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Rob Shaw: Accused Chinatown stabber 'calm' just hours before attack, documents reveal

Newly released documents dig into mental state of Blair Evan Donnelly
Blair Evan Donnelly is accused of stabbing three strangers in Vancouver's Chinatown while out on a day pass last September from Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam. | Mike Howell

A psychiatric patient accused of stabbing three people at a Chinatown festival in Vancouver was described as “settled, calm and co-operative” in the minutes before he was released into the community, according to new details in a controversial case that is currently part of a sweeping review of the forensic system ordered by Premier David Eby.

Blair Evan Donnelly was released on an unescorted day pass Sept. 10, 2023, despite at least two previous incidents of violence while in forensic custody, where he is serving time for brutally stabbing his 16-year-old daughter to death amid religious delusions in 2006.

“The accused’s mental condition either deteriorated very quickly after he left FPH [Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Coquitlam] or was present but was well hidden from experienced treatment providers who know him well,” reads a newly released BC Review Board document, dated Dec. 4.

“In either case, the result was that the accused engaged in significant unprovoked violence without apparent warning.”

The BC Review Board had warned of that exact potential last April when it found Donnelly was a “significant threat” and required “significant supervision to ensure he does not cause further harm to the public” because of sudden outbursts of violence that could not be predicted.

But the board’s order for continued hospitalization also contained a clause that allowed day passes at the discretion of the hospital director.

Donnelly obtained such a pass, and then is alleged to have travelled to a festival in Chinatown and attacked three complete strangers on Sept. 10, 2023.

The new board report from December outlines the months prior to the alleged stabbings, in which Donnelly lived largely independently, without issue and subject to four patient care meetings.

“During each of these meetings, no concerns were reported regarding the accused’s mental state and there were no indications of any residual paranoid, religious or other delusional beliefs present,” read the report.

“During this time, the accused was accessing the community on staff escorted community outings [SSCOs] and unaccompanied day leaves, several times per week, without issue. All urine drug screens were negative for the presence of substances and no concerns were reported by staff regarding the accused’s behaviour.”

Donnelly “took his medication without issue” and was “described by staff as pleasant and polite.”

He left the hospital at 1:30pm on Sept. 10 with plans to go on a bike ride in Coquitlam, but did not return. Vancouver police contacted the hospital later that evening to inform staff of Donnelly’s arrest.

The premier ordered former Abbotsford police chief Bob Rich to conduct a review into the case, saying he was “white hot angry” that a man with a history of violence and an internal public designation as a safety risk could be allowed out on an unescorted day pass and then be accused of attacking strangers.

By the time Donnelly was arrested in September, his demeanour had changed dramatically from the calm he presented just hours prior, according to the report.

He was delusional, violent and refusing all medications — a manic relapse of his bipolar disorder with evidence of psychotic symptoms, according to the documents.

Donnelly was given a new psychiatrist from the one previous to his alleged stabbing, who began documenting Donnelly’s condition.

“In discussions with [the doctor], he initially expressed interest in parts of the Bible dealing with the ‘end of days’ which he felt may be near as evidenced by ‘pestilence’ in the form of COVID-19,” read the review board report.

“[The doctor] reports that when he informed the accused that his beliefs were in keeping with delusions as opposed to more commonly held religious beliefs, the accused seemed surprised by this.”

Doctors now want to conduct more tests on Donnelly to determine if “an underlying neurodegenerative disease” is at play, according to the report.

The BC Review Board ultimately confined Donnelly to hospital for at least another 12 months, without access to the community, supervised or otherwise. There is no discretion for release by the hospital director.

“The Board has no hesitation in finding the accused continues to constitute a significant threat to the safety of the public,” it ruled. “The accused has a history of acting out violently with the use of weapons. His illness is such that in all cases where he has behaved violently, he presented with no warning signs.”

Rich is still conducting his review of the case, and will report to Health Minister Adrian Dix. He did not return a request for comment. The stabbing charges remain before the court.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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