Two-speed release for murderers

Two-speed release for murderers


Nearly 150 Quebec killers have been declared not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRTM) for 30 years, our Bureau of Investigation has discovered. And these murderers are generally released twice as quickly as others convicted of the same crime.

Our research proves that killers who were convicted NCRTM between 1990 and 2021 get released from the psychiatric hospital after four years and three months, on average. 

In comparison, killers sent to penitentiary must serve a minimum of 10 years in prison. And if they ever get out, which is not guaranteed, they will remain followed for life.

Although some NCRTM murderers remain detained until the end of their days, they generally do not are no longer subject to any conditions nine years after the crime.

When it comes to an NCRTM woman, the steps seem to be taken more quickly. These spend an average of two and a half years in the psychiatric hospital and are released unconditionally after six and a half years.

Four cases

Our Office was able to make these findings through extensive searches of court records and access to information requests (see methodology).

In the following pages, we present in detail four recent cases that occurred in different regions of Quebec. 

How can such a disparity between the length of detention of convicted killers and that of NCRTM murderers be explained?  

“We judged that the NCRTM people had no responsibility at the time of the act, because of their mental state, so we have no control over them. If they do not represent a risk to public safety, they cannot be detained indefinitely in an establishment,” notes Professor Emmanuelle Bernheim, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Mental Health and Access to Justice.


Nevertheless, some might protest against the fact that a father who killed his three children while he was delirious is released after only three years in detention.

Almost 25 years after the tragic events, our Bureau of Investigation found him, but he declined our request for an interview, feeling unable to address the subject publicly . 

He rebuilt his life with a new spouse and found a job. He never had any other run-ins with the law. In order not to harm his rehabilitation, we have decided to conceal his identity.  

“I often hear that someone who has killed is beyond recovery. But psychiatrists will tell you that, when an individual under the influence of mental illness does not have the basic personality compatible with the act, he can recover without risk of recurrence, ”wrote about this case the author Louise-Marie Lacombe in her book Expertises, based on the work of psychiatrist Gilles Chamberland.

Low recidivism

In the facts, this man is no different from most NCRTM killers, it was found. Three out of four NCRTM killers had no criminal record at the time of the fatal act. This was also the case of Abdulla Shaikh, the alleged murderer who shot dead three men in Montreal and Laval last week.

According to our data, since 1990, only 10% of them have committed another criminal act, almost all of them less serious, with the exception of two cases, which ended in the death of another person. 

A conclusion shared by researcher Anne G. Crocker, in a study published in 2014. “Recidivism rates are particularly low for people whose NCRTM verdict follows the commission of a serious crime; this indicates that the release decisions are justified, “said the professor from the University of Montreal. 

Double purpose

It could be explain by the fact that forensic psychiatry units, where stay those who killed when they could not discern right from wrong, have two missions. 

“The protection of the public and the treatment of the patient and his needs, enumerates Dr. Mathieu Proulx. We are not just a treatment team, but also a violence risk management team. »

“Sometimes, we recommend things that our patients will not like, which are against their interests”, continues the head of the forensic psychiatry department of the Philippe-Pinel Institute.

“It’s not white or black like in the traditional justice system with a [release] date. We trust the evolution of the person. There are no criteria to tick on a list to get out, ”adds his colleague Sandrine Martin, criminologist and author of a thesis on the subject.

– With the collaboration of Charles Mathieu and Philippe Langlois 


  • 83% men
  • 2/3 are under 40
  • In general, without employment or diploma
  • 25% have a criminal record
  • Several have already been treated in psychiatry
  • 2/3 show signs of psychosis
  • 20% have a substance abuse problem
  • 79% are on the loose

Guy Turcotte has changed the game

Since the “collective commotion” caused by the first murder trial of the former cardiologist Guy Turcotte, a single jury sent a killer to the psychiatric hospital rather than the penitentiary.

The stakeholders interviewed for this survey are unanimous: this is a turning point in public opinion regarding the verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder (NCRTM).

The Laurentian doctor was convicted NCRTM in July 2011 of the murders of his three- and five-year-old children. He drank windshield washer fluid after the crime, in an attempt to commit suicide.

