Has the Insanity Defense Worked in Canada? (Not Criminally Responsible).

November 10, 2020

Likelihood of the Defense

According to Statistics Canada, the plea rate for the defense of mental disorder is less than 1% and out of those pleas, only a quarter are actually successful.

The defense is rarely used and even more rarely does it succeed. The only reason that the defense of mental disorder seems to be overused is because the media tends to cover these cases extensively.

In general, the defense succeeds in cases where the defendant was suffering from a serious and intense mental disorder and lacked total mental capacity and control of their thoughts and actions.

The cases below are examples where the defense has succeeded, resulting in the defendant being found not criminally responsible.

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The Defense Succeeds

Matthew de Grood (Calgary, AB)

In what was termed Calgary’s deadliest massacre, de Grood stabbed 5 young adults to death at a house party. He was charged with five counts of first-degree murder and was found mentally fit to stand trial after undergoing a psychiatric assessment.

De Grood was found to have intentionally committed the crime, but he suffered a psychotic episode during the killings, in which he believed there were werewolves and vampires who threatened his life.

As a result of his schizophrenic condition, he was found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.

This defense means that de Grood spends his sentence in a psychiatric facility and can possibly receive periodic reviews for his release under certain conditions.

Gregory Allan Despres (Minto, NB)

Despres stabbed a couple in their home in New Brunswick and was convicted of these murders. His mother and lawyers claimed that he was unfit to stand trial due to his paranoid schizophrenia, which his mother believed began at the age of 17.

At his first trial, the judge ruled that Despres was found unfit to stand trial. After a few months of treatment, he was found fit to stand trial and a new trial was ordered.

At the end of the second trial, the judge found Despres guilty of murder; however, it was ruled that his actions were a result of his mental disorder and he was found not criminally responsible.

As a result, Despres is being held at a healing centre.

Glen Race (Halifax, NS)

Race was charged with murdering two men, but the judge ruled that his schizophrenia overpowered his mental ability to understand right from wrong.

Race believed he had a mission and claimed to be a vampire slayer. As a result of his mental illness, he was declared not criminally responsible for his actions.

Allan Schoenborn (Merritt, BC)

Schoenborn was charged with and convicted of killing his three children. He experienced psychosis at the time of the crime and believed he was saving his children from physical and sexual abuse.

His mental illness was serious enough to find him not criminally responsible for the killings. He is placed in a psychiatric hospital and has been granted escorted day passes from the hospital.

Currently, the physician treating Schoenborn stated that his condition has improved, but he must show further improvement before having his sentence revisited.

Vincent Li (Manitoba)

Li was charged with killing a man sleeping next to him on a Greyhound bus. He claimed a voice in his head was telling him that the victim was an alien and a force of evil who needed to be destroyed.

The judge was convinced that Li did suffer from an intense mental disorder and was ruled not criminally responsible for the killings.

He was sent to a mental health facility immediately after this decision. As of February 2017, the Manitoba Criminal Code Review Board granted Li an absolute discharge.

This means that there will be no legal restrictions to Li’s independent living condition.

The Defense Fails

Elaine Campione (Barrie, ON)

Campione was charged with drowning and killing her two daughters amidst a custody battle against her ex-husband and was charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

During her trial, it was heard that Campione attempted suicide, had delusions that people were trying to kill her daughters and behaved extremely bizarrely.

She was diagnosed with unspecified psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder from spousal abuse, depression and an eating disorder.

Despite suffering from these illnesses, it was ruled that her mental illness was not serious enough nor did it prevent Campione from knowing right from wrong. Therefore, she was convicted for first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

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