HED: Shock and anger as Guy Turcotte released three years after stabbing two children

MONTREAL— Shock and anger greeted the news on Wednesday that former Quebec cardiologist Guy Turcotte, who killed his two children three years ago, would be released from a mental health facility.

In July 2011, Turcotte was found not criminally responsible after he stabbed five-year-old Olivier and three-year-old Anne-Sophie nearly four dozen times as they slept in their beds in February 2009. The Crown has filed an appeal.

On Wednesday, a three-member mental health review board decided that while Turcotte posed a risk, it was acceptable to release him with strict conditions. The reaction on CJAD 800 AM was fierce, as upset callers called for the man to serve a longer sentence.

As a pack of cameras waited outside the Pinel Psychiatric Insitute in Montreal’s east end on Thursday evening awaiting Turcotte’s release, a lawyer’s letter was delivered to all waiting journalists warning of repercussions if they didn’t leave. Few did.

Turcotte had gone before the panel to ask for a return to as normal a life as he could, including, he said, working and doing good.

The request comes after six months of regular therapy with a psychologist, which he says has helped him tremendously. Turcotte said he is less anxious, that he is better able to deal with and address problems, to deal with stress and that he has the tools to do so now.

The former doctor said that in therapy, he spoke of the problems that led up to his distress and depression.

Turcotte has been on supervised and unsupervised visits and he has been in contact with children of all ages. He said it was a positive experience when he was with those children. Turcotte added that some of the memories he relived while in the mental health facility were still painful, but not as painful as they once were.

While forensic psychologist Franca Cortoni won’t comment on Turcotte’s case, she said that there are ways to assess risk.

“It's a difficult science, there are no strict measures, but really when it comes to human beings there's not a heck of a lot that is an exact science,” said Cortoni.

Turcotte said during his testimony that he wanted to be released without conditions, although he did say that if the panel chose to release him but impose conditions on him, he would accept that. He also said he would like to continue his therapy.

Turcotte’s conditions include the following: He must continue his therapy; he must live at an address that has been approved by the Pinel Institute; he may not have any contact with his ex-wife, Isabelle Gaston, or any members of her family.

Psychiatrist recommended conditional release

The panel heard from the psychiatrist overseeing Turcotte’s care, who recommended Turcotte be released with conditions. Pierre Rochette has been overseeing Turcotte’s mental health for the past six months.

Rochette said he’s “really satisfied” with how Turcotte has evolved in the past six months and also said he doesn’t represent an immediate or short-term danger to society.

Ex-wife disappointed

His ex-wife said Wednesday that she didn't blame the panel that released him because it had few legal options. What she blames is the broader justice system.

"So we're freeing a criminal," said Gaston. "I don't have faith anymore in our justice system—not with the current rules.

"I continue to hope the justice system changes. If things don't change injustices will continue. Like this one and the ones you don't hear about."

Gaston said she has spent a year researching cases like this and has seen huge disparities in the verdict depending on several factors—the judge, the experience of the lawyers in the case and how rich the defendant is, which she says will influence the quality of the defense.

Gaston said she hopes for changes in the way evidence is presented. But she said she still believes in the role of jury trials—despite last year's jury decision to let Turcotte go.

The cardiologist had admitted to stabbing his young children 46 times.

But he said he didn't remember doing it, hadn't wanted to do it, and had been experiencing blackouts on the night of the killings.

He said he was distraught over the breakup of his marriage. Gaston had left him for a family friend who was her personal trainer.

Several cases like Turcotte's, including the 2008 bus-beheading in Manitoba and the Schoenborn child-killings in B.C., have prompted a federal policy change.

The Harper government plans to make it more difficult for mentally ill offenders found not criminally responsible to be released from custody.

The government announced proposed amendments to the Criminal Code last month, in the latest in a series of tough-on-crime initiatives by the Conservative government.

The Tories plan to introduce a bill in the House of Commons early next year that would make the safety of the public the paramount factor for review boards that determine an offender's release.

—with files from The Canadian Press.