“It is not at all representative of our patients nor of the homicide files that we have [at the Philippe-Pinel Institute]. It's unfortunate, because we've talked about it a lot, but the people we treat don't have that profile at all,” notes criminologist Sandrine Martin.

Shaken trust

Yet this case has captured the collective imagination to the point of shaking public confidence in justice and toughening the law to add to it. high-risk defendant label, in 2014.

“There is the whole problem of the credibility of the judicial process. […] We have the impression that it is like a scam. If you have a good defense, you're going to have a candy, in the end, and in his case, that's somewhat true, ”says law professor Emmanuelle Bernheim.

The Court of Appeal has however, ordered a new trial, at the end of which Turcotte was sentenced to life in prison without release for 17 years.

Never Again

“It was a collective commotion after the first verdict, people were traumatized. […] It is as if they had said to themselves: never again [we will not let this happen]”, explains criminal lawyer Véronique Robert.

Only one killer has been recognized by NCRTM a jury since, according to our research. And the circumstances were special: he was hospitalized in the psychiatric wing when he strangled two other patients.

This verdict was also rejected in several other high-profile cases such as Luka Rocco Magnotta, Richard Henry Bain and, more recently in Quebec, Carl Girouard.

Admittedly, dozens of murderers have been declared NCRTM since the Turcotte affair, but always following an agreement between the Crown and the defence.

Are we witnessing a hardening of mentalities ? “Perhaps, I wouldn't be surprised,” replies psychology professor Suzanne Léveillée. 


MYTH: When released, NCRTM murderers are lost in the wild. 

REALITY: When they leave, they live in a resource or an apartment approved by the treating team. According to our data, 14% of them were returned to an institution due to a change in their mental state.

MYTH: All people held in the mental hospital are killers. 

FACT: Only 4% of homicides result in an NCRTM verdict. Of all the people held in the psychiatric hospital, the killers represent a minority.

MYTH: Mental illness = violence.

< p>REALITY: False. In fact, these patients are more often victims of violence than aggressors. It is not having a diagnosis of schizophrenia that increases risk, but the presence of active symptoms, such as auditory hallucinations.

MYTH < /strong>: They go out even if they don't take their meds.

FACT:In theory, NCRTM-declared defendants have the right to refuse treatment, pharmacological or otherwise. But in fact, “if they are still psychotic, if we think they are going to stop their medication, if they are violent inside the walls of Pinel, we do not let them out”, details Dr. Mathieu Dufour.

MYTH: In the end, it's always the psychiatrist who decides. 

REALITY : The decisions of the Review Board are generally consistent with the recommendations of the treating teams (8 times out of 10). In Quebec, 10% of decisions rendered are more restrictive.

MYTH: People with mental illnesses are more likely to attack strangers.  

FACT: Victims are immediate family of the NCRTM killer in 60% of cases. In less than 20% of cases, the victim is a complete stranger.



We have analyzed 3100 cases of murder and manslaughter for which a verdict has been rendered since 1990. Of this number, approximately 150 defendants have been recognized NCRTM. From various sources of information at our disposal, we calculated, to within one month, the time spent in hospital detention for each of them. We have chosen the date of the crime as a starting point, since NCRTM murderers are often arrested at the scene of the tragedy. If they were caught later, they may have spent less time in custody than we calculated.

Help only after committing an offence

Access to mental health care must be improved 

For Pierre- Hugues Boisvenu, we must change the P-38 law which allows the police to take an individual to the hospital against his will.

Lack of access to care, insufficient resources, laws difficult to apply: many people with mental health problems have had to commit crimes to finally get help.

“How to prevent the first offence? This is where we should put the emphasis,” sums up Dr. Mathieu Dufour, psychiatrist at the Philippe-Pinel Institute.

“Access to care is terrible these days,” adds psychology professor Suzanne Léveillée.

Many of the people interviewed as part of our survey tried to get help for themselves or a loved one, but without success. Front-line services are overwhelmed and the waiting lists to speak to a psychologist are endless, they note.

As a last resort, families must resort to calling the police to be expensive be valued. “There are parents who are destitute and who feel guilty to file a complaint against a son. “No, no, he will never hurt me that badly.” Families must understand that it is sometimes necessary to go through a formal complaint, even if it is a terrible choice”, insists Suzanne Léveillée.

