Tory calls for independent review of missing patient as CAMH, Toronto police come under fire
Chris Herhalt, Joshua Freeman and Kayla Goodfield , CP24.com
Published Thursday, July 18, 2019 12:36PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 18, 2019 5:57PM EDT
Mayor John Tory is calling for the province to launch an independent investigation to understand how a man with a violent past was able to flee the country while on a day pass from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
A statement issued by his office Thursday afternoon said that Tory is "far from satisfied that" reviews already underway by Toronto police and CAMH will provide the necessary answers in the troubling case.
"I believe such a review could work with CAMH and the Ontario Review Board to address issues related to Mr. Cong's disappearance from the facility and the city, but there are other questions which go well beyond that and which require answers if the public is to be confident that this kind of thing won't happen again," Tory said in a statement following a discussion with Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Premier Doug Ford's office.
Zhebin Cong, 47, failed to return to CAMH, located near Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue, on July 3 and boarded an international flight that same day.
Cong was charged in the fatal stabbing of his roommate back in 2014, but was later found not criminally responsible (NCR) due to mental health issues.
In its most recent assessment of Cong, the Ontario Review Board – the provincial tribunal that overseas privileges for NCR patients – decided Cong would be detained at CAMH with “privileges extending to living in the community in approved 24-hour supervised accommodation.”
In the board’s decision, it was noted that Cong continued to “pose a significant threat to the safety of the public.” The documents also stated that Cong didn't want to take his medication and expressed a desire to return to China to see his mother.
Still, Cong was granted unsupervised day passes in the community.
Saunders says "low-risk" assessment was based on expert advice
The Toronto Police Service has said that the information they were given when Cong went missing indicated that he was a “low risk to public safety.”
Police searched for Cong for 11 days from July 3 to July 14 before asking the public for help by circulating an image of Cong in a tweet, followed by a press release the next day.
“We learned on July 16 that Cong arrived at an airport, cleared all security checks and boarded an international flight,” Saunders said in a statement issued Thursday.
Facing a barrage of questions from reporters Thursday as he and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones announced new police powers to help locate missing persons, Saunders acknowledged that there were "gaps" in how the case was handled.
"Working in hindsight there are some things we need to look at. There are some concerns and I want to make sure that those concerns are addressed," Saunders said.
He said that police have now launched two investigations into the matter, which will cover "who had that information and what was done with that information at the time."
"I can clearly say that there were some gaps. The fact that this was reported to us on July 3 and then it's 11 days before it goes out to the public, that definitely causes some issue for us to have a look at," Saunders said.
Saunders said the service will conduct an “extensive internal review of our procedures” to ensure they learn from this incident.
He said they will also look into whether Cong had any help to flee the country.
“We will review if he received assistance, money, or a passport from anyone who may have facilitated him leaving the country,” Saunders said. “We are working with Canadian and international law enforcement agencies. We will be seeking a Canada-wide warrant to aid in taking him in to custody if and when he returns to Canada.”
Saunders also defended the police assessment of Cong as being "low risk," saying it was based on information from experts.
"The information we had on the documentation we received – and I don't want to get into it in too much detail, I want to let the investigation speak for itself – but at no point in time did anyone at the Toronto Police Service feel that this was high risk. But we base that on experts in the field," Saunders said.
He wouldn't say exactly who had given police information to indicate that Cong was low risk.
CAMH has launched its own internal review into the matter and has said it is taking the incident “very seriously.”
“CAMH notified the Toronto Police Service as per protocol on July 3 at 6:50 p.m., the day that the patient did not return,” a statement from the centre said. “The individual was on an unaccompanied pass to the community, as permitted by the terms of his Ontario Review Board disposition.”
Jones also vowed Thursday to get answers from the provincial agencies involved and said her government will make any legislative changes necessary.
Ford vows to get answers, takes flak for language around mental health
On Thursday evening, Premier Doug Ford shot off letters to the Toronto Police Services Board, CAMH and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale demanding answers about how Cong could have been allowed to disappear and then board a flight.
Speaking on Newstalk 1010 earlier in the day, the premier raised some eyebrows by saying he wouldn’t want to have lunch beside a person like Cong because he is a “nutcase,” who is “crazy, crazy.”
After hearing that Cong had disappeared from CAMH and fled the country, Ford was “disgusted,” he told the radio station.
“They say this guy is low-risk and he chopped up his roommate with a meat cleaver like what are people thinking? Between the Toronto Police Service, the Ontario Review Board and CAMH, someone is going to be answering because if they are calling this low-risk then what is high-risk?”
“There are certain things that are a no-brainer. I could ask a 10-year-old kid should you let this guy loose on the street after he chopped up his roommate and a 10-year-old kid would say ‘absolutely not.’”
Ford said he will “get to the bottom of this” and “hold people accountable.”
“I can assure you I will be speaking with them today, each and every one of them to find out who dropped the ball, who let this guy out, why wasn’t it communicated with the public,” he said. “We are going to get down to the bottom of it and there are going to be people held accountable.”
Newstalk 1010 asked the premier how he would respond to people saying the disappearance of Cong relates to budget cuts implemented by his government.
He said, “we’ve actually supported CAMH with a tremendous amount of money so don’t give me that nonsense.”
Ford added he believed CAMH does incredible work, but “someone dropped the ball on this.”
“They are a great organization in my opinion, they do great work and we are going to find out who dropped the ball.”
When asked to provide specifics on funding to CAMH from the provincial government, Ford said he could not at this time.
The opposition at Queen's Park said Ford's comments demonstrate his government is not equipped to tackle mental health issues.
"To be inarticulate as Doug is wont to be doesn't help the issue and it speaks to the fact that this government really isn't prepared to tackle mental health in a serious way," NDP MPP Taras Natyshak told reporters.
Natyshak said Ford should look to his own government for answers.
"You're in charge, Doug. This is your problem, your government and it's up to you to actually come forward to the table with a comprehensive plan to actually deal with mental health and to deal with those who are in various forms of incarceration or treatment," he said. "Undoubtedly the lack of resources that exist in the community have a detrimental effect to the support and oversight that can be availed to people, whether they're frontline workers or those who have mental health issues."