"If there is something I learned from Raymond, it is persistence and patience," says Darren Lewis. Last Thursday, April 17, marked two years since community and LGBTQ activist Raymond Taavel was brutally attacked in the morning hours on Gottingen Street. Andre Denny, a patient at the Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth, had been released for one hour. Denny did not return to the hospital and Capital Health's systems to get him back proved as ineffective in practise as they look on paper. The inability to find Denny resulted in a violent psychotic episode for which he was charged with Taavel's second-degree murder in 2012. [See correction below.]
Since Taavel's death, his family and Lewis, his partner, have petitioned both Capital Health and the provincial government to review policies concerning community access passes and the release of Not Criminally Responsible offenders, including monitoring protocols.
"Ever since what happened to Raymond, there have been several other NCR offenders who have walked away and were missing for long periods of time," says Lewis. "Often, these individuals are anti-psychotic drug-dependent and potential dangers to themselves and others."
Lewis and the family, who filed a civil suit against the province of Nova Scotia last year, cite the British BUDDI system–a portable location monitor that uses GPS–as a model to improve the treatment and tracking of NCR offenders out on day passes. The system would ensure both public safety and safety of those with mental illnesses.
"This is very much about community safety," says Lewis. While it's been a legally arduous process, Lewis invites anyone who supports the initiative to write to the minister of justice, the minister of health and the premier: "Ask for this reasonable and effective change to be given a chance, to prove that it can and will work better."
On the anniversary of his death, it's also important to remember what Taavel stood for. "He always tried to bring about positive change. Many said he would have forgiven his attacker. I know that to be true," says Lewis. "But I also know that he would have been the first to do whatever he could to make sure that we are all safer as a community, while making sure to protect the rights and health of the NCR offender. I feel what I'm asking for does exactly that."
Correction: The original version of the story stated "Andre Denny, a patient at the Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth, had been released for one hour. Denny did not return to the hospital and Capital Health failed to recognize his absence. This negligence resulted in a violent psychotic episode for which Denny was charged with Taavel's second-degree murder in 2012." Capital Health actually followed its protocol of alerting the police when Denny didn’t return, although there was no way of tracking Denny—and a further protocol that the general public isn’t to be notified until a patient has been missing for 72 hours preventing the police from asking for the public’s help finding him. The text was changed to reflect the distinction on April 30, 2014.