Justin Bone case illustrates gaps in Alberta's social services, lawyers and addictions specialists say

·5 min read
Justin Bone was released from the Edmonton Remand Centre on bail in late April and ordered to attend an addictions treatment centre. He has since been charged with two counts of second-degree murder. (CBC - image credit)
Justin Bone was released from the Edmonton Remand Centre on bail in late April and ordered to attend an addictions treatment centre. He has since been charged with two counts of second-degree murder. (CBC - image credit)

Lawyers, community workers and addictions therapists say the case of Justin Bone highlights the need for offenders released from incarceration to have quicker access to addictions treatment – and better post-release support.

Bone, 36, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the May 18 deaths of Hung Trang, 64, and Ban Phuc Hoang, 61, in Edmonton's Chinatown neighbourhood.

Bone had been released from the Edmonton Remand Centre in late April. Bail conditions prohibited him from using drugs or alcohol, and from being in Edmonton unsupervised.

He was ordered to attend a 90-day addictions treatment program in the city, but it had a backlog of patients and was not accepting direct transfers from correctional facilities. Instead, he was living with a family friend in Alberta Beach.

After Bone began abusing drugs and alcohol and threatened the family friend, the friend said he went to Parkland RCMP for help and told officers he wanted Bone out of his house.

On May 15, RCMP dropped Bone off in west Edmonton.

Three days later, Bone was arrested after Trang and Hoang were fatally beaten at separate businesses on 98th Street in Chinatown.

In a statement last week, Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said Bone had been offered space in another addictions treatment facility — one without a waitlist — but he has not answered follow-up questions about the timing of that offer.

The series of events has prompted official reviews of police actions and criticism from experts about what police could have done differently.

It's also raising questions about access to addictions treatment and social services for individuals released from correctional facilities.

"We're setting people up to relapse," said Mark Cherrington with the Coalition for Justice and Human Rights, a non-profit that helps marginalized people in the Edmonton area.

Fifteen of Cherrington's clients — seven of them are homeless —  are waiting for beds in addictions treatment facilities. Cherrington said he has been observing wait times of six weeks.

Cherrington said it is "extremely common" for people granted bail with a condition of attending treatment to be dropped off in Edmonton, usually downtown and late at night, if they do not have a place to stay.

CBC
CBC

"We're putting stressors on these people that may make them act in a way that could be dangerous to themselves or others, and it's indicative of just not having the resources available," he said.

CBC News asked six residential addiction treatment service providers in Edmonton about wait times for accessing their services. The three that responded reported waitlists of varying lengths.

Kim Clark, executive director of Our House Addiction Recovery Centre, said about 50 men are typically on the non-profit's waitlist. Vacant beds are filled in less than 24 hours, she said.

Clark said the waitlist has been growing longer, and though the non-profit was grateful for a funding boost late last year, it still needs more funding.

Alberta Health Services, which also runs residential treatment facilities, said the median wait time for treatment for the last fiscal year was 22 days.

Last year, the province said it had funded double the number of addiction recovery spaces that it promised to fund in 2019.

Shandro told CBC News on Thursday that Mike Ellis, associate minister of mental health and addictions, is working to speed up access to beds.

Shandro said he agrees that release plans have to be successful — and will be, when there is quicker access for supports, including addictions treatment.

Elliott Tanti, a spokesperson for Boyle Street Community Services, said more spaces and specialized services are needed to help people transition from prisons and hospitals.

"People leave these institutions and are really starting from scratch at our front door," he said.

Barriers to direct transfers

CBC News spoke to lawyers and psychologists who said that ideally, people would not have to wait weeks for court-ordered treatment. But direct transfers from remand into treatment facilities are logistically difficult.

"Trying to line up a transition to get a client directly from remand into a program is almost impossible," said Jill Shiskin, a criminal defence lawyer in Calgary.

Shiskin said some application conditions can be difficult to meet in remand and facilities trying to make the best use of limited resources may not want treatment being interrupted by a period of custody.

Edmonton criminal defence lawyer Danielle Boisvert, president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, said an urgent interim housing solution, similar to an emergency department in a hospital, could serve people at risk of re-offending.

Submitted by Danielle Boisvert
Submitted by Danielle Boisvert

"There needs to be some part of the social services system, in my view, that is there to deal with these types of emergencies," she said.

Risks of relapse

Addictions specialists say the risk of relapsing after an offender leaves a correctional facility or treatment centre is high.

"The person is going from a very structured environment to a very unstructured environment, potentially, and there's a lot of stress that comes along with that," said Tracy McGimpsey, an addictions therapist and registered provisional psychologist in Sherwood Park.

Jorge Ortiz, a registered psychologist in Edmonton who spent years working with inmates and in residential treatment facilities, said governments should fund more beds in treatment centres and the staff to support them.

He said individuals must be motivated to pursue treatment as well because service providers cannot force people to do so.

Ortiz said Edmonton has several successful programs that help offenders reduce their dependence on drugs, such as the Edmonton Drug Treatment Court Service.

He said more multi-disciplinary approaches could help people overcome their addictions and improve their mental health.

Leigh-anne Sheldon, a registered psychologist who owns Indigenous Psychological Services in Edmonton, believes cultural supports should play a role in helping Indigenous people like Bone heal from intergenerational trauma.

"I personally believe that this all could have been prevented," she said.

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