Alberta Review Board chairwoman resigns; says she received no government support

EDMONTON — The chairwoman of the Alberta Review Board says she has decided to resign after months of what she characterizes as banging her head against a wall.

Jill Taylor sent her resignation letter Wednesday after less than six months with the independent tribunal that reviews cases of people who have been deemed not criminally responsible for a crime or have been found unfit to stand trial because of mental disorders.

“There are critical unresolved issues which are forcing my resignation,” she wrote in the letter. “I am increasingly feeling used and unheard by Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer.”

In an interview, Taylor said she tried to get a meeting with Schweitzer soon after she started on June 1.

“I was turned down. I was told it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to meet with the minister,” she said.

Taylor said she then became concerned by the minister’s comments on Twitter in October after the board ruled that Matthew de Grood, a schizophrenic man who killed five young people in Calgary, could be eased back into the community with his doctor’s approval.

“I’ve heard from many Albertans who are frustrated and disturbed by this decision,” Schweitzer wrote on Oct. 3. “I’ll be formally requesting that Alberta’s review board ensure a maximum possible role for victims to be part of the hearing process and advocating that Ottawa conduct a review of standards of release.”

Taylor said she welcomed a review of how the board works and immediately wrote another letter asking Schweitzer to meet.

“I heard nothing,” she said.

She tried going through her member of the legislature, Mike Ellis, who told her to expect a call from the minister within 24 to 48 hours.

“I am still waiting for that call,” said Taylor.

Schweitzer’s office emailed a statement from the minister that said he accepted her resignation.

“It is with regret that Ms. Taylor, who was appointed by the previous government on the eve of the election, felt the need to criticize the Ministry of Justice and solicitor general in the media upon her resignation,” said the statement.

“While I have always respected the independence of the board and its quasi-judicial function and mandate, I make no apologies for standing up for the rights of victims in our criminal justice system.”

Schweitzer added that a review would be an opportunity for the board to put in place protocols that allow families and loved ones of victims of crime to participate more fully in hearings.

Taylor said she thought her appointment was based on merit.

“In fact, if the NDP had looked at my background, they would see that I come from a very long line of strong conservatives,” she said.

Now, she said, she wonders whether she was stonewalled because she was appointed by the NDP.

Taylor said she’s worried about the board’s future, because there are several appointments that need to be filled and the board won’t be able to hold timely hearings if that isn’t addressed.

“I’m hoping by making public statements and I’m hoping that my resignation will actually do something positive, which is draw the necessary attention to this board,” she said. “It’s important work.

“These people are the most vulnerable and dangerous people in our community and this board is tasked with balancing those individuals’ right to reintegration with the safety of the public. That’s a very important role.

“I just felt like I was banging my head against a wall and I am hoping this will shine a light, but I’m done.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2019.

Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

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