Troubled life reveals gaps that led to murder

Posted on April 13, 2023 in Child & Family Policy Context

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorials
April 13, 2023.   By Star Editorial Board

The only way we will solve these problems is by making a full-throated commitment to repair our frayed social safety net.

There’s nothing more tragic than the senseless killing of a young man. Except, perhaps, when many people attempted, but failed, to prevent the tragedy from occurring.

That seems to be the case in the killing of 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhaes, who was stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack in the Keele subway station on March 25. The accused killer, 22-year-old Jordan O’Brien-Tobin, had compiled a long criminal record in both Newfoundland and Ontario.

That record involves numerous criminal offences, including multiple charges for assault, sexual assault and breach of conditions. At a sentencing hearing last year for one of those charges, Ontario court Judge Sandra Caponecchia, warned that “the public is at risk if he does not get the rehabilitation that he so clearly needs.”

Caponecchia also detailed O’Brien-Tobin’s “remarkable” history of family violence and mental health and addictions challenges. He was diagnosed with severe depression and at least one other disorder as a child.

He then experienced alcohol and drug addiction, overdoses and suicidal behaviour as a teenager, and, with an “expected diagnosis” of bipolar disorder as an adult, his problems continued into maturity.

In addition to his numerous criminal charges, he was detained in hospital for an assessment under the Mental Health Act, but it’s not clear if that resulted in any treatment.

Caponecchia sentenced O’Brien-Tobin to both prison and probation and included an order that he receive a mental health assessment and counselling. Once again, it’s not clear if he received any treatment.

One thing is clear, however: Caponecchia recognized that O’Brien-Tobin needed help beyond what the criminal justice system could provide, and she tried to ensure he would receive it. Even more tragically, there’s reason to believe O’Brien-Tobin also recognized, and sought some help for, his needs.

Upon reviewing his history, University of Toronto psychologist Steve Joordens remarked to Canadian Press, “it seems he was almost looking for the legal system to somehow help him control [his] behaviour.” Indeed, a cursory record review reveals a young man whose criminal behaviour was escalating rapidly. And Caponecchia noted that O’Brien-Tobin “has taken some preliminary steps to get help.”

Yet while we don’t know much about his treatment history, that help seemed to elude him. And Magalhaes and his family paid the price. This sad story reveals a massive failure, not so much of our criminal justice system, but of our health, mental health, and social services sectors.

Failures of the health care system become problems the criminal justice system is expected to solve, even though it’s ill suited to do so.

That said, the criminal justice system does play a role in issuing and enforcing orders for treatment and counselling. We need therefore to review and improve how O’Brien-Tobin and other high needs individuals are monitored and supervised. Ultimately, though, this tragedy didn’t originate with, and can’t be solved by, the criminal justice system alone.

Certainly, we can throw O’Brien-Tobin in jail for the rest of his life, and we probably will. But that won’t bring back Magalhaes, and it won’t prevent other deeply troubled individuals from attacking innocent citizens.

The only way we will solve these problems is by making a full-throated commitment to repair our frayed social safety net, to mend the gaps to keep individuals like O’Brien-Tobin out of the criminal justice system — and protect innocent people.

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