One of the general foundational principles of our justice system, is that a perpetrator ought not benefit from his or her crime. So, for example, someone who murders their spouse will not receive a payout if named as a beneficiary under the victim’s life insurance policy.
Those who have read Lauren Liang’s earlier blog on assisted suicide will recall this public policy imperative as it relates to that issue. It is an important principle that surfaces in any number of situations.
But what happens if a murder is committed by a spouse who who is held to be not guilty of the crime by reason of insanity. In our criminal justice system, a person must have the intent ( mens rea) and commit the act ( actus reus) to be held criminally responsible. If the criminal mind is not there through insanity, then the verdict is not guilty even though they committed the act. The result will be that the person will be held for treatment “at the pleasure of the Crown”. This is a disturbing concept to many Canadians- that a person can commit a heinous act but escape prison punishment because of a claimed mental illness.
In actual fact courts do not lightly entertain the insanity defence and Canadian institutions for the criminally insane are not generally known as being country clubs. Further, the time in the institution is indeterminate such that an inmate can be held for life if the psychiatric determination is that the person has not been treated.
Now to the case at hand. Recently the Ontario Courst of Appeal held that Mr. Dhingra who suffered a psychotic episode when he killed his estranged wife was entitled to a $51,000 insurance policy because at his trial he was held not be criminally responsible. His own children are divided as to whether to support their father; his daughter forgives him and has accepted that he suffered from a grievous mental illness; his son does not forgive his father. For Mr. Dhingra’s part he says has no recall of the events.
So two bedrock principles of our legal system have come together in an apparently reconcilable way, although I doubt the result will satisfy some of our more cynical readers.