New low set for Canadian justice

What a horror-show week in the first seven days of July.

What a horror-show week in the first seven days of July.

The rain held off until the end of the Canada Day parade in Kitimat, then poured down for the next four days – providing a cold, depressing background for two televised demonstrations of just how awful a place the world can be – especially for the child murder victims in high profile murder cases.

I’ve always known the relationship between “the law” and justice is an adversarial and tenuous one at best. It’s even more strained in some countries where class and caste systems proliferate and where women and children appear to be inferior, disposable commodities.

In North America clever lawyer teams can get the guilty off – it’s not a myth, it’s a reality. Sadly, poor prosecution contributes in many cases. Judges, supposedly, are the public-protection arbiters.

But a number of recent jury verdicts in Canada and the United States have created both public furore, unexpected consequences and have cast a jaundiced spotlight on how some cases are conducted and the often-horrific results implicit in these decisions.

Often judges decisions, errors, or opinions, enter into play.

If I felt a helpless rage in the past few days, it applied most to the moment when a Montreal judge brought the weeping, distraught mother of two slaughtered children before his bench and read her the riot act about inappropriate behaviour in his sacred courtroom.

He threatened to remove her from the remaining procedures, including the ultimate justicial disgrace, the finding of “not criminally responsible” for her husband, an esteemed cardiologist, who confessed in his sworn emotion-charged testimony to viciously murdering both of the couple’s young children in a frenzy of multiple stabbings.

The jury then set new low standards for Canadian justice by their finding that, despite his detailed confession to the murders, Dr. Guy Turcotte was not criminally responsible because of his mental state at the time of the murders.

It’s my contention that in the majority of cases of murder, killers are in a mental state at that moment that drives them to commit the crime. All cases are different, motives, circumstances or whatever, but what in the long run is the difference if innocent people die?

More frequently common-sense prevails and guilty verdicts are reached. At least that opens the door for appeals and another round of examination of a case.

In Montreal the public was simply devastatingly flabbergasted and the killer’s wife, whose frustration was even more evident, now faces the chilling prospect of his being freed unconditionally into the community, in as soon as 45 days, after other (peer) doctors review his mental condition.

Doctors are already stating the cardiologist is not suffering from a mental condition at this time. Psychiatrists offered differing opinions on his mental state during the trial.

Similarly, in Florida, crowds have loudly and publicly reacted to another perceived perversion of justice in the case of Casey Anthony, found not guilty of first and second degree murder, manslaughter and aggravated child abuse in the death of her 30-month old daughter.

The little girl’s skeletonized and duct-taped remains were found in a Florida swamp. Prosecutors felt they had conclusively proved the circumstantial case.

A jury repudiated their case in a manner very similar to the shocking trial of O.J. Simpson.

A media and cable-TV gong show erupted that is not yet over.

 

This past spring in Merritt, BC, a similarly-agonizing  scenario unfolded when a local resident earlier found criminally not responsible for the admitted first degree murder of his three children appears likely to be permitted escorted day outings from his psychiatric treatment facility – and ultimately full freedom.

Again, a man found not fit to trial (effectively not criminally responsible) for killing, beheading and cannibalizing a Greyhound bus passenger in Manitoba, is in a position to be freed if he is found to be medically no longer suffering from the schizophrenia apparently responsible for the attack. He could be returned to public life.

While I am not specifically questioning the “law” as such in these cases – I do, in a serious way, but that is a matter for another time – it seems to me there is need for some rapid, deep and serious department of justice review of the capability of current medical science to determine the state of an individual at the time when he or she committed murder.

An alternative range of actions is needed, particularly if this is to be the basis of creating circumstances that will permit confessed killers to be free to return to public life after shockingly short periods of time.

Today’s medical and research community is continuously found to be simply wrong in adjudging the efficacy of drugs to control illness and conditions.

Drugs are introduced and withdrawn at an alarming rate as side effects are researched.

Sadly, dead bodies tend to pile up while this is going on.

Mental health is an equally grey area – so I believe that there is a strong case to be presented for certain legal decisions to be reviewed in another way – that reliance on medical assurance of a cure from  mental health “experts” have to be subject to some much more stringent rules.

Recidivism stats demonstrate that this is a necessity.

ahewitson@telus.net

 

 

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