The Matthew de Grood verdict once again calls into question how criminal justice is dispensed in this country. No one is denying de Grood was likely in the throes of a psychotic episode when he stabbed five young people to death at a Calgary house party in 2013. And no one is denying a psychiatric institute may very well be the best place for him. But for the families of the five victims, Jordan Segura, Lawrence Hong, Kaiti Perras, Joshua Hunter and Zackariah Rathwell, it is cold comfort. It is also a certainty, with this ruling, that justice will never be done.
Not that justice in this case would bring the dead back to life or bring peace to these grieving families, but it might have brought some closure.
Now de Grood will be put in a mental institution, put on meds and receive counselling, but how long before he is out again? If Vince Li, the man who cut off the head of a victim on a Greyhound Bus, is any indication—perhaps five years. And it’s whoopsy-do, your cured; and on your way.
Even if de Grood is designated as the highest level of risk as a psychiatric patient (NCR), in Canada we don’t do lifetime institutionalization anymore except in the most untreatable cases where the person is deemed an ongoing threat to society. If de Grood “responds well to treatment” he will eventually be freed, despite the five young deaths that can be laid at his feet.
There is something wrong with the system in this country that there is no middle ground between criminal and psychiatric assessment of the accused. He is either fully responsible and deserves tough sentencing, or his isn’t, and gets remanded into psychiatric care for as long or as short a time as those treating him deem he should remain. When there are multiple victims, as in this case, or one particularly heinous crime, as in the Li case, there should be some sort of mandatory minimum, perhaps as much as ten years, both to be sure the person who committed the act is medically controlled and to be sure some sense of justice has been carried out.
Some may call this type of sentence punitive, but so what if it is? There should be time served for serious criminal acts like murder, regardless of the state of mind of the killer. Sure, we can have compassion for de Grood, his ongoing psychological problems, his family, but why should our compassion for the killer outweigh our compassion for those whose lives he took? And their grieving family members?
Whichever way you choose to look at it, de Grood has gotten away with murder.