UBC student stabber sent back to Saudi Arabia after discharge

Student slashed in dorm-room knife attack sues UBC for negligence

A UBC student found not criminally responsible for stabbing a fellow student in the neck has been sent back to Saudi Arabia after being discharged from custody.

In a majority decision last month, a B.C. Review Board panel found that Thamer Hameed Almestadi did not present a significant threat to public safety despite a considerable risk of psychotic relapse. That's in part because his parents presented a plan for Almestadi's care by a psychiatrist once he's back with his family in the Middle East.

'The risk is high'

The 17-page decision illustrates the difficulties of trying to determine the future of a young man whose lone lapse into mental illness resulted in the near death of a stranger.

Board member Paula Cayley wrote the dissenting opinion.

"Mr. Almestadi is likely to suffer another psychotic break. The risk of a future episode of violence seems very linked to the risk that Mr. Almestadi will experience another psychotic break. The risk is high — it is more likely than not that it will occur and that it will be rapid," Cayley wrote.

"The discharge plan being proposed emphasizes close monitoring for public protection purposes. However, once out of the board's jurisdiction there is no way of compelling Mr. Almestadi to comply with necessary followup."

Almestadi was found not criminally responsible at the end of October for attacking fellow student Mary Hare in the UBC residence complex where both lived in the fall of 2016. The review board discharged him from custody a little more than a month later.

The decision says he attacked Hare after listening to a religious recording which led the 20-year-old to believe he was being tested by God. 

"When she opened her door, he pushed his way in and began stabbing her neck with a knife," the review board decision said. "During the ensuing struggle, she succeeded in breaking the knife and she tried to use it to defend herself. Her screaming attracted the attention of other residents who eventually separated the two."

'No source of support in B.C.'

The psychiatrists who assessed Almestadi agreed that he had a "brief psychotic episode." His grades had slipped and he was depressed in the period leading up to the incident.

Almestadi comes from a prominent family in Saudi Arabia. His parents have been living in B.C. during the past year to help their son deal with his legal problems.

The family has identified a psychiatrist in Jeddah who has agreed to provide treatment and monitoring.

"(The psychiatrists) note that Mr. Almestadi has no source of support in B.C. They consider him a low overall risk of potentially serious violence and say that the plan proferred by his parents to manage him in his home country warrant consideration by the board," the majority decision reads.

"Certainly living with his family in his home country would, in our view, expose Mr. Almestadi to far less stress which would, in turn, reduce the risk of relapse, and to public safety. Moreover, even the possibility of access to marijuana in Saudi Arabia would be close to nil. That this plan also best meets the accused's needs is not in controversy."

'Brutality of the index offences'

In her dissent, Cayley said Almestadi had been "guarded" in custody and had expressed "unusual paranoid thoughts" in an interview with a doctor last summer.

She also noted that his parents appear to have underestimated the risk of relapse, characterizing it as up to about 25 per cent. She said the real risk is closer to 60 per cent or more.

"Given the brutality of the index offences, the rapid onset of psychosis, the likelihood that Mr. Almestadi will experience another psychotic episode, the fact that he committed what appears to be a targeted act of extreme violence on a virtual stranger, the unexplored gaps in our knowledge as to what motivated or triggered the index, and the practical challenges of an early Saudi Arabia reintegration plan, I am of the view that the necessary and appropriate disposition at this time is custody," Cayley wrote.

In an email, Almestadi's lawyer said he was removed from Canada by authorities after his discharge by the review board.