Grisly killings expose system's failure
He was hearing voices and cried for help. When no one
answered, he butchered them
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
September 23, 2008 at 4:08 AM EDT
Hours before he locked his family in their basement apartment on Feb. 9,
2006, and butchered them, Huc Minh Chau was still crying out for help.
In a moment of lucidity - when the voices in his head briefly stopped
ordering him to kill the demons he believed were inhabiting his wife and two
young children - he telephoned a friend and asked to be taken to a hospital.
The friend arrived too late. In a frenzy of chopping and slashing with a
meat cleaver, Mr. Chau ended the life of his common-law wife, Shao-Fang
Liang, and three-year-old daughter, Vivian. Believing his five-month-old
baby, Ivan, to be possessed, Mr. Chau carved his brain from his skull in
order to remove "Buddha's beads ... implanted into the head of this dog
"I didn't want things to happen like that," Mr. Chau, 43, said in an
exclusive interview yesterday. "I feel so sad. I cry every night for my wife
and daughter and son."
Huc Minh Chau was found not criminally responsible for killing his wife,
Shao-Fang Liang, his daughter, Vivian, and his infant son, Ivan
As a weeping Mr. Chau was removed from a Toronto courtroom to begin an
indefinite stay in Whitby Mental Health Centre, hard questions about the medical
system's failure to prevent the tragedy took centre stage.
Crown and defence lawyers pointed straight at Mr. Chau's family doctor -
Edmond Lo - who kept his patient on a low dosage of his monthly medication, and
said after the killings that he cannot, as part of his job, be expected to keep
tabs on even seriously ill mental patients.
"He never followed up to see if Mr. Chau was taking his medication," defence
lawyer Peter Lindsay said in an interview. "He never booked another
Mr. Lindsay said that Mr. Chau apparently failed to show up for his regular
monthly injection in January, 2006, weeks before the killings. The tragedy might
have been averted had there been a mechanism in place in Dr. Lo's office to
follow up on him - and had Dr. Lo probed the paranoid hallucinations his patient
was experiencing, Mr. Lindsay said.
"There were clear warning signs that something was wrong," he said.
In a joint submission yesterday to Ontario Superior Court Judge David
McCombs, Mr. Lindsay, and prosecutors Phil Kotanen and Kim Motyl said that Mr.
Chau's 18-year history of hallucinations, paranoia and bizarre behaviour
worsened considerably in late 2005.
His monthly injections of Piportil were losing their effectiveness, they
"Mr. Chau saw his family doctor, Dr. Edmond Lo, several times in the fall of
2005, reporting symptoms consistent with a breakthrough of his schizophrenia,"
the statement said. "These could have been addressed by increasing his dosage,
administering it more frequently, or changing medications. None of these steps
were taken, however."
Cogent and occasionally animated in the interview yesterday, Mr. Chau - a
native of Vietnam who immigrated to Canada in 1981 - repeatedly referred to the
attack on his family as "the accident." He said that he had depended on doctors
to keep his symptoms under control, and they failed him.
"It was because of my medication," Mr. Chau said. "I lost my control."
He added that he looks forward to being released in the near future: "Now, I
am very well," he said. "I am getting injections."
By the terms of an order issued by Judge McCombs, Mr. Chau - who was deemed
not criminally responsible - will be assessed by the Ontario Review Board within
45 days and every year thereafter. He can be released only if the board
determines that he no longer presents a threat to the community.
At the time of the tragedy, the Chau family was subsisting mainly on
donations from relatives. Ms. Liang, who was working in a dim sum restaurant
when she met Mr. Chau five years ago, had become primarily a dedicated
Jenny Chu, one of Mr. Chau's eight siblings, said in an interview yesterday
that she lodged a complaint soon after the killings against Dr. Lo with the
Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons. She said that she intends to file a
second complaint against Mr. Chau's long-time psychiatrist.
Ms. Chu said that her brother showed unmistakable signs of growing problems
in late 2006. Family members soon became "100 per cent" certain that Mr. Chau
would end up going berserk, she said.
He refused to go near his son and began to irrationally boil water, Ms. Chu
said. Mr. Chau also shaved his hair as a form of spiritual cleansing, destroyed
Buddhist shrines at his sister's home and his own, cut up his children's clothes
and photographs of them, and repeatedly threw the contents of his home outside.
At the same time, Mr. Chau also appeared to have periods in which he
recognized that he was ill and might even present a danger. A sense of this came
across when he placed a 911 call to police after the killings, describing
himself as "crazy."
In a psychiatric report filed with the court yesterday, Ms. Chu said that she
had accompanied her brother on Jan. 6, 2006, to visit a psychiatrist who was
treating him, Dr. Hung Tat Lo.
Even though Mr. Chau was saying that "the devil was telling him to kill the
family," she said that the psychiatrist was unwilling to try to have him
committed to a hospital: "He told me to stop talking," she added. "He was rude."
According to transcripts from Mr. Chau's preliminary inquiry, Dr. Lo, the
family doctor, said that during the final appointments, he failed to ask Mr.
Chau whether he was suffering from delusions.
Dr. Lo conceded that he ought to have sought more information from Mr. Chau's
"Do you have any excuse why you didn't?" Mr. Lindsay asked in
"No," Dr. Lo replied.
Chi-Kun Shi, a lawyer who is helping the family, said that Ms. Liang had
another young son from a previous relationship who was not at home on the day of
She said that soon after the tragedy the boy and his grandmother disappeared.
Relatives have been unable to locate them to give the boy $40,000 donated by the
Ms. Chu said that her extended family has been in shock since the killings.
"My hands shake," she said. "I can't sleep. I'm still under care by a
She said that her children have never been told the truth about what
happened; they believe that their cousins died in an accident.
In light of her family's tragedy, Ms. Chu said that health authorities should
carefully reconsider how potentially dangerous patients are assessed and