Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I feel your pain, but this is unreasonable...

Dear Citizens,

There is an alarming situation arising in our legal system. The following is taken from CBC.ca:

Family of man killed on Greyhound bus pressing for 'Tim's law'

Last Updated: Thursday, February 26, 2009 | 2:11 PM ET

CBC News

The family of Tim McLean is stepping up its lobbying efforts for victim protection legislation they call "Tim's law."

McLean, 22, was brutally killed aboard a Greyhound bus last July near Portage la Prairie.

His mom, Carol deDelley, has said Tim's law would put the rights of a victim of crime ahead of those of the perpetrator. The proposed legislation would prevent a person found not criminally responsible of a crime from being released into the community.

It would mean that the most violent, unpredictable people who have committed a crime would face incarceration for life, with no possibility of parole.

"I don't know what the outcome is going to be, but we want to inspire Tim's law to become a reality, to make sure that his life isn't wasted," said McLean's aunt Paulette Speer. "We want there to be more [support] provided to protect the victim and not the guilty person."

McLean's family is selling T-shirts, buttons and fridge magnets to support its effort to press the government for the legislation. The items are made by Speer and her husband, who operate a promotional product business in Winnipeg.

The family will sell the items at a rally in Brandon on Friday.

McLean was returning home from a job in Edmonton when he was stabbed to death by a fellow passenger aboard the bus about 8:30 p.m. on July 31, 2008.

Vince Weiguang Li, 40, of Edmonton, has been charged with second-degree murder. His trial begins March 2 in Winnipeg. The case was moved from Portage la Prairie because Li has received death threats.

At trial, it's expected the issue will not be whether Li killed McLean but whether Li can be held criminally responsible for the death if he was suffering from a disease of the mind.


I respect the family's anger and frustration with this situation. I respect also that the family fears that someone "will get away with" killing their young son. But I think, in their anger, the family has lost perspective.

If we imagine laws as rules that are meant to protect citizens, this law that the McLean family is advocating for does nothing to protect anyone.

Hear me out.

Central to the creation of the law is the idea that people with mental illness who have committed a heinous crime should be held accountable for their crimes by being incarcerated for the rest of their lives. Now, we aren't suggesting that these mentally ill people be incarcerated in jail; no, we are saying that they should spend the rest of their lives in a psychiatric facility. I have been inside a psychiatric facility, and honestly, it's not much different from a prison cell. Especially if you are not there willfully.

These are the issues I have with this law and its implications:

Number One:

Imprisonment is imprisonment, no matter where it occurs. Thus, under this law that is being advocated for, we are asking that a person with a psychiatric problem is locked away while we as a society throw away the key and proclaim that we are done with them. Essentially this is a death sentence, in a nation where we have decided that death sentences are immoral.

In Canada, a life sentence for a crime of 1st degree murder is 25 years to life, with a chance for parole at 25 years. Keep in mind that in this case the accused is being charged with second degree murder. A second degree murder charge carries a punishment of a life sentence with a possibility for parole at 10 years. We cannot disburse a lifetime of imprisonment with no chance of parole, ever, at all (essentially a prolonged death sentence), and proclaim then that our nation is death sentence free. This would be a legal paradox, and a national moral hypocrisy.

The paradox would exist in the fact that there would be a dualistic legal system where "normal" criminals get due process in a system that believes they can be rehabilitated, where a death sentence can NEVER be applied. (The death sentence being a life sentence without option for parole.) And "crazy" criminals would get punished by a system where a death sentence can be applied to them, and only to them, because of their mental health status.

Number Two:

Our laws are designed with the idea that criminal behaviour is rehabilitative. Thus we have designed punishments and in-jail treatment programs that help people to understand the harms their behaviour has caused. After they have served their time, we allow people the opportunity to go back into society to try to carve a new path. Sometimes we even let people out of jail earlier (on parole), if they have demonstrated a consistent pattern of good behaviour and rehabilitation.

Our mental health care system believes that people who have experienced a mental health event can be rehabilitated. In fact, there are many successful treatment programs that have enabled people who have had disruptive health events to find their way to a state of good health and to move on in their lives to be productive and community-oriented citizens.

The consequences of this law; lifetime imprisonment in a psychiatric facility with no chance of parole; contradits not only the philosophy of our healthcare system, it also contradicts the central philosophy of the Canadian legal system:

People who have committed crimes can be rehabilitated, our legal system dictates.

Science and mental health research tells us that people with mental illness can move on to healthy productive lives (rehabilitation).

So when a person with a mental illness commits a crime, how does the scope of the context change to dictate that the person is beyond our reach for rehabilitation? How can we begin to imagine that a person with mental illness who has committed a crime should be locked up in perpetuity with no chance for parole?

The implication of this advocated law is not that the person is the problem (as is the case with regular criminals where we believe that rehabilitation is possible, and where our "life" sentences potentially max out at 25 years). Implied in this law, is that the mental illness is the problem. In effect, this law is not punishing people, persay, it is punishing mental illnesses, and the people who happen to have mental illness. Which leads us to point...

Number Three:

This advocated law is flagrantly discriminatory.

In no other circumstance of health do we tell people that they should be treated differently because of their medical condition.

Mental illness is a medical condition that can have regretful effects on behaviour, but which can be relieved by medical intervention.

Why does having a medical condition allow our legal system to consider throwing its values out the window? Again, our legal system believes that criminals can be rehabilitated. Why does a health condition change the scope of this belief? Locking a person away in a psychiatric facility in perpetuity without the chance for parole is a declaration that the person is beyond rehabilition.

Mental illness can be rehabilitaed, medicine tells us.

Mental illness can even be prevented, research suggests.

Thus, the crimes perpetuated during a mental health event are likely PREVENTABLE.

According to our evidence from science and medicine, it would make more sense to consider laws relating to access to treatment.

If we are imagining that laws are created with the intent to protect citizens, then laws relating to treatment would protect citizens in two ways:

a) The person with illness would be protected from the ravages of an untreated medical condition.

b) All citizens would be protected from crimes that are perpetuated during a mental health crisis.

The advocated law makes no steps to ensure protections for any citizens. In fact, the advocated law entrenches not only the status quo of systemic discrimination, but further deepens the social marginalization of persons with mental illness and establishes an indefensible precedent for widespread systemic discrimination. After all, if our own legal systems are allowed to treat people with mental illness differently than every other citizen, then why shouldn't ordinary citizens follow the lead of our political/judicial systems?

Number Four (Last Point):

Our legal system already has a way to deal with issues relating to mental health and the law. If the accused is found not guilty by reason of mental defect or insanity or whathaveyou, he will be shipped to a forensic psychiatric facility where he will have to undergo a minium number of years in treatment. Furthermore, he will not just "be set free," he will have to prove that he has been rehabilitated, and if he is even let out, he will have to live a certain number of years under the combined watchful eyes of the legal system and his health care team.

So really, the accused will get the kind of treatment he needs, and he will get it where he needs it, if he is found not criminally liable due to his health condition. Under our current laws, the accused will be punished by a legal system that believes he is capable of being rehabilitated, whatever shape that rehabilitation takes.

This is the same right that all persons entering the legal system are entitled to. Having a health condition makes Mr. Li's access to legal rights no different from any one else's.

He just won't get the death sentence that this family is advocating for.

Respecting the rights of every Canadian citizen,


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