EDITORIALS

NOT CRIMINALLY RESPONSIBLE – A Dangerous Finding

Sergeant Ryan Russell (TPS Website)
Sergeant Ryan Russell (TPS Website)

My heart breaks for Christine Russell widow of slain Toronto Police Sergeant Ryan Russell.  Russell was killed on January 12, 2012 by Richard Kachkar, a man with alleged mental health issues who went on a murderous rampage with a stolen snow plow.  Kachkar was charged with first degree murder but was recently found not criminally responsible (NCR) by a jury who deliberated for almost two days after a two-month trial.

Richard Kachkar - Facebook
Richard Kachkar – Facebook

“I believe Ryan deserved better than this,” Christine said outside the Court house.   “Right now, Stephen Harper, I know you’re listening, and there is something out there called Bill C-54 that’s trying to amend some of the not criminally responsible rights. I’m going to advocate for that very hard.”

I’d like to add my voice in support.

I have a problem with NCR’s.

To arrive at a finding of NCR the defense has to prove the person who committed the offence was suffering from a mental disorder that rendered them incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or knowing that it was wrong.

One of the biggest problems I have with the entire process centers on the fact that forensic psychology is an inexact science.  As such, Forensic Psychologists can rarely agree on a diagnosis.  In fact, in the Russell case, three (3) Psychiatrists said that Kachkar was psychotic while five (5) disagreed.  That despite the fact a week before he killed Sergeant Russell, Kachkar asked an acquaintance; “Do you think if I do something bad, will God still love me or will I have to walk away from God?”

I would suggest that if Kachkar was contemplating doing something “bad,” he was fully capable of appreciating the nature and quality of a criminal act, especially one as overtly brash as stealing a snow plow and going on a rampage.

The other problem I have with NCR’s is they seem to be becoming more fashionable.  It seems to me NCR defenses are increasing at an alarming rate.  Don’t think for a minute that cunning killers who partner with skilled defense attorneys don’t try to exploit the Justice System by trying to play the NCR card.  I can think of several Winnipeg cases where accused killers walked down that path.

Killers like Jason Chamberlain who strangled seventy-one (71) year old Gloria Burn in 2001. After the murder Chamberlain had the cognitive ability to stash the victim’s body in an isolated location and subsequently attend a Police Station to report her missing.  He then played a risky game of cat and mouse with investigators, a game he lost after a high stakes interrogation.  The Judge ultimately rejected his NCR bid and sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole for ten years.  He remains behind bars to this day.

Killers like Miloslav Kapsik who brutally murdered his wife on March 21, 2010.  Kapsik smashed his wife in the head more than fifty-seven (57) times with a hammer, literally beating her brains out in the process.  Shortly after the murder he called the Police and indicated he had hurt his wife.  You don’t call the Police to report the murder of your spouse if you’re suffering from a mental illness that renders you incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of an act or omission or knowing that what you did was wrong.  After a day of deliberations the jury rejected Kapsiks NCR defense and found him guilty of Second Degree Murder.  He was recently sentenced to serve ten (10) years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.

I worked on both cases and dozens of others where the killers appeared to be affected by one form of mental illness or another.  That certainly didn’t mean they weren’t capable of distinguishing the difference between right and wrong.

The other problem with NCR findings is the mental health community is stead fast in their belief that accused killers should receive a “treatment based approach” rather than a “punishment based approach.”  In their minds, keeping killers locked in mental health facilities for lengthy or indefinite periods of time is punishment.  I get where they’re coming from.

I just disagree.

Over the top killers like Vince Li, Allan Schoenborn or Guy Turcotte should never be released on an unsuspecting public.  Anyone that’s capable of such extreme violence should never be trusted again, mental health issues or not, progress or not, effective medication or not.  Public safety trumps the right to freedom for killers who were able to meet the standards of a not criminally responsible finding.  I have little faith in the Mental Health profession regarding their ability to properly diagnose and treat killers with mental health issues.  Why should we trust them when they can rarely come to a consensus on a diagnosis or treatment.

Are we as a society really ready to believe that Vince Li is no longer a threat to any of us?

That when given their freedom, the Vince Li’s of the world can be trusted to take their medications and responsibly follow their mental health protocols?

No one will ever convince me that people like Vince Li should ever be released from a secure mental health facility.  Having said that, I know there are people out there who might try.  That’s because people never really consider the pain and torment killers like Vince Li cause to the surviving family members left to try to put the pieces of their shattered lives back together.

If I learned anything during my law enforcement career, it’s that people really don’t give much consideration to the impact of crime until something tragic happens to them or someone they love.  I’d like to ask the people who sit on Criminal Review Boards to apply a different standard when they consider releasing killers like Vince Li on our society.

I want them to stop and think about the one person in their life that means the most to them.  The person they love or share an intensely deep relationship with.  A lover, a wife, a husband, a child, a sibling or a parent.  Think of them, feel them, see their face, hold them close to you.  They enhance your life, they make every day better by just being in it, there’s no reason to think they won’t always be there.

Now think about life without them.  The pain, the emptiness, the sorrow, the cavernous hole their loss would leave in your heart.  The sadness you’ll feel on their birthday, on Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, or on the anniversary of date of their death.  Think about losing them forever.

Now picture Vince Li sitting beside your loved one on a bus with no security guards, no chains and no shackles.  Did he take his medications this morning, did he forget or maybe he just doesn’t think he needs to take it anymore.

Imagine.

How would you feel about that?

Is that a risk you’d be willing to take with someone you loved?

It’s just not a risk I happen to be willing to take.

FOOTNOTE:

BILL C-54 (Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act) will contain language that mandates that, “public safety” will be the primary consideration for Mental Health Review Boards.

It will also create a new designation for “high-risk” killers like Vince Li who have been found NCR.  With the high-risk designation comes less frequent reviews and the elimination of unescorted day passes.

The legislation also has several enhancements for victim’s rights.

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