Federal government trumpets victims rights in wake of Turcotte release

OTTAWA – The federal government sprang to the microphone Thursday to denounce the release of a Quebec doctor who killed his two children and trumpet long-promised new rules for those found not criminally responsible.

Guy Turcotte — convicted in the 2009 stabbing deaths of his three-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, but found not criminally responsible — was freed Wednesday after just 46 months under psychiatric care.

The Harper government, which rarely misses the opportunity to burnish its tough-on-crime armor, seized on the chance to repeat its promise to tighten up the rules on such releases in the name of victims’ rights.

Turcotte’s release infuriated Isabelle Gaston, his ex-wife and mother to the murdered children, who described the decision as “freeing a criminal.”

“Isabelle Gaston does not deserve to live in fear of her children’s killer and neither do other victims of similar crimes across Canada,” Heritage Minister James Moore told a news conference Thursday.

“Isabelle Gaston deserves better than this. The system has failed her.”

Moore repeated the government’s plan for legislation to deal with high-risk offenders found not criminally responsible for their actions on account of a mental disorder who may pose a threat to public safety if released.

The new law may require longer waits between formal reviews of the status of people held in psychiatric hospitals after being found not criminally responsible, he suggested.

“The planned legislation will ensure that public safety is paramount in determining how persons found not criminally responsible should be addressed by a mental health review board and courts.”

Ironically, Moore’s comments came a day after Richard Wagner, the country’s newest Supreme Court justice, spoke in an interview about the need for Canadians to continue to have faith in the system.

Fewer people in Quebec are turning to the courts, Wagner said. ”I hope it is not because people no longer believe in the justice system, because if this is the case, this is the beginning of the end.”

Last summer’s Turcotte verdict, which prompted outrage in Quebec, should have been better explained, he added.

With more information, he said, “I think (Quebecers) would have accepted not the result, but the idea it could be reached.”

Since the verdict, Turcotte had been in Montreal’s Pinel institute where a panel Wednesday found him mentally fit to be released.

Turcotte told the hearing Wednesday that he wants to lead a regular, productive life — but he’s concerned about his own notoriety.

“I’d like to work, to do some good around me,” the cardiologist told the panel.

“My biggest challenge will be dealing with others, with the public. There’s been a lot of badmouthing, a lot of things that will be said. There will be a lot of prejudice against me.”

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