Alberta’s high court is being asked to overturn a review board decision relating to the stabbing deaths of five young people at a Calgary house party on the grounds the former provincial justice minister interfered.
The lawyer for Matthew de Grood, in a filing to Alberta’s Court of Appeal, says her client was denied a fair Alberta Review Board hearing last fall, and argues former minister Doug Schweitzer’s statements and actions played a role.
“The justice minister’s comments and his direct recruitment of certain individuals to the Review Board has created an apprehension of bias that affected the fairness of his 2022 annual review,” lawyer Jacqueline Petrie argued in a document filed Thursday.
“The Review Board, and more directly the chair of his hearing, did not treat (de Grood) in an impartial and procedurally fair manner.
“The disposition the board made was not reflective of the actual risk he poses but rather is the result of political interference and public pressure not to discharge him or grant him the privileges he seeks.”
De Grood, 31, was found not criminally responsible in 2016 for the killings two years earlier of Zackariah Rathwell, Jordan Segura, Kaitlin Perras, Josh Hunter and Lawrence Hong because he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time.
Since then, he has been under supervision and his case is reviewed by the Alberta Review Board yearly to determine his mental state and whether he can transition further back into the community while not jeopardizing public safety.
Schweitzer, who has since retired from politics, weighed in on de Grood’s case in his role as justice minister in October 2019 after the panel granted de Grood freedom to transition from institutional care to a supervised Edmonton group home setting along with unsupervised passes to the surrounding area.
Schweitzer at the time took to Twitter to say he has heard from Albertans “frustrated and disturbed” over the decision and said he would lobby the federal government to review the release rules while pursuing options to ensure the board processes “respect victims.”
Soon after, the chair of the review board resigned and, said Petrie, in the months that followed Schweitzer appointed new panel members that “were politically aligned with the provincial government,” which she said raise reasonable doubts on whether the board could be considered fair and impartial on de Grood’s case.
A year after the 2019 decision, the review board, with its new chair and members, reversed the freedoms granted de Grood. That decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal on the grounds it was unreasonable and not supported by the evidence.
Last fall, the review board declared him a serious threat to public safety and said he must be kept under constant supervision in an Edmonton group home.
Petrie argues evidence at the latest hearing showed de Grood was stable under medication, has family support and is a low-risk to reoffend. She said the board failed to assess the evidence properly or apply the proper legal tests in making its decision.
Schweitzer did not immediately return a request for comment.
Alberta Justice said the Alberta Review Board is composed of psychiatrists, legal and public members who operate and make decisions independent of the government.
“When recruiting and appointing to positions, candidates are considered depending on the experience, competencies, and attributes required for the role. Applicants are screened for conflict of interest prior to appointment,” the department said in a statement.
“As has historically been the case, the justice minister selects potential candidates to be appointed and will bring them forward to cabinet for approval.”
De Grood’s 2016 trial heard evidence he attacked the individuals at a party, held to mark the end of the school year, believing the devil was talking to him and a war was about to begin that signalled the end of the world.
He told officers he knew what he did was “atrocious” but he was killing Medusas and werewolves.
The Crown deadline for responding is Feb. 28.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press