CALGARY - A judge has ruled an 86-year-old Calgary man charged with killing his wife will not stand trial, agreeing with a psychiatrist that Siegfried van Zuiden's worsening dementia has rendered him medically unfit.
Judge Allan Fradsham made his decision Friday after hearing testimony from psychiatrist Kenneth Hashman, who said the senior does not understand the charge against him, is disoriented to time and place and has become less able to care for himself.
"It's my opinion that this is quite a severe degree of dementia," Hashman told the court.
Van Zuiden was charged in October with second-degree murder after he called 911 and police found his 80-year-old wife, Audrey, dead in their home.
He underwent two months of tests at the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre to assess whether he could stand trial.
Hashman told the court van Zuiden's condition has deteriorated since his arrest. He was initially able to care for himself to some degree but is now unable to even brush his teeth.
Hashman said van Zuiden can't remember when he has just seen his lawyer and yet "this fellow can still beat everybody on the forensic unit at chess."
Since he was moved to the psychiatry centre, van Zuiden — who fled from the Nazis as a boy during the Second World War — gets very agitated and sometimes believes he is back in the war.
Lawyers for both the Crown and defence accepted Hashman's assessment.
Defence lawyer Alain Hepner said his client remains charged with second-degree murder.
"I, as counsel, will urge that those charges be withdrawn or stayed so that the family can deal with him privately."
Van Zuiden, who goes by the first name Fred, was born in the Netherlands to a Jewish family. He chronicled his experiences hiding from the Nazis in his book "Call me Mom: A Dutch Boy's WWII Survival Story."
He came to Canada in 1952 and later settled with his wife in Calgary, where he founded a sailboat business.
Loved ones have said the couple did everything together and were soulmates.
"They are the strongest married couple you will ever see. They are as close to being one person as you can ever get — tremendously successful, worked together, grew together," said godson Vince Walker.
"Especially with not having any children, they only had each other, they were a unit."
Audrey van Zuiden had been caring for her husband in their home as his condition deteriorated. Close family friends have said he has long suffered from the illness and does not understand his wife is now gone.
Hashman said he believes van Zuiden was suffering from dementia at least as far back as 2010, with the condition progressing more rapidly over the last two years.
Van Zuiden will be assessed within 45 days at the Southern Alberta Forensic Psychiatry Centre, where he has been since October, to determine how he will be cared for in the future.
Gordon van Gunst, a close family friend, said van Zuiden has become a grandfather-like figure to the staff at the facility.
He and Walker say the centre may be the best place for van Zuiden to live out the remainder of his life, now that loved ones will be able to visit without a pane of glass between them.
Even though he often doesn't recognize visitors, Walker and van Gunst say a card game or chess match would do van Zuiden good.
"If he can interact one-on-one as opposed to through a phone or through a glass, it just provides for a better experience all around," said van Gunst.
Walker added it's important to him that the charge against van Zuiden be dropped.
"Fred is a very honourable man. He's had a tremendous honourable life. He's had great achievements," he said.
"You don't want it to end like that."
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