Documenting the Document: The Forensic Hospital Report and Its Knowledge Moves

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorTyler J King,Joshua DM Shaw,Liam Kennedy
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterArticles
Documenting the
Document: The Forensic
Hospital Report and Its
Knowledge Moves
Tyler J King
University of Toronto, Canada
Joshua DM Shaw
Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University,
Liam Kennedy
Kings University College at Western University,
Drawing on case f‌iles from a Canadian provincial review board tasked with determining
the disposition of persons found not criminally responsible on account of mental dis-
order, we explore the role of the forensic hospital report in the production of med-
ico-legal risk knowledges. Through a detailed case study, we show how the reports
content and particular material form allow the Board to produce the signif‌icantly threa-
tening individual’–the very thing the Board (and report) are meant to presuppose. We
therefore call on scholars to document their documents, and, in the spirit of actor-net-
work theory (ANT), to analytically treat socio-legal objects as active participants in
knowledges creation. By accounting for the knowledge movesthe hospital report
might allow, encourage, or prohibit human actors to make, we hope even ANT sceptics
can use these tools to better understand various legal decision-making processes and
their effects.
Corresponding author:
Tyler J King, Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto, 14 Queens Park Crescent
West, Toronto, ON, M5S 3K9, Canada.
Social & Legal Studies
2024, Vol. 33(3) 309327
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/09646639231187093
Actor-networktheor y, anthropology of documents, institutional ethnography, knowledge
production, risk assessments, science and technology studies, socio-legal objects
In March 2015, 21-year-old RJ took a sledgehammer to the interior of his parents
residence before setting f‌ire to his fathers Mercedes Benz.
The f‌ire not only
destroyed the vehicle but also spread to the home, causing an estimated $200,000
worth of damage. When police arrived, RJs mother told them he came back to the
house shortly after setting the f‌ire and asked her if she could turn this off, pointing
to his ears and indicating he was hearing voices. RJ was promptly arrested, at which
time he gave a statement claiming the voices in his head told him to set the f‌ire and
destroy the home.
After being diagnosed with schizophrenia and substance use disorder (related to can-
nabis use), RJ was also found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder
(NCR) or what only a few decades ago would have been classif‌ied as legally
insane’–under section 16 of CanadasCriminal Code. As mandated by the Code,the
special verdict of NCR meant RJ became subject to his provinces review board, in
this case the Ontario Review Board (ORB), which has jurisdiction over determining if
persons found NCR should be indeterminately detained in a forensic hospital, condition-
ally discharged into the community (with whatever restrictions the hospital deems neces-
sary), or discharged absolutely, meaning they re-enter society as legally free persons. The
disposition RJ and every NCR person receives ostensibly hinges on the answer to the
statutory question of whether they constitute a signif‌icant threat to public safety,
def‌ined broadly in case law and section 672.54 of the Code as a risk of serious physical
or psychological harm to members of the public including any victim of or witness to
the offence, or any person under the age of 18 years resulting from conduct that is crim-
inal in nature but not necessarily violent. If they are not found to be a signif‌icant threat,
by law they must receive an absolute discharge. If they are deemed to be a signif‌icant
threat then they must receive either a detention order or a conditional discharge, which-
ever is least onerous while still providing adequate protection to the public. There is no
equivalent of a warrant expiry when one is found NCR, and these persons therefore
remain under the hospital and Boards control indef‌initely or until they are no longer
found to be a signif‌icant threat.
Three years after the index offence, RJ was still under a detention order, having been
declared a signif‌icant threat to public safety at each of his yearly disposition hearings. At
his 2018 hearing, the Board highlighted RJs unwillingness to abstain from cannabis use
and his alleged mental decompensationas a result of said cannabis use as reasons why
he remained a risk. As is the case at every review hearing for NCR persons in Ontario, the
details of RJs alleged decompensation and those of other events purported to be signif‌i-
cant to the Boards assessment of risk were all outlined in a document titled the
Administrators [of the forensic hospital] Report to the Ontario Review Boardbut
referred to generically by the ORB as the hospital report.
310 Social & Legal Studies 33(3)

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