Articles

April 19, 2008
Globe & Mail - Written by Justine Hunter
(Cover Story - Spotting the signs before someone dies) - Page 1 of 3

‘The red flags are there, but the problem is in the coordination says the Crown prosecutor behind a new pilot project.’

In the early hours of September 4, 2007 a frantic 911 call was placed from inside the million-dollar Oak Bay home. By the time a police officer responded nine minutes later the house was silent. All five members of the family, including a six-year-old boy were dead of multiple stab wounds inflicted by the boy's father.

Two weeks ago, Merritt RCMP responded to a call from a mother who had just returned to a grisly scene. Inside her trailer home, police found the bodies of her three children, aged 10, 8 and 5. Their father is the prime suspect.

In hindsight, Peter Hyun Joon Lee, the Oak Bay man who slaughtered his family with a knife last fall, was a powder keg and shouldn't have been trusted to respect the restraining order that was supposed to protect his family. In hindsight, Allan Dwayne Schoenborn, who had already violated a protection order in place for the children's mother, was also a high risk for domestic homicide. He is now in custody on suspicion of murdering his three young children in Merritt.

Tormenting the judges, lawyers and social workers and police who dealt with both families is the question: Could these deaths have been prevented?

A FIRST STEP

A pilot project about to start at a small RCMP detachment in Langley, designed by longtime Crown prosecutor Jocelyn Coupal, offers a model for trying to prevent such tragedies.

It's a tall order, B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal said yesterday. “The tragic part is so many of these out or utterly unpredictable," he said in an interview.

But William Lucas, the coroner who chairs Ontario is domestic violence death review committee, disagrees. After studying five dozen domestic homicides - the most comprehensive review of its kind in Canada - the committee concluded that most of the deaths were “both predictable and preventable.” Almost every case is committee reviewed shared a pattern of risk factors that might have been detected at the right questions being asked.

“We believe these deaths are preventable, with appropriate education and tools and the knowledge of how to effectively intervene.” Dr. Lucas said in an interview yesterday.

In the Langley pilot project, which relies on lessons learned from Dr. Lucas's work, officers will be trained to conduct rigorous, consistent risk assessments in domestic violence cases before they can escalate to homicide. The foundation is a checklist designed to ensure that front-line police officers and prosecutors ask the right questions to determine risk factors that were, in retrospect, abundant in both the Lee and Schoenborn cases.

“When you go back to all the Ontario data, what emerges is a consistent picture of what information needs to be gathered,” Ms. Coupal said. “Look at the opportunity we have right now to say to the whole province, the whole country,” ‘we know what information is needed, we need to ask the right questions.’”

Last September 4 when his son should have been getting ready for his first day of school, Mr. Lee took a lethal double-sided knife and murdered his estranged wife's parents, then his wife and son, and finally killed himself.

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