The Richard Kachkar and Sgt. Ryan Russell’s tragedy: a story of murder and of thousand miseries; what is the outcome?

The January 2011 murder of a Toronto police officer by a person found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder has shocked the city of Toronto.

The facts are gruesome; Sgt. Ryan Russell, a Toronto police officer, was murdered on the line of duty by Richard Kachkar while he was operating a stolen snow plow.

The immediate public reaction to the news was to demand “justice”, but as the story unraveled, the public was left with a growing sense of frustration. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to bring back Sgt. Ryan Russell; no legal outcome can soothe the absolute pain his supreme sacrifice brought about.

The public asked: how did we get to a police officer being murdered downtown Toronto? Why weren’t there enough resources (public agencies, social workers, parole officers, police officers, nurses, family members, coworkers, neighbours) to prevent the murder of a police officer? Why nobody recognized the signs that should have triggered an intervention before Richard Kachkar went onto a mad snow plow chase? And above what should we do to avoid another Sgt. Ryan Russel’s murder?

The Sgt. Ryan Russel’s family is the only and real victim of this murder, with no hope of righting the tort they suffered, period. No words, no actions can bring back the father or the husband.

Extending the review period for people found not criminally responsible would really reduce the chances of another Sgt. Ryan Russell’s murder? The timing of this idea tastes of political opportunism; any intervention to be effective should be implemented before, not after the fact. Hiring more police officers, community nurses, parole officers, social workers, better funding of grass-root community support organizations may (yes it may) reduce the chances of a future Sgt. Ryan Russell’s murder. Reviewing Richard Kachkar’s mental health condition every year or every three years will not change much in the greater scheme of things for the public or for the family.

Balancing the need of Richard Kachkar (a person who is obviously not well), the future risk he may be posing to society and the Canadian belief that people with mental disorders should be treated humanely and with fairness is a tricky balancing act. The Ontario Review Board will have to assess and re-assess Richard Kachkar’s mental health condition on an annual basis. And granted the Board is doing a wonderful job at balancing all these conflicting expectations.

The public probably perceived Richard Kachkar’s diversion to a mental health facility as a subterfuge to avoid jail, a lawyer’s trick, an unsavory solution to a disheartening problem. The public also may dismiss the cruel reality as legal mumbo-jumbo; a reality indifferent to the pain of the real victims.

Reality is that the test to be not criminal responsible is extremely narrow; many people with florid symptoms of major mental health disorders are found able to stand trial and responsible for their actions.

Reality is that if Richard Kachkar met the stringent criteria for not criminal responsibility; he is really “insane” in the common parlance.

Reality is that the number of the Ontario Review Board hearings is going up, while the number of discharges is not.

Reality is that, from a clinical perspective, it is unlikely that a person found suffering from an unclear mental health disorder (such as Richard Kackhar was) will be “cured” in one, or three years. Reality is that the chances Richard Kackhar will be a free person anytime soon are quite slim.

This is not a happy ending story; it is a never ending story. The public will eventually forget about Richard Kachkar and Sgt. Ryan Russell; Richard Kachkar will probably spend the rest of his life in a mental health institution; Sgt. Ryan Russell’s family will have to live with the thousand miseries of their loss for ever.

My family and I know that, we have been in their shoes since January 16, 1970.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua