasonable given the medical evidence. He noted that while de Grood is a low risk to reoffend, he has little experience taking his medication in an unsupervised setting and is a significant public safety risk if he loses control.

“The appellant is capable of horrific acts of violence when his schizophrenia is not controlled,” he wrote, noting two instances in which de Grood showed signs of destabilizing in 2019 and 2021.

Petrie, for her part, said the 2019 and 2021 incidents were a result of medication changes prescribed by de Grood’s treatment team.

The appeal panel reserved its decision, which will be given in writing at a later date.

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