Getting Away with Beheading in Canada

Li's case is by no means unique, as more and more Canadian lawbreakers are using NCR to evade responsibility (and time) for their crimes (here, here and here). For example, Stephan Gaetan Lee was found NCR for the gruesome murder of Steven Tavares in Alberta in November 2004. In December 2005, Lee was committed to a hospital in Edmonton, but to the horror of many Albertans, he was released less than three years later after a mental health review board deemed that Lee no longer posed a threat to society. Lee is now living freely in Edmonton.

But the NCR defense is just one of several devices that enable Canadian criminals to get away with murder. In most cases, judges apply baffling legal formulations such as "pre-trial time served in custody counts as double-time" so that violent criminals can be released from prison as quickly as possible. In other cases, drunk drivers who kill people end up doing little or no time in jail (here, here and here). And sometimes permissive Canadian bail laws allow murderers who are awaiting trial or extradition to walk the streets.

Many Canadians say the problems plaguing their justice system can be directly traced back to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the socially liberal prime minister who held office for some 15 years (from 1968 to 1984) and transformed Canada like no other leader in its modern history.

An iconoclast, Trudeau turned Canada into a socialist country. Using Europe as his model, he radically expanded the reach of the Canadian federal government and he socialized much of the economy. He introduced an oppressive tax regime which, when combined with Canada's notoriously low wages, punished rather than rewarded hard work and initiative. He opposed free trade, nationalized a big chunk of Canada's oil industry, and imposed universal health care. As a staunch anti-American, he worked assiduously to make Canada the antithesis of the United States.

Trudeau also turned Canada into a postmodern country. And nowhere is the strange logic of Trudeauian postmodernism more evident than with Canada's criminal justice system. Soon after taking office, Trudeau announced that henceforth the new (and only) purpose of incarceration in Canada would be the rehabilitation of the offender, not the punishment of criminals, nor the protection of Canadian citizens. As a result, lawbreakers now remain in jail only as long as necessary until they are considered by bureaucrats to no longer pose a threat to society. By removing the punitive element of Canada's justice system, however, criminals now have more rights than do their victims.

Not that this bothers Canada's left-wing political class, which seems far more interested in appearing to be socially progressive than to be administering justice. Since the Li verdict, Canadian newspapers have been chock full of condescending editorials explaining to outraged Canadians why the mentally ill deserve treatment not jail. Consider editorials with titles like "The mentally ill who break the law deserve all mercy and humanity" or trite commentary like "Li didn't appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions" or "To insist on imprisonment for these psychiatrically ill people will set our society back 100-plus years" or "A just system is not always a fair one."

McLean's family is now lobbying for changes to Canada's Criminal Code. They are pushing for new victim-protection legislation they call "Tim's Law," which would prevent a person found NCR from being released into the community. It would mean that the most violent, unpredictable people who have committed a crime would face incarceration for life, with no possibility of parole. According to McLean's mother, Carol deDelley: "Tim's Law is if you voluntarily take an innocent life you will lose your freedom for the rest of your life. I think that's fair and reasonable and I think that's justice."

If recent history is any guide, Canadian policymakers are unlikely to be swayed by deDelley's common-sense logic. But maybe something else will do the trick.

As Canadians engage in a national debate over what to do about killers like Li, violent crime is on the rise all across the country. This could spell big trouble for the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, which are set for February 2010. Vancouver is currently experiencing and unprecedented wave of gang-related murders, which has officials worried that tourists will stay away.

Darcy Rezac, the Managing Director of the Vancouver Board of Trade, says "Canada's record of repeat criminal offenses is amongst the worst in the world. ... On the 40th conviction, a repeat offender in Vancouver currently receives an average 25-days sentence compared to 101 days for the first. This makes no sense. ... This situation is out of control in Canada, and at a crisis level in Vancouver."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a conservative, has pledged to crack down on spiraling gang violence in Canada. He has also vowed to enact legislation that would impose tougher sentences for young people 14 and over found guilty of crimes such as manslaughter, murder, or aggravated assault.

Sensing that strong public support for tougher anti-crime measures may derail their 30-year-old experiment in postmodern social engineering, Canadian Liberals are crying foul. But because of killers like Li, the political center in Canada may be shifting in a more conservative and commonsensical direction.