10/25/2014 11:42 EDT | Updated 12/25/2014 05:59 EST

Not Everyone Who Commits Terrible Crimes Has Mental Illness


Like the rest of Canada, I was particularly horrified to learn of the events that happened in Ottawa. As I was sitting in my classroom learning about torts and contracts I was also reading tweets in real-time about shootings at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier/War Memorial and inside the Centre Block of Parliament Hill.

I have walked freely around Parliament Hill and the War Memorial many times and I have always felt extremely safe. Instead of feeling safe, people were running for their lives and, as we now know, one of our soldiers tragically lost his life.

As I've mentioned before in previous blogs, during a time of tragedy we rush to ask questions but I find we also make assumptions and rush to conclusions. Yes, I realize the media has been able to uncover some facts some of which are being confirmed by authorities and government sources and it's these facts that will ultimately make us safer and hopefully prevent such an incident from ever happening again.

In addition to mourning Cpl. Cirillo, the country, if not the world, is wondering what was going through the mind of shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. I've heard so many people say "the shooter was nuts," or "he went crazy," but I was particularly troubled by a tweet from Postmedia national political columnist Stephen Maher.

I don't know what graph Maher was referring to in his tweet however studies show the majority of people with mental illness are not violent and in fact are more likely to be a victim of a violent crime then commit one. In other words somebody without mental illness is more likely to commit a violent attack than somebody with mental illness.

CBC News reported that Zehaf-Bibeau sought help for his crack addiction and begged a British Columbia judge to keep him in jail so he could help get the help he so badly needed. This same news report quotes the psychiatric report on Zehaf-Bibeau as saying "I am unable to find any features or signs of a mental illness and although he seems to be making an unusual choice this is insufficient basis for a diagnosis of mental disorder."

I want to make it absolutely clear: I am not sticking up for, nor am I defending Zehaf-Bibeau whatsoever. I, like the rest of Canadians, am sick at what he has done. What I am defending though is people just like myself who live with mental illness. We are generally non violent people. Yes, some people with mental illness commit violent crimes but the majority of people who commit these same crimes are perfectly sane and do not have a mental illness.

Maher's tweet is wrong, it is inflammatory, and it is an injustice to those living with mental illness and he should be held to a higher standard. For the record, I met Maher at an event last year for people living with mental illness just steps away from the War Memorial in Ottawa. From what I recall Maher was looking to help take the stigma out of mental illness, not add to it. Maybe I was wrong.

A lot of people who end up committing terrible crimes belong in jails -- not mental hospitals.


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