Judge Kymil Howe had “a sneaking suspicious” of what lawyer Sandi MacKinnon was going to ask of her on Friday afternoon, but the request was one she had no authority to grant.
MacKinnon appeared before Howe in provincial court in Corner Brook to ask that Melvin Laing be remanded to the Waterford Hospital in St. John’s until his trial later this month.
The 58-year-old Irishtown-Summerside man was charged in May 2017 with drugging, unlawfully confining and sexually assaulting a girl under the age of 14.
Following an assessment of his fitness at the Waterford Hospital he was released, only to be taken back into custody in July after his surety successfully applied to be removed.
He’s been held at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s since then and appeared in court via videoconference from there.
MacKinnon presented a new assessment of Laing to the court, and said she asked the psychiatrist if there would be a danger of Laing becoming unfit to stand trial if he was moved out of the Waterford. Laing has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and has anxiety.
The psychiatrist could not say that he needed to remain there to keep fit.
While the doctor was not opposed to having him stay at Waterford, as it could be beneficial to him, she could not make that recommendation on the basis of maintaining his level of fitness.
Still MacKinnon asked the court to keep him at the Waterford, “For the well-being of my client, that he can be in his best form to participate in the trial.”
Howe said if an individual is to be ordered to remain inside a psychiatric institution it can be done under the Mental Health Act, which is a medical situation, or the court can order it for the purposes of assessment only, which has been done.
“I have no legal authority to order anyone to become a patient of a hospital on the basis that they are facing criminal charges.”
Howe said she recognizes Laing has issues, but she didn’t have the authority to do .
“So, I’m sorry, I can’t grant your request, although I certainly understand completely why you’re asking for it.”
Howe said MacKinnon was pointing out a flaw in the medical and legal system in the province. “There’s simply no housing for individuals with these types of issues.”
Howe said the only thing to do was to have a bail hearing.
But MacKinnon said they were in the same position as before in that the Crown would consent to his release if they could come up with a suitable place for him to live.
After court recessed, MacKinnon said recent concerns that Laing’s fitness was diminishing prompted her to seek the new assessment.
She said there is a low threshold for fitness and felt that Laing would do much better in the Waterford or at some other facility that could provide him with some supports.
There are facilities on the east coast.
“But there is nothing out here,” she said.
MacKinnon said Laing’s situation is not just about accommodations and a person’s mental health is not black and white.
Laing’s trial is set for Feb. 21-22.