Former police chief to investigate release of suspect before Vancouver stabbing

LANGLEY, B.C. — Premier David Eby said Thursday he had a question after reading a B.C. Review Board decision about the man accused of stabbing three people in Vancouver's Chinatown on the weekend, while on a day pass from psychiatric detention.

How was it possible that such a dangerous person had been released?

Former Abbotsford, B.C., police chief Bob Rich has now been appointed by Eby to provide the answer, by investigating the circumstances surrounding the release of Blair Donnelly, 64, from B.C.'s Forensic Psychiatric Hospital.

Donnelly's history of knife attacks dates back to 2006, when he stabbed his teenage daughter to death.

Eby said Thursday he had read the review board's decision, which has been leaked to the media but has not been officially made public, and it was apparent that Donnelly was a "really significant danger to the public."

“When I read it, it seems to clearly conclude that this man was a significant risk and shouldn’t be released, and yet somehow between that decision and the events in Chinatown this man was in fact released into the community,” Eby said during a news conference on a separate issue in Langley, B.C.

He went on: "At the end of the day, the core question of how a violent, psychotic individual was released into the community to attack innocent people is the question that needs to be answered."

Donnelly has been charged with three counts of aggravated assault and remains in custody after Sunday's attack at the Light Up Chinatown! festival.

Donnelly was found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder in the death of his daughter, Stephanie, in 2008 and sent to the psychiatric hospital in Coquitlam.

Eby said the review board report clearly concluded Donnelly shouldn't be let out, yet he was given day release from the facility.

The premier said he wants Rich to also find out if there are other people under similar circumstances who may also be out on day passes from the hospital.

"Which is a very disturbing question to ask, but a necessary one to ask, given the unthinkable happened in this case already."

A copy of the review board decision that was leaked to media, including CHEK News and CityNews, says Donnelly remained a “significant threat” to the public.

The decision says that since being originally detained at the hospital, Donnelly had stabbed a friend while on day release in 2009 after they consumed cocaine together for several hours. He was convicted of assault.

Then, in 2017, it says Donnelly attacked a fellow patient at the hospital with a butter knife and was found not criminally responsible for the assault.

The April 2023 decision posted online by CHEK says Donnelly required “significant supervision to ensure he does not cause further harm to the public.”

However, the decision added that "reintegration" of Donnelly "could reasonably occur" within eight months of the decision.

Eby said Rich will also have the opportunity to look at why the public didn't have the information about the review board's case, which he said is also troubling.

"But it, to be honest, pales in comparison to how disturbed I am that this man was released and unaccompanied and in our community."

The premier said he has confidence in Rich's ability, and the terms of reference for the work are being sorted out to ensure he has the authority and the staff to "dig into this."

The review board said in an email that parties to the April decision were being given until Friday to apply for it to be withheld from the media.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2023.

The Canadian Press