Although it has been more than 16 years, Andy Bouvier can still remember the hatred that flowed through his body for the man who stabbed his daughter six times.
In October, 1999, in Cornwall, Ont., Sean Clifton approached 22-year-old Julie Bouvier and stabbed her repeatedly in a Walmart parking lot. She was rushed to the hospital and nearly died from her injuries.
“Your emotions overrun you,” said Andy Bouvier, now 64 and retired. “Somebody does something like that to your little girl, I mean what you could do under that circumstance is unreal even if you’re not that type of [violent] person.
“I hated him and I would have probably caused him a lot of harm if I would have got a hold of him that night.”
Clifton, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was hearing voices at the time of the attack. He was charged with attempted murder but was found “not criminally responsible”, or NCR, due to his mental illness. Clifton was held at an institution in Brockville until 2008, when he was released back into the community under supervision.
The case of Sean Clifton is featured in filmmaker John Kastner’s 2013 documentary “NCR: Not Criminally Responsible” and the 2016 followup “Not Criminally Responsible: Wedding Secrets.” The films centre on the random attack and the path toward reconciliation between Clifton and the Bouvier family.
“The forgiveness part of it is important. I always relate the forgiveness to hating someone if you hate someone you’re only doing yourself harm,” Bouvier said. “Forgiveness is kind of the same thing to me. You have to forgive at some point and go on.”
Now the NCR designation is back in the spotlight after news that Will Baker, formerly Vince Li, was given an absolute discharge in the 2008 killing and mutilation of Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba. The horrifically violent crime made international headlines after Baker, who said he was hearing voices at the time, decapitated and cannibalized McLean’s body.
Baker’s doctors describe him as a model patient who had not been treated for schizophrenia at the time of the attack. Following his arrest and placement in hospital, Baker responded well to medication and understood that he must continue to take it to keep his illness at bay, his doctors said. Baker was granted increasing freedoms over the last eight years before he was allowed to move from the hospital to a group home in 2015. Last year, he moved into his own apartment in Winnipeg.
“This was a horribly tragic incident and one can only feel for [McClean’s family],” said John Kastner. “It’s an unfortunate because it’s such a grotesque thing that happened that people have a primal reaction to it. But in point of fact, it’s almost unheard of for [NCR patients] who have been released to commit a second act of serious violence.”
From the public to politicians and even McLean’s family, there has been outrage at the decision by the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board to give Baker an absolute discharge for such a heinous attack.
WATCH: Justice minister says there will be ‘broad review’ of justice system following discharge of Vince Li
Chris Summerville, executive director of the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society, said he’s been flooded with angry calls and emails following Baker’s release.
“I understand that many if not most Canadians are not going to agree with decision,” said Summerville. “People either do not understand, and or just don’t agree with the designation of not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder. Period.”
Summerville, who has worked with and interviewed Baker, said he has been fighting the perception that people with schizophrenia are dangerous for years. He’s now worried about public perceptions that Baker will commit another violent offence despite evidence that people designated NCR are at a low risk to re-offend.
“[Baker] is not seen as a patient so much as he’s seen as a person who had a mental illness who became a criminal and that won’t be undone,” he said. “People say ‘can you guarantee 100 per cent he will stay on medication and he won’t commit this act again?’ I can’t…but we don’t believe it will happen.”
The National Trajectory Project, a 2015 study, examined roughly 1,800 NCR cases in B.C., Quebec and Ontario from 2000-2005. The study found that less than one per cent of individuals found not criminally responsible repeat a violent offence within three years of their release. The study also found that the re-offence rate for NCR patients for any type of crime is 17 per cent, half the rate of those in the general population released after a criminal conviction.
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For Andy Bouvier, he isn’t sure how he would have reacted if his daughter had died that evening in 1999. But over the past decade and a half he’s now become an advocate for the NCR process. He was named to the Ontario Review Board (ORB) last year and works to help integrate NCR patients back into society.
“I got involved and started learning a lot about the process of the ORB and started learning a lot about mental illness and realizing you know that these patients are sick and it’s beyond their control,” he said. “By me forgiving Sean for what he did to my daughter and the understanding that it’s a mental illness, it’s helped me to find peace and joy in my life as opposed to harbouring ill feelings toward him and letting it destroy us.”
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