“The oath that lawyers take when admitted to the bar compels them to work for greater justice. This does not mean that they work only for justice when they get paid, but perhaps more idealistically, that they work to create a more just society."

~ Supreme Court Justice Major

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Pertinent and Timely Questions in Criminal Law (The Wrap Up) ~ Part III

UPDATE: Thoughts from some of those in the trenches (the president of the NSGEU and a retired community mental health worker) on these sorts of situations: 
Both Jessome and Reece agree that people with diminished capacity should not face criminal charges for their actions. They say there are alternative ways to address their behaviors. 
“No matter what the disability is, consequences can be put in place so people understand that this is not an acceptable behavior,” said Jessome. 
“Employers need to minimize the risk, and they don’t do a good job at it. 
“There are a lot of people who don’t stay in the profession where they work with people with disabilities because they can’t get the safety issues death with.”

I received the following comment on this post regarding Anna Marie Tremoni's interview with Nichele Benn and her mother on CBC's The Current:
The problem is that community services has too many individuals to care for, and too many of these cases fall between the cracks of mental health or community services. However, if you were to look into the history of these clients, you cannot just blame bi-polar for the reason for the Amanda Murphy assault charges. Have there been many assualts done by this woman?I'm guessing yes. And her family.. How long has she been apart from them? I'm guessing they haven't been able to manage her for years and she's probably been in and out of instutitions and group homes. You are right, more policies do need to come into play for housing. However, letting serious offences be pushed under the rug by saying she is either cognitively delayed and/or has a serious mental illness is not solving the problem.
After I finished shaking my head, I asked myself what, in particular, it was that some people just aren't getting. The answer, of course, was obvious - well to me, anyway. They're missing the fact that (on at least one level) this isn't about bipolar or epilepsy or any other such condition. It's about developmental age.


But before we go there, let's back up for a second; back up and try to wrap up this trilogy on individuals with special needs and the law.

There are various places where I, personally, believe the criminal justice system could be doing a far better job when it comes to individuals with special needs. One, in particular ( a pet peeve of mine, if you will) is in how it treats complainants with special needs.

In particular, I am referring to the "hate propaganda" provisions of the Criminal Code, which create an offence for "advocating or promoting genocide", defined as certain stipulated acts "committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part any identifiable group". As you will recall, although the term "iidentifiable group" includes any section of the public distinguished by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation, there is mo mention of disability. The same is true with respect to the provisions of the Code concerning the promotion of hatred.

A similar pet peeve of mine is how the criminal law takes absolutely no notice of a complainant's intellectual or developmental age when it comes to luring an individual to engage in sexual activity. We protect our "children", of course; but anyone over the age of 18 years is fair game, no matter their developmental age.

And yet when it comes to the Nichele Benns and Amanda Murphys of the world, I must admit that I did not initially see these situations as a problem with the criminal justice system, per se. My reasoning being that since such cases should not be brought within 1000 yards of the criminal justice system in the first place, there should be no problem.

If the rest of the "system" (read, in this case, the Departments of Community Services and Health) was working properly, charges would never have been laid in these situations. The only *fault* I initially saw with our criminal law system was that prosecutors were exercising their discretion to lay charges in cases where a completely different decision should have been made.


At least that was the way I saw it until I read about Amanda Murphy's most recent court appearance. It was this paragraph in this story that caused light to dawn on this particular marble head.
“I’m not sure,” Gerald MacDonald, Murphy’s lawyer, said when asked after her appearance if there is a precedent stating that someone has to be dealt with by the court system according to their chronological age rather than their mental one.
That, you see, was a brilliant question asked of Mr. MacDonald. That is *the* question that needs to be asked and answered properly in these cases. And I say "properly" because if the answer happens to be that there is no such precedent, than it is long past time to create one.

The discerning reader will have noted that this very issue of whether or not there is any precedent for dealing with an accused according to their chronological age rather than their mental age is the very same difficulty we faced in pet peeve #2, above, where no recognition is given to a complainant's developmental age, even if the defendant is well aware of it.

