Mentally ill are no more violent than the general population

The Straight’s report on the Stephen Lowry/Dorle Kneifel case unfortunately gave the wrong impression on several critical points, notwithstanding that Dr. Kneifel has our sympathy for suffering a horrible experience ["Crime and injustice", November 11-18].

We followed the case closely and also attended most of the trial.

The headline in the Straight’s print version was “Crime and injustice”, but there was no injustice. There was a long trial where the onus was on the defence to establish that the defendant was not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder, and he was so found. The Crown was given full latitude to argue the opposite, which it did at great length. Stephen Lowry was indeed quite ill at the time of the act in question.

It was equally misleading to say the trial was “controversial” because of contradictory expert testimony, suggesting there was something murky and indefinite in the judge’s findings. Opposing “expert” testimony is quite common in trials–not at all controversial. The judge found, and we agreed, that some of the expert witnesses were more credible than others. Forensic psychiatrist Elizabeth Zoffmann, called by the defence, was knowledgeable, credible, and convincing, and withstood repeated questioning by the Crown.

The headline on the Straight’s front page, “Veiled Justice”, was therefore inappropriate. The trial and the judge’s long written decision demonstrated open and transparent justice.

We ourselves weren’t surprised by the judge’s findings. We knew from our own extensive front-line experience with mental illness, going back 25 years, that Stephen was psychotic at the time he attacked Dr. Kneifel.

Finally, on the Straight’s coverage, the subhead on the front page, “an encounter with evil", was incorrect, being stated as fact rather than being attributed to Dr. Kneifel. The encounter was with somebody who was severely ill. The violence Dr. Kneifel endured was terrible, and may leave psychological scars for a long time to come, but it was a manifestation of severe illness at work, not evil at work.

Something also needs to be said about the mentally ill and violence, about which there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding. The mentally ill are no more violent than the general population, probably a lot less violent”¦.when they receive treatment and stay on their medication.

Untreated mental illness, though, is a different matter. Those with schizophrenia and mania without treatment are more prone to violence. The most likely sufferers of such violence, moreover, are other mentally ill, because of greater proximity and a general vulnerability to victimization–a double whammy for those with the illness. Family members are also more likely to be affected.

Fortunately, treatment does work. The mentally ill who are freed from their psychosis by medication can recover the core of the person they were before they fell ill and function well in society. We advocate for a proactive approach to treatment, especially for the sake of the mentally ill themselves who suffer terrible trauma and have to painstakingly and with enormous difficulty put their lives together again.

Herschel Hardin / President, North Shore Schizophrenia Society



james green

Nov 23, 2010 at 7:58am

Say whatever you want but you miss the core point here. Firstly, mentally ill people are not all violent. The ones who are need to be kept off of the streets and if any person or organization knows someone is violent, mentally ill or not they should be working to keep these violent persons off the streets and in facilities where they cannot harm people. period. If your group knew of Lowry's illness I would ask what did you to protect the doctor and others from him. Did you track him, get him treatment, do anything to protect the doctor?
That's the second point you miss. If you knew someone could be dangerous what were and are you doing to protect society. These are central questions and an answer is necessary. In short I am much more concerned for victims than those who savagely them.

Janet Scott

Nov 25, 2010 at 12:50pm

I have endured decades of the torture and the mental anguish of living with severe mental illness.It infuriates me that there are still people out there who entertain the delusion that when someone who is clearly in the clutches of a psychotic break, their state of mind should not be taken into consideration. We are talking about citizens with broken minds!! When my mind was at its most broken, I couldn`t remember a conversation I had had twenty minutes ago because of the conversations that were yakking on non-stop internally in my mind. And yet, most people didn`t know that I was confused and suffering extreme pain. Because of societal stigma, I learned to painstakingly hide most of what I was going through.

I have been well into my recovery for many years, now.

Assuming that people in active psychosis can premeditate and make detailed decisions that reflect their natural judgement is like saying that people who have just broken both legs should be running marathons...
The only difference is that we`re talking about a broken brain...

Wake up, people!

Hannah Brown

Dec 4, 2010 at 10:48pm

Whatever wrong impressions the Straight's article on the Lowry/Kneifel case may have given, it's detailed and graphic description of the assault that occured cannot be denied.

To describe Dorle Kneifel's experience as "horrible" or to suggest that the terrible violence that she endured "may" leave psychological scars for a long time to come, minimizes the impact of this brutal and terrifying assault.

Whatever the intention or state of mind of the perpetrator at the time of the attack, the experience for the victim was the same: pain is pain, trauma is trauma, suffering is suffering. That the offender was "quite ill" at the time does not mean that the attack hurt any less. Getting your skull smashed in is getting your skull smashed in.

What this article raises is issues about the current criminal justice system and why when an offender is not found criminally responsible for a crime, due to a mental disorder, the nature of the act they commit and its impact are dismissed.

And does the act by a person who, in a state of psychosis, runs screaming down the street smashing car windscreens, have the same degree of impact and cause the same degree of physical and emotional harm as the person who, in a state of psychosis, suffocates and sexually assaults someone and tries to murder them, twice?

This case is about many issues but it is not about maligning the mentally ill. And whatever one may think of the judge's ruling, Dolre Kneifel has a need and a right for her experience to be validated by the justice system and victim services.