Readers may recall Mr. Li was found not criminally responsible in the killing of Timothy McLean, a carnival worker who was beheaded on a Greyhound bus near Portage La Prairie, Manitoba in July 2008. Psychiatric evidence at Mr. Li's trial suggested he is a schizophrenic who suffered a major psychotic episode when he killed Mr. McLean. At the time Mr. Li thought Mr McLean was a space alien who was trying to take over the world.
That space alien delusion is what rendered Mr. Li not criminally responsible. Killing a space alien is not a crime. If the facts as understood by Mr. Li were true he would have committed no crime and, indeed, he would have saved humanity. That does not appear to be the case for Mr. Magnotta.
Based on his antecedents it seems likely Mr. Magnotta knew precisely what he was doing -- he may well have lacked the appropriate empathy for his victim -- but he knew he was killing a human. In fact it seems Mr. Magnotta knew he was killing a boyfriend who had ended his relationship with Mr. Magnotta -- a painfully ordinary basis for homicide -- jealousy.
Our criminal system is based on the view that we punish moral agents who do wrong and know they do wrong. Someone who could not appreciate the nature of his or her acts or know that they were wrong because of a mental illness should not be punished -- perhaps treated, perhaps separated from society -- but not punished.
Section 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada states, in part:
16. (1) No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.
To establish a claim of mental disorder the party raising the issue must show on a balance of probabilities, if accused, beyond reasonable doubt if Crown:
first that the person who committed the act was suffering from a "disease of the mind", and
second, that at the time of the offence they were either 1) unable to appreciate the "nature and quality" of the act, or 2) did not know it was "wrong".
It is not good enough that the accused had no feelings of remorse for or shame towards the victim if he or she knew what they were doing was wrong. The issue isn't a lack of appropriate feeling but rather a lack of understanding.
Someone found not criminally responsible is not punished but they are put under the control of a review board for treatment. The review board can grant an absolute discharge, order a person to be detained in a hospital or grant a conditional discharge, allowing the person to live in the community subject to specific conditions. Public safety is a primary consideration for the review board.