Prime Time Crime


(Prime Time Crime exclusive Aug.  5, 2008)

Letter from Wally Oppal


Ms. Sandra Martins-Toner

Executive Director

Families Against Crime and Trauma

Dear Ms. Martins-Toner:

I have received for reply your correspondence, dated April 8, 2008, to my colleague the Honourable John van Dongen, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.  Minister van Dongen referred your letter to me, as Crown counsel with the Ministry of Attorney General is responsible for reviewing the police report regarding possible charges against Mr. Schoenborn.  Please accept my apology for the delay in responding.

You express deep concerns that Mr. Schoenborn had been released from custody on charges of uttering threats prior to the date on which he is alleged to have committed these horrible crimes.  You also wish to see improved support for victims of violent crime.

Allow me to express my sincere condolences for the loss of your son, Matthew.  The plight of families like yours is a firm reminder of the importance of improving our system.

The deaths of the innocent Schoenborn children whose lives were unnecessarily and unmercifully taken are tragic both for the family, the community of Merritt and the citizens of British Columbia.  I firmly support making every effort to achieve justice for this egregious crime and bringing resolution to the family and the community.  As you may know, Mr. Schoenborn has been apprehended and was charged on April 24, 2008, with three counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of his children. 

The Prosecution Service, a branch of the Ministry of Attorney General, is responsible for making charge assessment decisions that determine whether or not a prosecution will proceed.  The branch is also responsible for the conduct of prosecutions. 

In this situation however, Mr. Schoenborn's arrest for uttering threats occurred outside business hours.  Police may lay charges when Crown counsel are not available.  Police may also conduct a bail hearing before a Justice of the Peace for the purpose of remanding the matter of release over to a later date to appear before a presiding judge.

In this case, the matter of release was remanded over to a later date. While police recommended Mr. Schoenborn be detained, he was released from custody on restrictive conditions, as the Justice of the Peace had insufficient grounds to hold him in custody.   

As the branch was not engaged in this matter, we are unable to comment further.  However, as I noted previously, any charges that have been laid by police are reviewed by the Crown to verify if the charges meet the branch's charge assessment standard. 

Any concerns you may have with respect to Mr. Schoenborn's earlier release from custody is a matter concerning the judiciary.  The independence of the judiciary, police and executive branches of government from each other is one of several elements that provide checks and balances within the justice system.  Thus, the judiciary must be distinct from, and operate independently of, all other justice system  participants.

Accordingly, you may wish to communicate your views to the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia at:

The Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia

PO Box 10287 Pacific Centre

Vancouver BC   V7Y 1E8

British Columbia has the most extensive network of victim services programs in Canada.  Victims of crime in British Columbia may receive help from 136 victim services programs, as well as a Crime Victim Assistance Program and a toll-free Victim Information Line.  These programs provide vital information, support and referrals to victims and persons who have been affected by crime in their communities throughout the province. 

Crown counsel are working closely with the Victims Services and Crime Prevention Division of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General to improve delivery of victims services that are integrated, inclusive and accessible.

Addressing domestic violence is a priority for this government.  I am pleased to note that the first Congress on Women's Safety was held last year in Vancouver.  Premier Gordon Campbell and I, along with many experts in the field, discussed the issue of violence against women.  Initiatives we are working on include investing in programs aimed at preventing violence against women from happening in the first place to changes to the Criminal Code of Canada.  Furthermore, British Columbia is pursuing Criminal Code changes to allow police to testify on behalf of victims of domestic violence who are reluctant or refuse to testify.  We are seeking support for changes that will enable judges to limit testimony in order to speed up the trial process and get matters before a judge more quickly.

Public confidence in the administration of justice is of great concern to me.  Thank you for expressing your views and sharing your recommendations for improving the justice system.


Wally Oppal

Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism

pc:  The Honourable John van Dongen

Sandra Martins-Toner is the Founder/Executive Director of F.A.C.T.  and can be contacted at


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