Canada

Did he know it was wrong? The insanity defence is having a moment in Canada’s courts

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It is a high hurdle for defence lawyers to clear, but because the NCR verdict results in no jail sentence, and the impression that no crime has been committed, it has also become one of the most politicized aspects of criminal law.

There was public outrage, for example, at the increasing freedoms given to Richard Kachkar, who killed Toronto police officer Sgt. Ryan Russell with a stolen snowplow in 2011, and has since been conditionally discharged, and Matthew de Grood, who killed five young people at a Calgary house party in 2014.

For surviving victims and their allies, NCR can seem an unsatisfying verdict, as if the defendant found a convenient excuse, even a “get out of jail free card.” The most outrageous cases often prompt concerns about malingering or faking symptoms. These cases sometimes also tap a deeper cultural vein of skepticism about psychiatric diagnoses, even doubt about the reality of mental illness.

People who are found not criminally responsible do not go to jail. Rather, they go into the provincial Review Board system for an indeterminate period, with regular oversight. They are typically confined to hospitals, some of which have highly secure wards.

For Earl Joey Wiebe, his NCR verdict become an effective life sentence. Photo by File

In some cases, freedom is not far off, as with Vince Li, who committed the 2008 killing of Tim McLean on an intercity bus while psychotic due to schizophrenia, and was granted an absolute discharge in 2017, with his mental illness successfully medicated and controlled.

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