Friday, March 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Murderers

Two Quebec woman, both obviously mentally ill, are going to face completely different outcomes because one committed her crime in Quebec and the other in Vermont.

Louise Desnoyers, 48, drowned her 8-year-old son, Nicholas Desnoyers-Langlois, in Lake Champlain on August 15, 2006. She then tried to kill herself by drinking anti-freeze, but survived and was arrested the next day. Police say she killed the boy to spare him the pain of the imminent separation of her and the boy's father, after he announced that he was leaving her for another woman. She told police that her son was in a 'better place'

She has been incarcerated ever since, awaiting her trial.

A year ago, Judge Ben Joseph rejected a plea bargain that called for a 15 years in prison sentence for second-degree murder because the deal called for Desnoyers to do the time in Canada, where earlier parole is the law. The judge was not keen to accept that.

On Thursday, in a plea bargain, she agreed to plead no contest to second-degree murder. The terms of the agreement calls for between 10 and 15 years in prison, to be served in the United States. She will be formally sentenced at a later date.

In the Saguenay region of Quebec, Cathy Gauthier-Lachance, 34, faces three counts of first-degree murder and one charge of aiding her husband to kill himself, in an alleged murder-suicide pact. On New Year's Day, 2009, her husband and three children were found dead in their home.

Amazingly, three months after the crime, Judge Richard Grenier granted her request for bail after listening to testimony from the accused, her psychiatrist and a relative. He also ordered Gauthier-Lachance to stay in a transition house for women and to continue her therapy.

It's likely that when she does receive her sentence, it be infinitely less harsh than that of Louise Desnoyers and will probably be in a hospital or mental ward.

The chasm between American and Canadian justice is wide, the former seems overly vengeful, while the latter, overly lenient.

Which represents a better solution?

Aside from gun crimes, both countries have similar crimes rates (it's a myth that Canada has less crime than the US.)

But proportionally, for every person incarcerated in a Canadian jail there are 7 inmates in the United States penal system. That's a big, big difference!

The US regularly treats the mentally ill and young offenders, as ordinary criminals, something that the rest of western democracies have given up on. Much of the prison system in the US is privately run and for profit and some argue that it is a factor in the huge prison population. Empty prisons mean less profits.

On the other hand, Canadian prisons are all about getting offenders out as quickly as possible, with punishment an afterthought, often taking a distinct back seat to the cause of rehabilitation. Many victims of violent crime consider the short prison stays a violation of their rights to see justice done.

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