‘Lacking in insight’: Cannabis use sinks Edmonton man’s appeal of continued detention in mental health system

Kankam was 19 years old when he his mother Georgina, attacked stabbing her more than 50 times with a pair of kitchen knives

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The Alberta Court of Appeal has declined to free a man from the authority of the province’s mental health review board in part because of his marijuana use.

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Jordan Kankam, 28, was found not criminally responsible for repeatedly stabbing his mother in 2013 when he was in the midst of a psychotic episode. He has spent much of the intervening time detained at Alberta Hospital Edmonton undergoing treatment for schizophrenia, which multiple doctors have said is in remission.

While the Alberta Review Board recently permitted Kankam to live in a group home, it ruled last year that he still poses a “significant” threat to public safety and must remain under supervision indefinitely.

After an appeal hearing last Wednesday, the Court of Appeal agreed.

“It was not disputed that Mr. Kankam’s schizophrenia was in remission and that he was compliant with his medication,” the three-judge panel wrote. “However, notwithstanding the condition that he abstains from cannabis use, Mr. Kankam continued to use with a demonstrated effect on his mental stability and his propensity to violence.”

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Found not criminally responsible (NCR)

Kankam was 19 years old when he his mother Georgina, attacked stabbing her more than 50 times with a pair of kitchen knives. He had recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was skipping his medication and smoking marijuana with friends.

In 2015, a judge found Kankam not criminally responsible for reason of mental disorder (NCR), ruling his schizophrenia made him incapable of understanding his actions. Kankam was placed under the jurisdiction of the review board, which decides whether to detain an NCR accused in hospital, release them into the community with conditions, or free them from the system entirely.

Critics say people who are found NCR frequently “languish” in the system indefinitely, remaining under review board authority for longer than if they had been criminally convicted and sent to prison. The Alberta Review Board faced criticism last summer for alleged “political influence” after then-Minister of Justice Doug Schweitzer publicly commented on the board’s decision in the Matthew de Grood case.

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During last Wednesday’s Court of Appeal hearing, lawyer Jacqueline Petrie argued Kankam was being detained for “petty, troublesome behaviour” rather than a real threat. That behavior included an allegedly inappropriate video Kankam took of a female group home staffer leading a yoga class and an alleged theft of cash from a fellow patient.

Cannabis use and mental stability

More significantly, the behavior included Kankam’s synthetic marijuana use.

Kankam attributed his substance use to the boredom, stress and isolation of living in a psychiatric hospital — including during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the judge who declared Kankam NCR found no evidence that marijuana played a direct role in his crime, a member of Kankam’s treatment team said marijuana may have played a role in “exacerbating” his mental illness.

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Kankam’s last instance of alleged violence also took place after suspected marijuana use, when he reportedly took a “swing” at a security guard in 2018. Kankam was not charged after the incident, which Petrie described as “very minor.”

The Appeal Court acknowledged that Kankam’s schizophrenia is in “full remission,” and that he has no issues taking his medication. However, the court ruled that it was “not unreasonable” for the board to require Kankam to undergo continued supervision because he is “lacking in insight, particularly regarding his cannabis use and its effect on his mental stability of him.”

In an email, Petrie maintained that with the exception of the 2018 incident, Kankam has been “entirely non-violent” since he attacked his mother — who has forgiven him and is advocating for his release.

“To me, Mr. Kankam’s case perfectly illustrates why so many people found not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder languish in the forensic system for years, even decades,” she said in an email. “Mr. Kankam is deeply disappointed in the court’s decision and wants to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. We are exploring that option.”

The court also concluded that Kankam’s treatment in hospital did not violate his charter rights.

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