Not Criminally Responsible Due to a Mental Disorder

In the News

The case of Carl Girouard from Québec City has been in the headlines. The 26-year-old man admits he killed two people with a sword. But he claims he can’t be held criminally responsible due to a mental disorder. What does this mean?

Not criminally responsible

Our criminal law assumes that people have all their mental abilities and can be held responsible for crimes.

But people can be found not responsible for crimes if they have a mental disorder when they commit the crime. A mental disorder is a state of mind that affects reasoning and that is not caused by alcohol or drugs.The disorder must prevent the person from

  • understanding the nature of their actions, or
  • knowing they did something wrong.

When we say people don’t understand their actions, we mean this: they don’t know what they’re doing, or don’t understand the impact of their actions. An example would be a person who strangles someone without understanding this could lead to death.

When we say people don’t know their actions are wrong, it’s important to distinguish between a “bad act” and an “illegal act.” People can be found not criminally responsible when they don’t realize the act is bad, even if they know it’s illegal. An example is when someone murders because they are convinced the other person is a dangerous serial killer. The killer knows the act is illegal but thinks it’s the right thing to do given their mental state.

There are still consequences

People found not criminally responsible for crimes are not guilty.  

But there are still consequences. The court must make one of these decisions:

  1. free the person with no restrictions
  2. free the person but with rules to respect
  3. order the person to be held in a hospital

The court can also let a kind of court called a “’Review Board” make the decision. The Board is also responsible for reviewing the person’s situation over time to see if she is still a danger to public safety.