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Quebec judge calls out 'shocking' state failure after man slays spouse in psychotic delirium

A gavel is seen ahead of a House of Commons committee meeting on Parliament Hill, Monday, April 11, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld A gavel is seen ahead of a House of Commons committee meeting on Parliament Hill, Monday, April 11, 2022 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
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Louise Avon, brutally killed on March 31, 2022 in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts by her spouse in the throes of a crack-induced psychotic delirium, might still be alive if the state hadn't "failed miserably in its role of protecting the public."

That’s what Quebec Court Judge Sylvain Lépine said in his decision on Wednesday to sentence Pascal Arseneault to eight years in prison, after he admitted his guilt on a manslaughter charge.

The 50-year-old man and his wife had been together for 12 years at the time of the slaying, and owned a landscaping company.

DRINKING RELAPSE

Arseneault had relapsed into crack use during the pandemic, starting in spring 2021, after 12 years of abstinence, resulting in erratic and violent behaviour. Then, between October 14, 2021 and March 29, 2022, over a period of five and a half months, police officers were called to intervene no less than 13 times with the 50-year-old, who was hospitalized eight times during this period.

Lépine noted that "none of these police interventions led to the detention of Mr. Arseneault, despite the repeated offences committed."

'FRANKLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND SHOCKING'

The judge emphasized that "although police work is not always easy, it is frankly incomprehensible and even shocking that between October 14, 2021 and March 29, 2022, no less than 13 police interventions led to no concrete action to avoid the worst.

"Even more shocking, a few days before the homicide, on March 29, 2022, the accused was arrested at home in a delirious state and taken to hospital. He was released six hours later," continued the judge.

Two days later, on March 31, the man, again in a drug-induced delirium, stabbed his partner nine times, set fire to their home and then sat back and watched it burn down without calling emergency services. When emergency services arrived, he was incoherent, confused and claimed to be a ninja and that the victim was a robot. At the time, he was in possession of 16 grams of crack cocaine.

A LAMENTABLE FAILURE

By analyzing all these facts, Judge Lépine concluded that "the lack of coordination between police interactions and the health system meant that the state failed miserably in its role of protecting the public."

The judge went further, calling it a problem that affects society as a whole.

"The absence of a coherent mental health program and thoughtful police interventions threatens public safety,” he said.

His conclusion is unequivocal: “The accused should have been taken into care to avoid such a tragedy.”

Arseneault had been deemed fit to appear at an initial psychiatric assessment. A second assessment a few months later, aimed at establishing criminal responsibility, concluded that the accused had suffered from a “psychotic disorder induced by crack cocaine consumption” and that, at the time of the tragedy, “he was struggling with pervasive delusional convictions which led him to commit the acts of which he is accused.”

CRIMINALLY RESPONSIBLE

The psychiatrist, however, dismissed the idea of non-criminal responsibility by reason of mental disorder, since the accused's psychotic state "was induced by heavy crack consumption."

Arseneault had admitted consuming a large quantity of crack cocaine when he was apprehended by police. Such consumption being voluntary, its consequences cannot give rise to a defence of non-criminal responsibility.

As of Wednesday, Arseneault had served 639 days in pre-trial detention. This leaves six years and three months to serve on the eight-year sentence suggested jointly by the defence and the Crown following Arseneault's guilty plea.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 31, 2023.

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