All of which made me realize that a significant problem we face with Canada's criminal justice system is that it does not appear to offer any recognition of an adult's developmental age; not with respect to
  1. the effect it has on an accused's ability to formulate the mens rea necessary to be found guilty of committing most crimes (including both assault and assault with a weapon);
  2. the public policy issue of whether we should morally be prosecuting individuals who would not be subject to the criminal law if their developmental age matched their chronological age; and
  3. the public policy issue of why the criminal law fails to protect individuals it would otherwise protect if their developmental age matched their chronological age.
Perhaps as an aside (perhaps not), those last two points are almost enough to make a person question if our criminal justice system is guilty of discrimination, if it violates some of those very "fundamental rights and freedoms" that Canada's Constitution vows to protect. How ironic that would be.

But that, my dear friends, take us back to that anonymous commenter - the person who, much like our criminal justice system, apparently fails to see that (at least one of) the issue here is that Amanda and Nichele have developmental ages of children.

Of course this isn't the only thing this person fails to understand.

He/she asks "How long has she been apart from [her family]? I'm guessing they haven't been able to manage her for years and she's probably been in and out of instutitions and group homes."

Answer: Amanda has not been "in and out of institutions for years" - presumably* she has been in an institution since she left her parents's home. This is not the case of an "uncontrollable" person who moves in and our of institutions due to her mental illness. We are talking about about an individual who is severely mentally challenged; who, given our government's historic and current method of dealing with such people, will be in an institution for the remainder of her life, no matter how well she "behaves".

He/she also asks "Have there been many assualts done by this woman?" Answer: Amanda has been charged with two "assaults". But, as long as we're asking and answering that question, I have one for you. I wonder just how many assaults might have been committed against Amanda in those very same institutions.

One last point - he/she states that "Letting serious offences be pushed under the rug by saying she is either cognitively delayed and/or has a serious mental illness is not solving the problem". First, we might want to recheck our definition of "serious" given that we apparently consider throwing a shoe and a foam (yes, I said foam) letter at someone to constitute assault with a weapon.

But secondly (and, arguably, much more importantly), I'm not suggesting that such incidents be pushed under the rug - I am calling for them to be dealt with in a manner appropriate to these individual's rather unique situations and that they be given the counseling needed to develop the tools required to be able to control their behaviour before it escalates to the point where they literally have no control over it. This is what I advocate for, as opposed to them being swept out of the purview of the Department of Community Services (where they rightly belong) and into the criminal justice system.

2 comments:

Cottage Country Pest Control said...

One of the thing that frustrates me no end is that in altogether too many cases, the acting out behaviour is clearly a result of the individual's needs not appropriately being met. We don't give them what they need, and then we punish them - at much higher cost, once they become involved in the criminal justice system, than the cost of meeting their needs properly in the first place. Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

This Province as a whole needs to wake up and acknowledge the needs of the intelligibly disabled have not been met. Starting with the most important fact that in all aspects of the individual's life one needs to first and foremost consider the individuals "developmental age" and not ignore it with comments like "there are lots of adults whom are immature but it doesn't give them the right to break the law". Society needs stop making excuses and pretending that everyone is "grown up and responsible" based on their chronical age.

You would NEVER have the same expectations or punishment of a child say whom is "5 yrs of age" as an adult, yet the intellegically delayed adult with the "IQ" of a 5 year old is endlessly punished for acting their developmental age because adults insist they act and be treated like adults. The whole thought process is "crazy" people. Open your eyes.

Yes, we want to teach as many adult skills as possible to help the intellectually challenged to fit in the adult world as best as possible and be given as many adult responsibilities, rights and challenges as they are able to learn and manage. This is something every child strives for but when things blow up, which will happen sooner or later as we are dealing with people not able to grasp the full picture of adult hood, society should look at how they would deal with a child with the same behaviour at the same developmental age.

Society should also look at the number of intellectually delayed adults that have been able to meet the expectations placed on their behaviours and rather than punish those not yet able to have the self control demanded of them, proper support and counselling should be put in place to have them develop positive outcomes and not get stuck in a pattern of negative behaviours. Punishment must be look at in relation to where the person is developmentally in order to promote on going growth.

Society's other method of dealing with this group in the population has been to drug them up. The studies are in people. Meds alone are not the solution, these individuals need skilled staff trained to work with the programs and skills that these individuals would receive in therapy (which is seldom offered and if offered the sessions are limited are don't follow the individuals needs as they develop and face new challenges giving support as needed) if society was serious in helping rather than locking them away individuals.