What To Watch While Staying Inside: Not Criminally Responsible

Lately, mental health has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  For a very long time, due to COVID-19, in-person therapy hasn’t been possible and mental health facilities haven’t been accepting anyone unless matters were urgent. This restriction of services has made me increasingly curious about mental health during a time of reduced resources.

I came across a documentary on CBC titled ‘Not Criminally Responsible’ directed by John Kastner. The documentary follows the reaction of an incident by a man named Sean Clifton who suffers from Paranoid Schizophrenia and Obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In a Cornwall Ontario Walmart, Clifton went through a violent mental breakdown of a severity which he had not experienced before. Because of this, Clifton inflicted multiple stab wounds on a woman named Julie Bouvier. By the title ‘Not Criminally Responsible’ you may have guessed that the documentary takes audiences through the process of a court judgement that removes criminal negligence from a perpetrator, usually due to the person suffering a severe mental health episode. This type of verdict necessarily implies that the perpetrator would not commit the crime if it weren’t for their mental illness.

During the forty-five-minute documentary, the young life of Clifton is shown in reflection of his severe mental health diagnosis. Clifton’s rehabilitation is provided on a step by step basis until his full integration back into society. The victim, Bouvier, discusses her accounts of the traumatic event and how this incident has followed her life a decade later. Not only does the audience get to hear from Bouvier but also receives a glimpse into Bouvier’s relative’s views of the traumatic event.

There are three things that stood out to me when watching ‘Not Criminally Responsible’. The first being that this is a nonfiction Canadian event that had lasting effects on a number of families’ lives. That concept alone is equally upsetting and engaging. This happened in our country, so what are the implications of this type of verdict? That is the exact question pursued by Director John Kastner in this documentary. The second aspect is directly piggybacking off the first point – there is an eventual reconciliation between Sean Clifton and Julie Bouvier. It may not be what the viewers necessarily anticipate, but nonetheless, there is resolution. My absolute favourite aspect of this documentary is the controversy. There will always be varying opinions pertaining to this story and that’s why it works.  When watching I had the incredibly obvious question arise which was “is Clifton capable of doing something violent and dangerous again?” That is a perfectly rational question to ask. This question tends to lead to a dozen more questions. More than anything else this documentary left me pondering how scary it must have been for both parties involved. There is no doubt in my mind Bouvier was terrified through the whole Walmart ordeal and justifiably so. I began wondering if she still thinks about the event or whether it impedes her life in any way. What I didn’t think I’d feel is sympathy for Clifton – imagine waking up from a psychotic break and being told about the pain you’ve inflicted, knowing that you would never otherwise commit any harm to another life. The documentary turns many concepts and ideas on their heads for me, and that’s why I think ‘Not Criminally Responsible’ is worth the watch.     

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