What happens when a killer is found not criminally responsible?
Above: Watch 16×9′s full investigation into the controversy of “not criminally responsible” rulings.
“I was standing right here and I hit the floor,” recalls Carol de Delley. “I went out the door and just screamed ‘No”!”
De Delley’s son, 22-year-old Timothy McLean, was killed in 2008 aboard a Greyhound bus just outside Winnipeg, Man.
In 2009 a court ruled Vince Li, the 40-year-old Edmonton man charged with the brutal slaying and decapitation, Not Criminally Responsible (NCR), meaning he was in a psychotic state at the time of the murder. Li, who has schizophrenia, was remanded to the Selkirk Mental Health Centre and is under the care of a psychiatrist.
Lori Triano-Antidormi also lost her son to a killer found NCR. Sixteen years ago her two-year-old son, Zachary, was stabbed 10 times by neighbour Lucia Piovesan, in Hamilton, Ont. Like Li, she has schizophrenia and is housed in a mental health facility receiving treatment.
“People think about punishment, right. And that these people need to be punished. But they don’t commit the crime out of ill intent. They commit it out of an ill mind,” says Triano-Antidormi.
If someone is found to be NCR by the courts they are sent to a forensic psychiatric hospital to receive intense therapy for their illness instead of receiving a prison sentence. They do not receive a criminal record and there are no mandatory hospitalization times for patients.
Each patient’s case is reviewed annually by a provincial review board to determine their progress, rehabilitation and whether they still pose a risk to the public. If they are no longer a risk, they are slowly released back into the community.
Under the current system, victims are informed when a review board hearing is scheduled and may attend to give victim impact statements. Triano-Antidormi has not attended Piovesan’s hearings. De Delley regularly attends when Li is in front of the review board.
Earlier this year, the government introduced a bill that would make it harder for NCR patients to gain their freedom. Bill C-54, the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, imposes mandatory hospitalization times and prolongs the time between review hearings for someone designated a “high risk” NCR offender. The bill requires a minimum three years before a high risk NCR offender’s case is reviewed for possible release. The bill has divided victims, experts and ministers.
While longer times in between hearings would give victims a break from having to relive the crime, others argue that it infringes on the patients’ constitutional rights. De Delley and Triano-Antidormi have different views on the issue. Both women spoke at the House of Commons when the bill was debated last summer.
“A killer is a killer is a killer,” says de Delley. “The system is hell bent on putting that person back out in public, but I don’t think that is where he belongs.”
Triano-Antidormi disagrees. “People with mental illness are not violent, that’s a myth.”
She says they should be sent to a facility to receive treatment and be released once they are no longer a threat.
Bill C-54 passed the House of Commons in July 2013. The future of the bill was in question when Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament in September. But on Nov. 25, the government reintroduced the bill and it is now headed for debate before the Senate.
Justice Richard Schneider, chair of the Ontario Review Board, says proposed changes toughening the law are unnecessary and that the current system for treating NCR patients is effective.
“Rehabilitation is the goal, getting at the root cause of the undesirable behaviour is the objective,” he says.
According to Schneider, 93 per cent of NCR patients do not reoffend and treatment of mental illness is effective.
“The system is working remarkably well. Tthe data is quite unequivocal and clear … For lack of a better way of putting it, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Triano-Antidormi says people such as Li and Piovesan were neglected by the mental health system that did not help them before they committed crimes.
“I think one of the hardest questions is that, would Zachary be alive if the mental health system worked better? Because the answer is probably, yes,” says Triano-Antidormi. She also says proposed legislation would only increase the stigma surrounding people with mental health issues.
But to de Delley, the memory of how her son died still haunts her. “How do you come here and look at all of this and just say oh well it was a shame. No crime was committed here,” she says at a memorial marking the site where her son was murdered.
© Shaw Media, 2013