Justice Is Blind But We Needn’t Be

When I read a news story I can expect something out of the ordinary in quotes but it is rarer in the measured words of a journalist. Last night I read the online CBC coverage of the Guy Turcotte case. He was found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) in the stabbing deaths of his two children. There was public outcry at this finding and even more when he was released into the community a few years later. It is now again before the courts on appeal. I do not know the case, the man or much else to comment so I will return to our journalist.

The last couple of lines I read the author referred to the conservative government’s reaction to this and other high profile cases as they introduced legislation to make it more difficult for “criminals with mental illness” to be released. I hung on the words criminals with mental illness. Therein lay the misconception. I can forgive the author for being ill informed but I am alarmed that the CBC allows individuals with a rudimentary understanding of mental health law to report on it.

There are criminals with mental illness but most do not make it to the forensic system. A person who is depressed or bi polar is usually processed and administered to the same as any. Someone who is found NCR has been assessed and found that their mental disorder rendered them incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.

NCR individuals are not found guilty because they did not possess mens rhea, a guilty mind. They are referred to as the accused. It can only be stigma to refer to such an individual as a criminal with mental illness. To be referred to as a criminal one has to be found guilty. The journalists few errant words convey a larger sentiment. Many would use the same words. Some of the public outcry is a result of the perception that these people are criminals. One comment I read at the news of appeal was “finally, justice for these children”. That may be the case but at this point in fairness we must also entertain the idea that justice was already served.

We are indignant when someone “gets off” with this NCR “defence”. NCR is in fact a protection for us all. It is a safeguard. We all sleep better knowing if by some terrible fate we find ourselves mixed up with the law unaware of reality, we will be treated rather than punished. An eye for an eye is great unless your blindness is the reason for offence. When we can only find satisfaction in a person being behind bars, we are prisoners ourselves. We are shackled to retribution and a sense of justice rather than justice itself.

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