10/10/2012 04:13 EDT | Updated 12/10/2012 05:12 EST

Schoenborn Murders Prompt BC Domestic Violence Action Plan


VICTORIA - The horrible murders of three children by their deranged father has prompted the British Columbia government to introduce the workings of its domestic violence action plan.

Children and Family Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux said Wednesday the government's plan includes training 20,000 people in recognizing and responding to domestic violence.

She said the government's action plan is a result of an investigation by B.C.'s independent children's representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond into the April 2008 murders of the three children in Merritt, B.C. by their mentally ill father, Allan Schoenborn.

Turpel-Lafond's report found the three vulnerable children, Kaitlynne, 10; Max, 8; and Cordon, 5, could have been saved if British Columbia's social safety net was working properly.

Premier Christy Clark stood in the legislature last March and formally apologized to the children's devastated mother, Darcie Clarke, saying the province can and must do better.

Cadieux said she believes the government's domestic violence action plan offers improved protections for victims of family violence.

"We're certainly committed to improving the system that we have," she said. "It's unimaginable that any family should have to go through this, and we're committed to making sure that we act quickly and effectively in making sure that the system does act seamlessly."

The government announced last March the creation of its Domestic Violence Unit to demonstrate accountability and leadership in the area of domestic violence.

But Cadieux said there would be no extra new money this year to fund the action plan.

She said the government provided $878 thousand to start up the Domestic Violence Unit and "we already commit more than $70 million a year in prevention and intervention services and programs related to domestic violence and other crimes."

Schoenborn, the subject of an intense Canada-wide search after the shocking discovery of his children's bodies, was found not criminally responsible for the murders because of a mental disorder.

The unemployed labourer was arrested and released three times in the week prior to the children's deaths and 14 professionals were involved with the family, said Turpel-Lafond's report.

Her report said the deaths of the Schoenborn children didn't have to happen.

Turpel-Lafond said Wednesday the government's domestic violence plan is a start, but she's concerned the province hasn't added new funding to the program.

She said it appears financial pressures are restricting domestic violence programs.

Her 2009 report into the domestic violence death of six-year-old Christian Lee in September 2007 prompted the formation of a co-ordinated domestic violence police team in the Victoria area.

But policing cost pressures have recently forced Victoria Police to reduce their participation in the unit, she said.

"I'm glad they are trying to co-ordinate across government, but I still feel very strongly that in order for the front-line services and the justice system and the child-welfare system and schools and communities to protect children from domestic violence and support victims more effectively, we need more support there," said Turpel-Lafond.

In the Christian Lee tragedy, the boy's father Peter, murdered his wife, her parents and his son, before killing himself in the families suburban Victoria home in Oak Bay.

Turpel-Lafond's report into Christian Lee's death said the murder was a disturbing example of B.C.'s lack of co-ordination and communication in domestic violence cases.

The report stated that in the six weeks prior to the murders, the boy and his family members were touched by numerous public service providers, including two municipal police departments, an RCMP detachment, the Ministry of Children and Family Development social workers, medical staff, Crown counsel, two therapists and several lawyers.

Turpel-Lafond's report said the police were concerned about Peter Lee's frightening behaviour, but children's ministry staff were not aware of police fears.

Cadieux said the government's domestic violence action plan sets out timelines and targets that include: this year, domestic violence recognition and response training for about 4,000 school personnel and community representatives and 2,500 support workers in victim services, violence against women and transition house programs.

Starting next year, about 3,500 Ministry of Children and Family Development staff and 13,000 school personnel will receive training, while police officers will receive more training on assessing risk and safety planning, she said.

Cadieux said the government will also introduce an enhanced flagging system in the integrated justice information database (JUSTIN), used by police and Crown counsel for almost every aspect of a criminal case, to improve identification of files involving child victims.