We often know who they are and what they may do, yet we must let them run free. Here's why

ALEXANDER ROSS February 5 1966


We often know who they are and what they may do, yet we must let them run free. Here's why

ALEXANDER ROSS February 5 1966


We often know who they are and what they may do, yet we must let them run free. Here's why


ANYONE COULD HAVE seen it coming, but nobody did. And so one day last September, a crazy old man named Philip Young waved a .22 calibre pistol at two teenaged girls he'd never met before, forced them into their car, ordered them at gunpoint to drive to a deserted tract of farmland just outside Toronto, shot them both, and then killed himself.

No one will ever know what fierce visions possessed him during those last hours of madness and death. But his widow provided one clue. Her husband, she told reporters afterward, was obsessed with dying, and with the notion that she would swiftly remarry once he was gone. As well, she recalled, he harbored a weird delusion: “He thought I was still eighteen and that the children were not growing up.” In Philip Young's fevered mind, the two teenaged girls he shot and killed may have appeared as his daughter-in-law — and as the woman he had married twenty years before.

There was plenty of advance warning that Young's mental condition had made him as dangerous as an unexploded grenade. In the months before the killings he had become so moody and violent that his family were afraid of him; his wife moved several times for fear he’d find her. In July, when he was sent to hospital after an apparent heart seizure, he became so violent that hospital authorities sent him home and notified the police. In August he tried to disfigure his wife with a steam

iron; she laid a charge of wounding against him. There was a warrant out for his arrest at the time the murders were committed.

Young was clearly dangerous to himself and others, yet neither the family he threatened, nor the hospital that examined him nor the legal system that registered nine theft convictions against him in the past forty-eight years, had taken the steps that would have placed him, and the community he menaced, in a position of security. A diseased mind had made him a potential killer. But through a combination of personal oversights and legal shortcomings, he remained at large until the final tragedy.

Young’s case — which is not an isolated example — underlines a fact that has concerned psychiatrists and penal authorities for years and is now beginning to alarm an increasing number of ordinary citizens: there are too many potentially dangerous people at large in the community. They are walking around, as one psychiatrist puts it, “like loaded bombs’’; and it is obvious that the legal and institutional machinery we have devised to prevent explosions is inadequate for the job.

Although there is little agreement among psychiatrists about how to protect society against potential killers and sex criminals, most agree that the problem is a frightening one. Dr. Anthony Marcus, a University of British Columbia Medical School psychiatrist, recently told of two prisoners he'd examined, who admitted that they might commit murder after their release. / continued overleuj

"If we lock up a potential killer, then we violate his

Today those men are free. “There is no way of preventing their release,” says Dr. Marcus, “and no place they can go for help."

And according to Dr. R. E. Stokes, a psychiatrist for Ontario’s Department of Reform Institutions, there may he hundreds of people at large today in Metropolitan Toronto alone whose mental condition might some day drive them to commit murder. In a single year at the Toronto Forensic Clinic. Dr. Stokes says he saw twenty such cases; and it makes him uneasy to wonder how many he hasn't seen. "We’re all frustrated by these cases,” he says, “and concerned for the safety of their families.”

The problem is not confined to people who are or should be confined to mental hospitals. Of equal concern are the hundreds of convicts now serving prison terms for crimes that may have been the product of mental disorder. If these men were sick when they went to prison, it’s more than likely that they will be just as sick — and, w hat's more, just as dangerous — when they come out.

Allen .1. MacLeod, federal Commissioner of Penitentiaries, estimates that about one fifth of the seventy-four hundred inmates in the federal penitentiary service could benefit from psychiatric care. Yet the service employs only two full-time psychiatrists (and eleven on a part-time basis). Nothing can prevent the release of these inmates once their prison terms are up. And in some cases they're re-

leased under parole before their terms expire. Can't this he risky? "It's not as dangerous as just letting a man out at the end of his sentence,” MacLeod maintains. "No one knows then where he is or what he's doing."

But can’t the risk somehow be avoided, or at least reduced? Some authorities doubt it on the plausible grounds that it is extremely difficult, in a democratic society, to detain a man for a crime he hasn’t yet committed. "We get it both ways from the public.” says Dr. B. H. McNecl, chief of the Ontario Health Department's mental-health branch. "If we lock up someone who could be dangerous, we're trampling on his civil rights. On the other hand, if w'e let him out, we’re endangering the community.”