In fact, under Bill P-38, “a peace officer may, without the authorization of the court, bring a person against his will to a targeted establishment [… if he has] grounds serious to believe that the mental state of the person concerned presents a serious and immediate danger to himself or to others. »

“I should have »

“I should have intervened. I should have called the police, regrets a woman whose sister killed her eldest daughter. This is the thing to do when someone is in psychosis. We think we are hurting them, but in fact, we are saving their lives.

Even if loved ones have the best intentions, dialing 9-1-1 does not guarantee transport to hospital. Mélissa Blais and her husband Janick Turcotte have called the police numerous times to report the disturbing behavior of Mélissa's brother, Jean-Philippe. But that was not enough to avoid a tragedy.

“When someone calls to say that his parent, his child, [his brother] is not well, I think he should be helped right away, it does not interfere with his freedom”, advances the criminal lawyer Véronique Robert .

Changing the law

For Senator Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, the problem lies in the wording of the law. “When talking about danger level, change the word 'immediate' [meaning present moment], to 'imminent' [meaning about to happen],” he says.

< p>“When they don't receive adequate care, the situation persists. It boils in the pot for a while and at some point it bursts. It's unpredictable,” illustrates Marcel Bolduc, co-president of the Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared (AFPAD).

There is, however, another avenue for families, namely the provisional custody order. , says researcher Emmanuelle Bernheim. 

“It does not respond to an emergency, but we can go to the courthouse for that. If the judge agrees, the police will get the person [to be assessed by a psychiatrist],” she describes. (CETM) 

When an accused is found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, his fate depends on the CETM, which can render one of the following four decisions.&nbsp ;

  • Strict detention
  • Detention with conditions (releases, accompanied or not)
  • Conditional release
  • Unconditional release

The CETM takes into consideration, in this order, the safety of the public (which is the overriding factor), the mental state of the accused, his social reintegration and his other needs.

If the accused presents a “significant risk” to the public, to whom he would risk causing serious harm – physical or psychological – his detention will be upheld.

The status is reviewed each year. 

Released too quickly and without follow-up? 

Is the threshold of the Commission for the Review of Mental Disorders (CETM) too low when it comes time to release a patient? Autopsy of an unknown system and possible solutions. 

Many have criticized the CETM after the death of the alleged killer Abdulla Shaikh, who allegedly killed three people last week.

“We rely mainly on the good faith of the patient and the follow-up capacity of hospitals, which are absolutely not equipped to do follow-up,” said psychiatrist Gilles Chamberland in the wake of the tragedy.

When an accused is found not criminally responsible for a crime on account of mental disorder (NCRTM), society must “provide him with the opportunity to receive treatment, not punish him”, the Supreme Court ruled in Winko , in 1999.

Two-speed release for murderers

Emmanuelle Bernheim

The decision also recalls that there must be a “significant risk” to public safety, otherwise the Commission must order the unconditional release. “The problem lies there: we don't really know what the risk is,” laments Professor Emmanuelle Bernheim. We may have developed scales, but the error rate is high in risk assessment. »

“Psychiatric opinion very rarely demonstrates the risk, it rather demonstrates what is good for the patient”, continues the researcher. 

If we want to lower the risk of recidivism, it is still better to send someone to the hospital than to the penitentiary, believes Dr. Mathieu Dufour.

“In terms of public safety, it is better that the accused is NCRTM, because he is going to be treated”, illustrates the psychiatrist of the Philippe-Pinel Institute.

Second opinions

There is still room for improvement, according to various stakeholders.

“The dice are cast in favor of the patient, to the detriment of the victims, who do not have the option of playing an active role in the presentation of the evidence, with a lawyer who could cross-examine [the witnesses]”, says the former Minister of Justice, Marc Bellemare.


“If the psychiatrist says that his patient is ready to be discharged, we should check to see if he is not mistaken. There should be a second opinion from an independent psychiatrist,” asserts Marcel Bolduc.

“There, one wonders if they release them for lack of space… That's what they do in ordinary detention”, concludes the co-president of the AFPAD.

Do you have a scoop to send us?

Do you have something to share with us about this story?

Do you have a scoop that our readers might be interested in?

Email us at or call us directly at 1 800-63SCOOP.