If you’re in Toronto, you know which one I’m talking about. Just yesterday, the verdict in the trial of Richard Kachkar came out. In case you’re unaware, Kachkar is the man who killed Sgt. Ryan Russell, a Toronto police officer, a few years ago. Russell’s death was hugely covered in the media, him being the first officer to die in the line of duty in quite some time.
Kachkar ran over Russell with a stolen snowplow. The verdict, by the way, is that he is not criminally responsible for his actions.
Now, if I were writing about this story when I was, say, even two years younger, I’d probably have a very different tone while writing this post. I’d be outraged. I’d demand that Kachkar be brought to justice and that he deserves to be in jail for what he did.
But here’s the thing: Kachkar was found not criminally responsible due to insanity. More on that in a minute.
But now a disclaimer: I am in no way trying to defend Kachkar. There is no possible way I could ever say that what he did is something worth defending. But what I am saying is that, unfortunately, there’s way too much “lock them up forever” mentalities out there.
My eyes really opened to this last year, when I took a journalism ethics class. We learned a lot about things like libel laws and when it’s okay and not okay to record conversations. The piece of info that will stay in my mind for a long time is one about the term “walking” and about lawyers.
Many a newspaper will use the term “walk” when someone alleged to have committed a criminal act is able to avoid being punished for the charges against them. The very use of the word “walk” is loaded; it implicitly says that the alleged criminal deserves punishment but isn’t getting it. It betrays a sense of disgust that “criminals” are being set free.
What this phrase also ignores is that everyone has the right to a fair trial and due process under the law. People ask why lawyers defend criminals. When it comes down to it, the lawyer is making sure that the alleged is able to secure their right to a fair trial.
And then there’s the Kachkar trial. He got his due process and he was found not criminally responsible because he was mentally ill at the time. I don’t remember where I read this recently, but someone said that things will be a lot more productive when we as a society start to treat the mentally ill as sick people as opposed to bad people.
There’s a huge stigma attached to mental illness, and so many people seem to want to shut their eyes to the fact that mental illness is real, and can’t just be talked away or drugged away. Rosie DiManno in the Star today mentioned another case that fits well here. Several years ago, a man beheaded another man on a Greyhound bus.
The man was also mentally ill and was therefore not criminally responsible. A few years ago I remember reading an interview with the accused. This was long after the beheading incident. I was fascinated to read that the man was suffering heavily from schizophrenia and he said that a voice told him to kill the man he killed. He no longer hears that voice and seemed genuinely repentant for what transpired.
Again, I am not trying to say that what happened is in any way fine, but I am trying to say that we need to look a little more seriously at mental illness and try to do something to help get rid of it as opposed to punish it.