Admittedly, dealing with dangerously disturbed people involves a conflict between individual rights and the public’s safety. But is this conflict being resolved as well as it might be? The grim record of last year's senseless murders — a year that was little different from any other — suggests that it is not. These killings w'ere all committed by disturbed people: and in most cases, someone in authority knew they were disturbed. The victims’ deaths, therefore, were not accidents. The disturbing fact is. they were tragic crimes that might well have been prevented. For instance:

IN VANCOUVER last December, a seventeen-year-old boy with a four-year history of mental disorder got up in the middle of the night, grabbed an axe and methodically chopped to death Mr. and Mrs. Osborne Kosberg and four of their children and then w'ent straight to his psychiatrist.

One policeman called it the most gruesome crime in the city’s history. It was also one of the most preventable. The boy had been diagnosed as seriously emotionally disturbed ant! had been in and out of various institutions since 1961. After his discharge

Officially, the case

was closed — but murder

was the bloody sequel

in 1964 from voluntary treatment in Crease Clinic, near NewWestminster, BC. he was assigned to an after-care program at the Burnaby Mental Health Centre. The boy dropped out after attending the second session, and — since after-care is a purely voluntary procedure—his case was then marked closed. That was the last time he was officially heard from until the bloody night of December 10.

EAST AERIE, in an isolated cabin near Westbank, BC, a crippled ex-convict named Russell Spears shot it out with a posse of Mounties who’d heard that he was detaining a teenaged housekeeper in the cabin against her will. Spears killed one young Mountic with a rifle shot in the chest, shot the housekeeper in the jaw and then fled into the bush. When the Mounties located and closed in on him ten days later, he shot and killed himself before they could reach him.

Spears had a twenty-two-year record of sexual offenses, including two assaults and. significantly, the rape of a girl he’d once hired as his housekeeper. Once, during a prison escape in Penticton. he’d been involved in another gun duel with police. It should have taken no prodigies of foresight to predict that he was potentially dangerous. Then w hy was he released? Simply because the law provided no means of detaining him beyond the expiry of his prison sentence.

i ATE i AST YEAR, the cabinet commuted the death sentence of Matthew Kerry Smith, who murdered a hank patron during a 1964 bank robbery. It was the final act of still another preventable tragedy.

Smith had been obsessed with robbery and violence since the age of ten. His mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, a condition that some psychiatrists say may he hereditary. In 1961 he stole a car. swerved at a police cruiser to attract attention and

rights. If we free him, we endanger the community"

led police on a high-speed chase through the streets of Toronto. “This kid wanted to be caught," one policeman observed afterward.

Smith received a suspended sentence, on condition that he attend treatment sessions at the Toronto Forensic Clinic. There he was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and received treatment for eighteen months, the length of his sentence. When that period was up, he was Iree of official supervision.

Less than two years later, in July 1964. he charged into a Toronto bank wearing a Beatle wig and a sweatshirt emblazoned with a radio station’s call letters, lired a shot into the ceiling and made off with the cash. One customer. a war veteran named Jack Blanc, borrowed a teller’s gun and chased Smith down the street. After several shots. Smith returned the fire. His first shot blew the top off Blanc’s head. When he was arrested six months later. Smith talked like a boy playing cops and robbers. He called Blanc the bravest man I ever fought," and explained to police that he had robbed the bank as part ot his plan to overthrow the government.

These three cases — and they are typical — have several common features. In every case, the offenders had given abundant advance warning of mental disturbance. In every case they had received some kind ot institutional attention: but when the institution was finished with them, there was no follow-up. And finally, not one of these

three murderers, when examined months or years prior to the crime, was certifiably insane. They were assuredly sick — their crimes proved that — but there was no place to send them either for confinement or for continuing observation. These three people, along with hundreds of other offenders, suffered from a special form of mental disorder. But their crimes demonstrate that we have failed to develop the specialized institutions to contain or treat them.

