Review into circumstances around Chinatown stabbings warranted, but anger not the answer: lawyer

Vancouver police said Blair Donnelly was out of a forensic psychiatric facility on a day pass. But one criminal defence lawyer tells Sarah Chew the system isn’t broken, and this is an anomaly.

A criminal lawyer says the reaction from B.C.’s premier to revelations about the accused in a triple stabbing in Vancouver’s Chinatown last week is more harmful than helpful.

Earlier this week, David Eby said he was “white-hot angry” to learn the suspect arrested in connection with the incident was out on a day pass from a Lower Mainland psychiatric facility.

A sketch of the court proceedings in the case of Blair Evan Donnelly

Blair Evan Donnelly appears in court via video-link during his bail hearing on Sept. 15, 2023. (CityNews / Sheila Allan)

While lawyer Rishi Gill agrees a review of this case is warranted, he says he feels the premier should have a more measured response to what has been described by many as a rare event.

He explains the public should be assured violent offenders who are granted day passes are not an ongoing hazard.

“You hear about these cases and they’re the exception that proves the rule, and the rule is, generally speaking, the safety of the community is well looked after in the current system, but it’s never going to be a 100 per cent certainty,” Gill, a former Crown prosecutor, explained, noting hundreds of BC Review Board decisions annually are uneventful.

“The stats do not support anything to give the community fear. Concern is one thing but fear, no. Hysteria, anger to the extent that the premier’s trying to foment, no, that’s just not appropriate and that’s not going to help the situation. B.C. actually has one of the best forensic psychiatric programs in this vein, and the stats will support that as well.”

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The lawyer says the review board is on the same level as the Supreme Court of B.C., with members appointed from three categories: legal experts, psychiatrists, and public members with related expertise.

He notes hearings that decide to allow or deny a release of any kind are thorough, like a court hearing.

“On a yearly basis, they have to give the full report of the last year, and this could be going on for years and years. So, in the most extreme cases, you’ve got 10 years of records you’re looking at every year to bring you up to date, plus the most recent analysis,” Gill explained.

On Thursday, Eby announced former Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich was being appointed to investigate the circumstances around the stabbings at the Light Up Chinatown festival on Sept. 10.

The three victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Blair Evan Donnelly, 64, was arrested in connection with the incident, and was later charged with three counts of aggravated assault.

In 2008, he was found not criminally responsible in the 2006 killing of his daughter due to a mental disorder. He was allowed unsupervised community visits from a Port Coquitlam institution in 2009, during which he reportedly stabbed a friend. In that case, he was found criminally responsible.

Related video: Chinatown stabbing suspect was on day pass from forensic psychiatric centre, police say


Eby didn’t mince words when he expressed his anger earlier in the week, saying he could not fathom how someone with Donnelly’s background would be allowed day release.

Prior to announcing Rich as the person who would conduct a review into this case, CityNews had obtained a BC Review Board report from April that deemed Donnelly a “significant threat” and a person who needs “significant supervision.”

-With files from Pippa Norman, Charlie Carey, and Sonia Aslam

Editor’s note: the headline on the article has been updated.

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