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CAMH announces review after killer, armed robber take off


July 26, 2019
By Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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TORONTO—The president of a prominent mental health hospital from which two men with violent histories escaped recently said she’s ordered an external review in a bid to allay public safety fears.

Catherine Zahn said the escapes prompted calls for a closer look at patient passes and privileges at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, which goes by CAMH.

Both men had been found not criminally responsible on account of mental illnesses or NCR for violent crimes. Zhebin Cong had been charged with the second-degree murder of his roommate in 2014, while Ahmed Sualim committed a string of armed robberies in 2012.

Zahn said Cong’s recent flight from the health centre and then the country along with Sualim’s brief escape raised questions about the facility’s ability to balance mental health care and public safety.

“I understand how events of the last number of months have caused people in the community to be concerned about our ability to effectively manage that fine balance,” Zahn said in a statement on Wednesday. “So…I am announcing an external review of CAMH’s process for passes and privileges involving forensic patients.”

The facility had previously announced an internal review, and Zahn said the same issues would form the crux of the external evaluation, which she hoped would wrap up by the end of the year. She said it would look at incidents over the past few months and offer recommendations.

The centre is in the process of naming a chair to lead the review, as well as international experts to take part in it.

Both the city of Toronto and provincial government requested an independent assessment after Cong’s disappearance became public knowledge earlier this month, nearly two weeks after he had already left Canada. His escape prompted Premier Doug Ford to call him a “nutcase” and demand answers from both CAMH and police.

The city’s police chief has announced a review of internal procedures, including how disappearances from the mental health facility are shared with the public.

Ford’s office issued a statement acknowledging CAMH’s “hard work” and “swift action” in launching the external review.

“We will continue working with our partners to get answers and make sure people have confidence that the system is keeping them and their families safe from violent criminals,” the statement said.

Both Cong and Sualim were living in a secured forensic unit at the facility after courts ruled their mental illnesses rendered them not criminally responsible for violent offences.

Records from the Ontario Review Board, which conducts assessments of anyone with an NCR designation, show Cong, 47, killed his roommate with a meat cleaver in 2014. He was in the community on a short-term pass from CAMH when he escaped.

Sualim’s records paint a picture of a man grappling with schizophrenia and a history of substance abuse. In January 2012, he committed a rash of armed robberies at Toronto-area stores and hotels, often making off with significant quantities of cash or jewelry. He was found not criminally responsible for armed robbery and theft.

He went missing from the centre on Monday, but was back in custody that same evening.

Documents from Sualim’s most recent review board hearing in April noted he had walked away while on accompanied passes twice in the past eight months.

The board accepted a joint submission from Sualim and his treatment team that described him as a “significant threat to the safety of the public.”

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2019