Woman Found Not Criminally Responsible in Fatal PATH Stabbing

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Rohinie Bisesar (“Bisesar”), accused of fatally stabbing 28-year-old Rosemarie Junor (“Junor”) in a Shoppers Drug Mart in Toronto’s underground PATH system in 2015, has been found not criminally responsible.

Bisesar pleaded not guilty last week to the first-degree murder charge. Bisesar’s lawyers maintained that she was not criminally responsible due to her mental illness. Her trial was held before a judge only.

Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon ruled that he was satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that Bisesar, who suffered from schizophrenia, “was incapable of knowing the killing was morally and legally wrong”.

WHAT HAPPENED?

On December 11, 2015, while shopping at a make-up counter beneath Bay and Wellington streets, Junor was fatally stabbed. She was taken by ambulance to hospital where she succumbed to her injuries.

The unprovoked attack took a mere 54 seconds and was recorded on the store’s surveillance video. Bisesar walked into the pharmacy and stabbed Junor once in the heart with a small knife purchased at a dollar store. She did not speak to Junor during the attack, placed the knife on the counter following the stabbing, and immediately left the store.

According to Bisesar’s lawyers, she was experiencing hallucinations that took control of her physically. A forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Ian Swayze, the only witness at the trial, gave evidence that at the time of the incident Bisesar was experiencing a psychiatric breakdown due to untreated schizophrenia.

According to Dr. Swayze’s report, Bisesar was hearing voices in her head. The voice commanded her to buy a knife, and walk into the Shoppers Drug Mart. Dr. Swayze wrote that “The voice and movements raised my hand, pushed forward … it was like the knife was sticking to my hand and couldn’t be dropped.”

As a result of the not criminally responsible verdict, Bisesar remains in a secure wing of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto until an Ontario Review Board hearing is held.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE NOT CRIMINALLY RESPONSIBLE?

According to section 16 of the Criminal Code, a person is not criminally responsible for something that he/she did if they were suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the offence, and:

  • the mental disorder made it impossible for him/her to understand the nature and quality of what he/she did; or
  • the mental disorder made it impossible for him/her to understand that what he/she did was morally wrong.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT FOR BISESAR?

Bisesar’s release is controlled by the Ontario Review Board (“Board”). This is an independent tribunal that oversees and annually reviews every person found to be not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial for criminal offences due to a mental health condition.

The Board consists of a five person panel, which includes a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a mental health professional, a member of the public, and a Chairperson.  The Chairperson must either be a practicing or retired judge or someone who can be appointed to a judicial office (i.e. a lawyer who has 10 years of experience).  All members of the Board are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor.

The Board hears evidence from the individual and his/her lawyer, the Crown prosecutor, a psychiatrist, and possibly others that may include a family member or other specialist. The hospital facility also provides a report to the Board detailing the individual’s history and progress.

The Board’s decisions are made by a majority vote. The most important concern of the Board is whether the individual poses a significant risk to the safety of the public. If the individual is found to be a significant risk, the Board will consider other factors. The most important being the protection of public from dangerous persons, the re-integration of the person into society, and the liberty interests of the person.

The Board reviews the disposition annually to determine whether changes need to be made depending on the progress made by the individual. The Board can make one of three dispositions:

  • Detention Order: The individual should continue to be detained in the hospital and makes a decision regarding whether the individual stays at a minimum, medium or maximum secure unit and what access the individual would have to the community;
  • Conditional Discharge: The individual is allowed to live in the community while subject to certain requirements (i.e. having to report to a hospital, refrain from using alcohol or drugs, reporting any change in address, or refrain from contact with certain individual); or
  • Absolute Discharge: The individual is granted a full release with no further supervision.

Victims can provide victim impact statements at the annual Board hearings. The statements do not have an impact on the decision the Board makes, unlike at a sentencing hearing. The Board’s decision must be based on the individual’s current level of risk to public safety.

If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.