A series of failures that allowed an abusive and psychotic Allan Schoenborn to murder his three young children in 2008 remain largely unaddressed, leaving families exposed to risk, says a new report from B.C.’s watchdog for children.
Following repeated commitments by the province to fix its patchwork of domestic violence services since those murders – promises that have not been sustained – Premier Christy Clark pledged Thursday to do better.
In her report on the Schoenborn murders, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond noted that the government has not yet acted on a series of recommendations she made two years ago following another domestic violence case that left five dead.
B.C. has not established domestic violence courts. It has not broadly provided risk assessment training to police, Crown counsel, child protection and victim services workers. Resources for child protection, income assistance, mental health, addictions and domestic violence remain starved after last week’s budget, she said. And if anything, the justice system is more frayed and fragile than it was four years ago when the Schoenborn children were killed in their beds.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond’s new report chronicles a series of missed opportunities and says children exposed to domestic violence continue to be placed at risk by a protection system so weak, “there really isn’t a system at all.”
Parents in the midst of domestic violence are often left to assess the risks their children face.
“A frustrating and sometimes fatal concept continues to exist,” she told reporters, “that a mother in a dangerous domestic violence situation is capable of, and responsible for, taking on the staggering responsibility of protecting her children from a dangerous spouse.”
That was the case with Darcie Clarke, who had rebuffed entreaties to reunite with Mr. Schoenborn in the hours before he murdered their children. But she left the children in his care believing he would not harm them.
It was also the case with Sunny Park, who was seeking to leave her abusive husband Peter Lee when he stabbed her to death, along with his six-year-old son and the boy’s grandparents.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond’s report on the Peter Lee murders in 2009 led to a government pledge to reduce domestic violence, but services for victims of violence were later cut. She said Thursday she needs to see concrete action and new resources, not just speeches, this time.
On Thursday, the government conceded that its many attempts to fix the system have been haphazard and transient.
The Premier stood in the legislature and apologized to Ms. Clarke, the mother of the three children. She said the province’s fragmented system of domestic violence services failed to help the family. “We as a province can and must do better,” she said. “None of us can reverse the past, but we can learn from this tragedy and make sure that families in these circumstances receive better support than did the wife and children of Allan Schoenborn, a sick man who did so much harm.”
Her government announced a new domestic violence unit under the direction of Mary McNeil, the Minister for Children and Family Development. Ms. McNeil told reporters she is comfortable with the current budget, but her new unit will examine whether additional resources are needed. First it has to conduct an inventory of what services exist. “We need leadership on domestic violence,” she said. “We are going to make this work.”
The report on the deaths of Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon concluded that professionals who interacted with the family seemed blind to the risk to the children despite Mr. Schoenborn’s long history of mental-health issues and violence, which had escalated dramatically in the week prior to the killings.
One of the last chances to intervene occurred at a tele-bail hearing just days before the killing, where Mr. Schoenborn was freed against the recommendation of police. The justice of the peace said he was giving Mr. Schoenborn a break and urged him, “don’t let anything [go] wrong.”
Ms. Turpel-Lafond called that hearing “a disgrace to the justice system.”
Today, B.C. continues to allow cases involving domestic violence to be managed through that system of bail hearings by telephone. Justice Minister Shirley Bond promised to raise that issue with the province’s chief justice, but she said it will be up to the courts to make changes.