Let’s remember the real victims

Dianne St. Jean

Recently I came across an article about a woman who has just been found fit to stand trial for fatally stabbing another woman in a Shopper’s Drug Mart in Toronto. What struck me was that the attack happened back in 2015.

Although the accused, Rohinie Bisesar and her victim, 28-year-old Rosemarie Junor, did not know each other, the attack is thought to have been premeditated by Bisesar who carried a knife into the building. Bisesar, however, was originally found to be unfit to stand trial. In Canada’s system an individual may be determined to be not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial if they have a mental disorder.

Bisesar has been in custody since her arrest in 2015. At the time she claimed to hear voices and said that she believed she had a microchip implanted inside her. She was determined to be schizophrenic by one psychiatrist.

Then earlier this year she was ordered to undergo additional treatment and assessment at a mental health facility and has been found to be mentally fit to stand trial. She will appear in court this fall.

To me this case represents much of the typical that goes on in Canada’s justice system, where the emphasis turns from the victim (or surviving family members if the victims have been killed) and focuses on the perpetrator, their conditions, and their needs or ‘rights’.

How many times have we heard on the news over the years of individuals either not being charged or found to be not guilty of charges – some as serious as attempted murder, or murder – because they are mentally unstable?

While I believe in compassion for individuals with mental problems, when the scales start tipping too much to the other side, justice no longer exists.

Many people suffer from mental disorders, but not all take a knife or gun and go around killing people randomly. In some cases, weapons aren’t even used, but victims are beaten with the perpetrator’s own hands. The point of blame then, is not a knife, or a gun, it is the individual who themselves have become the weapon. Although we cannot for certainty predict an attack, individuals who commit these offenses have more often than not raised some red flags.

Then there’s the issue of whether or not they are actually mentally ill, or simply have uncontrolled anger. A tendency to violence should put those types of individuals in a different category than the rest of those with mental challenges.

Anyway – back to Bisesar’s case. Taxpayers have footed the bill to keep her in custody and to undergo mental assessments for almost three years to see if she should even be criminally responsible for her actions. Since that time, she has fired two lawyers. Why would a person who is considered to be mentally unstable be allowed to fire a lawyer in the first place – an act that implies an ability to make sound decisions?

When it comes to these cases, there are too many inconsistencies. Either a person is sound enough to make decisions, or they’re not. If she is considered to be sound enough to make legal decisions, such as firing a lawyer, doesn’t it stand to reason she is sound enough to stand trial? Why has it taken almost three years to bring this woman to justice?

My point is this – innocent people are mercilessly killed or injured to the point of having their lives changed forever. The survivors, whether the victims themselves or their families and loved ones, are left to struggle emotionally, and mentally, while having to pay for their own medical bills. In the meantime, the attacker who survives gets free mental and physical care, as well as the attention of news headlines, and yes, even sometimes - sympathy.

I realize there are no cut-and-dried answers. I guess I’m just sounding off frustration in seeing victims being the ones to bear the brunt of suffering while offenders get a better deal out of the situation in the long run.