03/07/2012 07:18 EST | Updated 05/07/2012 05:12 EDT

George May, CAMH Patient, Escaped Twice, Despite Violent Past


How a schizophrenic man with a history of violence managed to escape twice from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is the subject of an investigation launched by Ontario's health minister.

George May, 51, has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He strangled 41-year-old Beverly Sims to death in 2001, but was found not criminally responsible and placed in a psychiatric hospital under maximum security.

But on Monday, May managed to walk freely in the Queen West community for 14 hours before returning to the CAMH building at Ossington Avenue and Queen Street West around 7 a.m. Tuesday. It was the second such incident in three months.

That revelation has raised questions and anxiety among residents and business owners along Queen West.

"If there are any issues, you want to make sure you resolve them, because the safety of the neighbourhood and everything is prime," said Robert Sysak of the West Queen West BIA.

'Significant risk' to public

Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews shares those concerns for the public, and has requested more information through an investigation.

"I've asked for more information. I want to make sure they want to make sure they have taken all the steps they should have taken to ensure this doesn't happen again," Matthews said.

May's psychiatrist testified in 2009 that May "remains a threat to women and shouldn't be placed in a minimum security unit."

But a report late last year by the Ontario Review Board recommended that May be moved to a unit with minimum security, even though the same report found that he continued to pose a "significant risk" to the public. The report reasoned that May's behaviour had improved significantly during the past year.

Jim McNamee, the administrative director for CAMH, said he wasn't comfortable commenting on the case.

May had permission to leave CAMH

"The units are locked. People need to have passes and doctor's orders to leave those units," McNamee said.

He said patients under minimum security are permitted to leave the hospital grounds, as long as they have permission. In May's case, he did have permission to leave the hospital.

When May failed to return, hospital staff alerted police.

Asked what's stopping patients from simply walking off the property, McNamee said: "Part of that is our responsibility, and part is their responsibility."

May is now under tighter security at CAMH while the hospital investigates.