One reason for this lack is that society still tends to regard insanity as a black-or-white affair. Although there are infinite gradations of mental disorder. ranging from mild eccentricity to raving lunacy, most people — and most of our relevant laws — draw an artificially firm line between sanity and insanity. Yet researchers know that society's most dangerous people — child molesters, rapists, most murderers — fall into a grey area between sickness and mental health.

We call them psychopaths. And although this is an ambiguous term, currently in disrepute among psychiatrists, there is wide agreement on what makes the psychopath a threat to society. He lacks normal control. He is unable to learn from experience. In the words of one authority, he is “always in trouble, profiting neither from experience nor punishment; frequently callous and living for pleasure; showing marked emotional immaturity, lack of sense of responsibility, lack of judgment and an ability to rationalize his conduct so that it appears reasonable, warranted and justified."

They need more help than we provide, and tragedy is the price society pays

Mental institutions are not really satisfactory places to detain these moral cripples, once they’ve committed crimes. “The hospitals don't want them.” says Professor K. Ci. Gray, of the University of Toronto. “They interfere with the program set up for the other patients. They're troublemakers. They become manipulators and ringleaders."

Prisons are also inappropriate. There the opportunities for an intensive program of psychiatric care for these people are almost nonexistent.

But the worst drawback of both types of institution, from the standpoint of the public's protection, is the fact that neither is geared to study the psychopath during his period of detention. As a result, the authorities who musí authorize his release usually

know less about him than they'd like to. When they come to assess his potential danger to society prior to his release from detention, the chances of making a tragic mistake are often larger than they should be.

The most tragic such mistake involved a sexual psychopath named Leopold Dion who was paroled four years ago from Kingston Penitentiary. Dion had a long history of sexual offenses. In 1940, he’d been sentenced to life imprisonment for rape, then paroled in 1956. He broke parole by committing an act of gross indecency which landed him in prison again. There he remained until his second parole w'as granted in September 1962. Less than a year later he stood sobbing in the witness-box of a coroner's court in Quebec City, confessing to the murder of four little boys. He had picked them up in his car on three separate occasions, he testified, driven them to the country and then strangled them.

The National Parole Board, quite understandably, came in for most of the blame. Its officials have never explained the basis of their release decision, since parole records are not public documents. All they've said is that, on the basis of evidence available to them. Dion appeared to be a safe bet for parole.

It seems apparent that the evidence available to the board was grossly insufficient. During the twenty years he spent in prison. Dion never received anything resembling adequate psychiatric treatment. Dr. Bruno Cormier,

the McGill University psychiatrist who worked part-time at St.Vincent de Paul Penitentiary, says he used to see Dion occasionally, but that the prisoner never received anything that could be described as psychotherapy. "With that many prisoners." Dr. Cormier once explained, “you have to be acutely ill to be treated." Dion, like most psychopaths, did not exhibit symptoms of acute mental illness.

It is doubtlul that Dion would have been any less dangerous if he had been assigned a full-time psychiatrist all to himsell. But adequate therapeutic attention would at least have achieved one thing: someone would have known Dion ami would therefore have been in a position to insist that he never be released.

I he Dion affair also demonstrated, at least to some legal critics, that the law of criminal insanity needs revision. The Criminal Code definition, based on the 123-year-old McNaughten Rules, absolves an offender of criminal responsibility if. at the time of the crime, he was mentally diseased "to an extent that renders him incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of an act or omission, or of knowing that an act or omission is wrong." Dion w'as obviously very sick, but by this criterion he was deemed to be as sane as the judge who tried him.

The Canadian Psychiatric Association has pronounced itself satisfied with the code's present wording. At the same time, some authorities have recommended instead a wording that would absolve anyone whose crime w'as the product of a “mental disease or defect" — a definition that would embrace most psychopaths.

But there is no point in amending the law to acknowledge that psychopaths are sick people unless we also build special institutions that acknowledge the same thing. At present there is no place where convicted psychopathic criminals can be both safely confined and intelligently treated. If a mentally disturbed offender is convicted. he goes to prison. If he is mad enough to be acquitted by reason of insanity, he goes to a mental hospital. But there is no middle-of-the-road institution for these people who occupy the grey area between sanity and madness. Until we build some, the chances of disturbed men being free to commit savage, senseless crimes will remain larger than necessary.

