Mental Illness and the Canadian Law: Criminal or Insane?

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Canadian courts have long had the power, in prescribed circumstances, to exempt an individual from criminal responsibility for actions performed while incapacitated by a mental disorder. The power (mentioned above) is inherent within “the basic principle of Canadian criminal law that to be convicted of a crime, the state must prove not only a wrongful act, but also a guilty mind” (Department of Justice, 4). Consequently, Canada’s Criminal Code has subsequently determined that citizens will not be held criminally liable for their actions if their mental state at the time rendered them “incapable of appreciating” the nature and quality of the act and knowing that it was wrong. In such instances, however, it may be necessary for the state to exercise some level of control over those mentally disordered individuals who are believed to pose a threat to others. Thus, Parliament is faced with the challenge of achieving a balance between individual rights and public safety. This paper will review a number of outstanding issues relating to the criminal justice system’s treatment of mentally disordered persons : whether they should be held responsible for their actions or not. Before delving further into this subject, it is important to understand the definition of mental illness. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Poland, 265) each of the Mental Disorders is conceptualized as a clinically significant behavioural or psychological syndrome (or pattern) that occurs in an individual and that is associated with present distress (e.g. a painful symptom) or disability (i.e. impairment in one or more important areas of functioning) or with a significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or an important loss of freedom. In addition, this syndrome (or pattern) must not be merely an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event (for example, the death of a loved one). Whatever the original causes of


References: Department of Justice, Mental Disorder Amendments to the Criminal Code, --Information Paper, September 1991, p. 4. Department of Justice, Mental Disorder Project, Discussion Paper, September 1983, p. 3. John M. Oldham. "Personality Disorders," 2005, FOCUS 3: 372–382. Mark Bourrie. By Reason of Insanity: The David Michael Krueger Story. Toronto: Hounslow, 1997. Peter Vronsky. Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters New York: Berkley, 2004. ISBN 0-425-19640-2 Poland, JS. Review of Volume 1 of DSM-IV sourcebook, 2000, pg. 265, 593-594. R. v. Oommen, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 507, at p. 516.

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