Winnipeg Stabbings Part 2 (Guilt and Psychosis) - Ashley Bains
This blawg is a part of a two-part series examining homicide cases in Winnipeg and how second-degree murder could potentially be reduced to manslaughter. The case I will be discussing in this blawg is R v Belyk (“Belyk”), a decision by the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench (“MBQB”) in which it was argued that the accused did not have the requisite intent for his act of homicide to be considered second-degree murder. I will first go through the details of the case, and then I will provide my opinion and compare the cases from each blawg.
A murder with allegations of drug usage
In Belyk, Mr. Belyk, the accused, jumped into the victim’s vehicle at a gas station early one morning and stabbed her to death. When observed at the gas station prior to this attack, it was said that the accused was non-responsive to any questions and that there was “something different or off in his face”. Further witnesses described the accused’s behaviour as being like a zombie. Even further witnesses, such as RCMP officers, stated similar things about the accused’s behaviour. It was said that, prior to the attack, the accused had used drugs including “methamphetamine, cocaine, THC, Xanax and diazepam”. Specifically, expert testimony from a doctor indicated that the accused may have been suffering from substance-induced psychotic disorder.
Considering all of this, the issue in Belyk was whether the accused had the requisite state of mind for second-degree murder. The accused argued that this was not demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt by the Crown. They submitted that this failure derived from the fact that the accused was suffering from a substance-induced psychotic disorder and was still in this state when the attack occurred. The defence relied upon the witness statements outlined above, including expert witness statements from doctors as well as previous decisions, such as R v. Bradburn, in which the MBQB determined that a “half-drunk” man did not have the requisite state of mind for murder.
On the other hand, the Crown in Belyk submitted that the doctor’s testimony should not be afforded weight because his expertise was in emergency room medicine rather than in psychiatric matters. In addition to this, there were no drugs detected in the accused’s system. Further, the Crown stated that the other witnesses’ testimonies were contradictory at certain points. In addition to this, the Crown brought to light certain evidence that showed that the accused had an operating mind. For example, surveillance evidence showed that the accused was not acting out in the gas station and that he was ducking when vehicles passed.
Clearly, both sides had compelling arguments and to determine whether the accused had the requisite state of mind for second-degree murder the court had to carefully consider everything when making this decision, especially because the evidence is circumstantial. Particularly, as stated in R v Villaroman, if any reasonable inference can be drawn regarding the case besides guilt, then the guilt of the accused has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. In Belyk, the MBQB stated that the theory that the accused was in a psychotic state was still plausible considering all of the evidence. Therefore, it was determined that the accused did not have the requisite state of mind for murder.
Guilt and psychosis
Belyk was very interesting because it concerned something that featured recently in the media and because both sides’ arguments were compelling. The number of witnesses that testified about the accused’s behaviour was substantial, demonstrating how much evidence is sometimes needed to determine what an accused’s state of mind had been at the time of an attack. Further, although the behaviour of the accused in Belyk very problematic, it is important for courts to take into consideration psychotic behaviour despite any drugs being active in the system. The need to consider psychotic activity independently of simultaneous usage of drugs is important because effects of drugs can persist beyond the usage period. As a result, Belyk is an important case for Manitoba. The amount of drug-related behaviour present throughout this province is staggering. It is worth mentioning that, on a separate occasion from this incident, the accused in Belyk had committed an aggravated assault. I cannot help but think that, if the legal system had looked into the accused’s drug-related behaviour at that point, this incident could have been prevented by rehabilitation. Nevertheless, it is my hope that the justice system continues to take into account psychosis when determining guilt and perhaps even works towards implementing some sort of rehabilitation to prevent further recurrence.
Although Belyk and the previously discussed case, R v Assi (“Assi”), are quite different besides the presence of a seemingly random stabbing, it is interesting to see different methods that Manitoba judges have used to determine whether an incident was a second-degree murder or manslaughter. In both Belyk and Assi, the process of determining whether murder should be reduced to manslaughter was laid out in an accessible format. Furthermore, discussing Belyk and Assi, we gain a better understanding of how Winnipeg homicides are dealt with within Canada’s justice system.