Chris Campbell: Another tragic case of under-resourced mental health/criminal justice services?

Christoper Mackenzie Campbell

(Christoper Mackenzie Campbell/WPS)

While many facts remain yet to be proven or tested, it’s pretty clear something appears to have gone horribly wrong with Christopher Mackenzie Campbell.

Campbell, at age 42, currently stands accused in Winnipeg’s latest homicide — believed to be that of a relative, possibly his mother — in a home on Alexander Avenue this weekend.

It was a rare situation in which police believe Campbell left the city in a family vehicle which is linked to the victim, one located just outside of Regina on Sunday. Campbell made his way into that city and was taken into custody downtown.

He was to be returned to Winnipeg forthwith.

Court records show a charge of second-degree murder is pending. The victim’s identity, including her age, has not been released.

Police this weekend said the following in announcing they were looking for him:

“Campbell has been treated for a mental illness in the past.

Information has been received that he has not been taking his medications as required.

Caution should be used if approached by Campbell as his behaviour may be unpredictable and he may be violent.”

I fear Campbell’s case may end up being another of those sad ones which seem to crop up each and every year.

Those ones where justice system efforts to assist and supervise ultimately clash, fizzle or peter out due to the poor state of urgent mental-health related resources in Manitoba, a pressing topic I only recently wrote about.

In any event, some background:

An incident in summer 2008 ultimately seemed to force Campbell’s hand to seek out help for his issues.

His lawyer at the time called his arrest at that time “a blessing in disguise” as Campbell may not have been diagnosed or sought help if it hadn’t happened.

It was on July 6, 2008 that Campbell approached a total stranger — a landscaper from Shelmerdine garden centre — outside Campbell’s apartment block at 400 Assiniboine Avenue.

He walked up to the gardener and asked him not to use any “power equipment” on the lot — a request to which the victim says he must use a power blower to do his job.

“If you use any power equipment, I’m going to get a sniper rifle and shoot you in the head,” Campbell replied.

He also tossed the glass of water he was holding at the landscaper.

The bizarre threat was overheard by an independent witness.

Police are called, they arrive quickly. Campbell declines to speak with a lawyer while in their custody.

But in his time with police he makes several other concerning comments, including how the interviewing officers seem like “dolphins out of water,” that “he’s a nice guy, almost God-like” and that one officer’s badge number, “is similar to the Mayan’s calendar that adds three years.”

He pleads guilty to a count of uttering threats. An assault charge is stayed.

The Crown agrees to recommend a conditional discharge after learning Campbell — a father to two teenagers — took it upon himself to seek out mental-health help following his arrest.

At the time of his February 2009 sentencing, court was told he was under the care of a psychiatrist and occupational therapist at the HSC’s PsychHealth centre, having checked himself in there for a time.

He was diagnosed with what was described as “mild” schizophrenia.

“It turns out that his mother also has schizophrenia … so perhaps it’s hereditary,” Judge Marvin Garfinkel is told.

At the time, Campbell was unemployed, but volunteering at the HSC in its “spiritual assistance department.”

The former co-owner of the long-then-defunct Rogue’s Gallery on Assiniboine [less than a block from his home at the time] was due to have a first outpatient appointment at PsychHealth five days after his court date.

He was to see the psychiatrist and therapist bi-weekly.

Garfinkel ordered Campbell to serve a year of probation, with a central condition being for him to to comply with the treatment as directed by his doctor. That could include to take medication as directed, Garfinkel said.

Campbell readily agreed to follow the program and conditions the probation order set out for him.

“I’m here today of my own freewill, under your mercy,” Campbell told Garfinkel in a clear, unconfused voice.

“And I just wanted to say … I’ve witnessed for the first time now how the court system works, and, you’re offering a lot of grace today, and I just want to say, ‘thank you,’ for that.”

There are no breaches of the probation order recorded in the provincial court system — and Campbell had no apparent prior or proceeding record of involvement with the law.

From uttering threats to an allegation of murder. It’s absolutely tragic for everyone involved.

While our police have said little about their homicide case — which at first glance seems just a hair’s breadth from a domestic violence killing — They did make it clear Campbell appeared to be off his meds at the time.

It’s too early to make any observations of whether gaps between the justice and mental-health systems are in any way to be faulted or was a factor in the killing.

But the fact is, from early appearances of the case, Campbell was known to be a risk — and at risk — when not on his meds.

His probation was only one year long, so who knows how long he may have been off of them, or off of the radar of the system entirely.

Those answers may come in due course as Campbell’s latest interaction with the system plays out. He’s naturally presumed innocent of the charge he’s facing.

But after years of seeing eerily similar cases, my mind can’t help but wonder: Was this tragedy in any way preventable?

Was there something we as a society could have done to ensure it never happened?

Is under-resourced mental health care and supervision again the grey elephant in a gloomy room?

Stay tuned.

Links:

[Must read] Mental Health Commission of Canada: Mental Health and the Law

CMHA: Mental Health and the justice system in BC 

Stats Can: An investigation into data collection between Mental Health and Criminal Justice Systems

National Post: Mental Health system turning prisons into asylums

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