There are such institutions in other countries. Denmark has one. So have Massachusetts and New Jersey. They are geared to provide intensive psychiatric care to psychopaths, and they are also equipped to keep them confined for as long as they are dangerous. In Canada, however, we have only taken the first faltering steps toward de/ continued on page 35

continued from page 9

veloping special facilities for this special class of offender.

One such step was the opening, in 1956. of the Toronto Forensic Clinic, a branch of the Toronto Psychiatric Hospital. Offenders who have committed minor but apparently senseless crimes — such as Matthew Kerry Smith's car theft—can be sent there for pre-sentence examination. If found guilty, they can he given suspended sentences or placed on probation—-on condition that they attend regular therapeutic sessions at the clinic for the period of their sentence.

But the clinic's great limitation is that it is geared to treat only apparently harmless psychopaths—men who can safely be allowed to keep their jobs, their home life and their freedom while undergoing compulsory treatment. It can do nothing for dangerous psychopaths, the type who must be confined while undergoing treatment. And, says Barry Swadron, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in mental-health matters, "they're the very ones who need treatment most.”

If a psychopath in Ontario is fortunate enough to convince a jury that he is legally insane, he is in a much better position to receive such treatment than if he'd gone to jail. If acquitted by reason of insanity or found unfit to stand trial, he is sent to the Oak Ridge maximum-security unit of the Ontario Hospital at PenenWfguishene. Oak Ridge has been operating for about thirty years and its management has never been accused of dangerously progressive tendencies. But it does at least provide a secure environment lor dangerous offenders, it is making a serious effort at treatment. and is studying inmates to learn more about criminal insanity.

Other provinces are not so fortunate. In some jurisdictions, the institutions set aside tor detention of the criminally insane are simply lock-up

wings of mental hospitals; attempts at treatment or research are minimal. It should not be surprising, therefore, that the release procedures are correspondingly sketchy. According to Barry Swadron, whose book. Detention Of '1 he Mentally Disordered, is a classic in its field, some provinces are too casual in their approach to releasing mental patients, and some are too harsh. "It can be just as dangerous,” he says, "to detain a man too long as it is to let him out before he's ready.”

What's needed, he says, are review boards composed of psychiatric and legal authorities who would be obliged to report annually to the government on whether each patient should be released — regardless of whether the patient has requested a hearing. "That way, ' says Swadron. "the provinces w-ould be forced to give constant attention to the mental condition of the patients under their charge. They’d he better equipped to judge when a patient is ready for release—and when he isn't."

An additional safeguard would be the establishment of compulsory aftercare services for former mental patients and ex-convicts with demonstrable psychopathic tendencies. If the seventeen-year-old Vancouver axemurderer had been required to attend therapeutic sessions after his release from the mental hospital, the crime he committed might never have occurred. It is similarly obvious that mandatory supervision for all ex-convicts would mean a substantial reduction in the recidivist rate.

At present, nearly all after-care service for ex-prisoners is handled by voluntary agencies such as the John Howard Society. Their efforts are laudable, but not sufficient. Says Allen MacLeod, the penitentiary commissioner, "Every man who leaves an institution should have some form of government supervision.” He envisions a system under which many more prisoners would be paroled but closely supervised on the outside by a vastly expanded parole system.

Such innovations won’t come in the near future. But they may come eventually, as part of a gradual extension of penal services in Canada, and a gradual upgrading of mental-health services in each province. One such improvement, scheduled for this year, is the establishment of community release centres for penitentiary prisoners in Vancouver, Winnipeg. Toronto and Montreal. In effect, they'll be prison boarding houses. Selected inmates will be transferred to the centres two months before their scheduled release, in an attempt to soften the transition from confinement to freedom. Also, in the next five years the penitentiary service hopes to open five medical-psychiatric centres across the country. These will he special hospitals for prisoners who become mentally or physically ill, and their effect is bound to be beneficial.

Piecemeal reforms such as these wall ease the problem, although they can never solve it entirely. “There’s no clear-cut legislative answer,” says Dr.

B. H. McNeel. “We simply need more competent people searching for solutions in individual cases.” ★