Courts need mental history: MD
"I think before you hand somebody a sentence you should know that the person is not going to be broken by the sentence," said Dr. Isaac Sakinofsky.
The professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Toronto testified at an inquest into the August, 2001, death of Kimberly Rogers, 40.
The statement prompted an immediate objection from Brian Whitehead, representing the Ontario Ministry of Public Safety and Security.
Whitehead argued that Sakinofsky's views on the criminal justice system were outside his area of expertise.
But coroner David Eden noted there's reason to believe that Rogers' sentence may have had a role in her death. He ruled that Sakinofsky is qualified to give opinions relating to the prevention of suicide.
Meanwhile, in Toronto yesterday, a Divisional Court challenge to an earlier Eden ruling was adjourned until tomorrow when it will be heard by a three-justice panel.
A coalition of public interest groups headed by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies is seeking a judicial review of a ruling that testimony about systemic discrimination against women and against people on social assistance will not be allowed.
Rogers was eight months pregnant when she was found dead from an anti-depressant overdose while serving a six-month house-arrest sentence for welfare fraud.
Sakinofsky told the jury he believes Rogers intentionally took a large quantity of the amitryptilene tablets that had been in the empty pill bottle beside her bed. The bottle would have contained 2 to 2 1/2 times the lethal dose for someone of her weight, he said.
An autopsy couldn't determine the exact quantity taken but "in my view ... she took it deliberately to harm herself and she possibly took it to die."
Sakinofsky detailed a study showing 80 per cent of people who commit a suicidal act do not want to die.
They're doing it as a coping mechanism, he said, or to escape temporarily from intolerable stress.
Another study revealed that 90 per cent of those who do kill themselves have been diagnosed with a psychiatric problem.
He said Rogers, who suffered from anxiety and a substance disorder she was prone to misusing prescription drugs was a prime candidate for suicide.
He told the jury the court could have looked at the risk factors as well as the positive aspects of her life that she had obtained a college diploma and been highly praised for her student placement work with disabled children.
"There's a shortage in our society of people who want to work with handicapped children," he said.
He suggested a more "merciful" penalty to "enable her to have a future and not succumb" might have resulted from better information.
Sakinofsky said pharmaceutical records indicate Rogers started stockpiling large quantities of amitryptilene after she was convicted and sentenced to six months house arrest, triggering an automatic suspension from welfare.
She was reinstated a month later pending an appeal.
"She's stockpiling it because she thinks she may want to take her life and she wants to have the means to do so," he said.
He speculated that triggers for suicide could have been the adverse effect of a criminal record on the social-work career she had planned, or the loss of dignity she experienced when cut off from support.
Sakinofsky continues his testimony today.
With files from Jim Wilkes