People who are found NCR are typically held in psychiatric hospitals until a provincial review board can establish they no longer pose an imminent threat to the public
The Alberta Court of Appeal has overturned another decision of the province’s mental health review board, ruling that a man detained for nearly 20 years on assault charges should no longer be held in a psychiatric hospital.
Haig Severin Leonce was found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder for a variety of crimes in the early 2000s. He has managed to live under supervision in the community for years at a time, but has spent much of the last two decades in and out of Alberta Hospital Edmonton.
At an annual hearing of his case earlier this year, the Alberta Review Board determined Leonce continues to pose a significant risk to public safety and should remain in hospital.
Alberta’s top court disagreed.
“The review board’s reasons suffer from numerous deficiencies,” the three-judge court of appeal panel wrote in a July 27 decision.
Among other issues, the board focused “entirely” on Leonce’s alleged risk to public safety, at the expense of other factors the board is required to consider, the decision said.
Found NCR for attack on Calgary hockey dad
Canadian courts can find an accused person “not criminally responsible” if the accused can prove a mental illness rendered them incapable of understanding their actions.
Leonce was found NCR in 2002 for assault causing bodily harm, uttering threats, robbery, evading the police and entering a dwelling house without an excuse. According to a Calgary Herald article, Leonce was 20 when, without provocation, he attacked a father picking up his son from hockey practice, stole his minivan, then led police on a chase.
He is currently diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, anti-social personality disorder and a variety of substance use disorders.
Leonce, however, says that the NCR verdict was wrong and that he suffered not from a mental illness, but cocaine-induced psychosis.
Review boards hear cases once a year and can keep a patient “full warrant” in hospital, grant a conditional discharge allowing them to live under supervision in the community, or an absolute discharge, freeing them from the review board’s authority.
Leonce sought an absolute discharge at his 2021 hearing. His treatment team disagreed, saying he has repeatedly gone AWOL and returned to using drugs when allowed to live in the community.
Leonce’s psychiatrist worried he would stop taking his medications and become dangerous if freed from review board jurisdiction. The review board agreed and denied his release.
The Court of Appeal, however, found problems with both the psychiatric assessment and the review board’s reasoning.
The appeal court determined Leonce’s most recent Alberta Hospital report relied on “speculation” about his risk for violence, noting the treatment team was “unable to provide any additional information about the alleged historical instances of ‘violence’ ” while under review board supervision.
“The 2021 report does not contain the material facts required to substantiate most of the claims that the appellant has engaged in violence or assault in the legal sense,” the court wrote.
It noted that boards cannot detain a person based on a small risk that they might reoffend, nor should they simply accept the hospital’s recommendation at face value.
The Court of Appeal granted Leonce a conditional discharge and sent the case back to the review board to set the conditions.
Lawyer Jacqueline Petrie said her client is pleased with the outcome but hopes to one day win an absolute discharge.
“My client was very relieved with the outcome of his appeal, but also deeply disappointed he was not granted an absolute discharge given the court found a paucity of reliable evidence showing him to be a significant threat to public safety and some compelling evidence he does not even have an underlying mental illness, something he has been trying to tell his treatment team for years now,” she said in an email.