Toronto Star

Wednesday, August 25, 1999

Pitying parents who kill is final indignity to child

By Rosie Dimanno
Toronto Star

THERE CAN be nothing but revulsion for a man who takes his young son's life as well as his own.

No way to mitigate that wickedness, by exploring the state of Jeyabalan Balasingam's mind when he clutched 3-year-old Sajanthan to his chest and dropped in front of an oncoming train at the Victoria Park subway station.

There are some things we're not meant to understand, I think, because to find reason in such madness is to impose a false sense of order, of logic, on to events born of mental and spiritual chaos.

Some deeds are so pitiless and grotesque, they are unworthy of cognitive examination.

But incomprehension cannot justify a clumsy form of absolution.

There is a feeling of helplessness in such events because a murder-suicide leaves no one behind from whom to exact justice, or vengeance, and I want some of the latter for adults who kill their children.

Instead, the suffering is borne only by those who will grieve for a lifetime, just as they will suffer the emotional conflict that must surely arise when the survivors - the spouses, siblings, relatives and friends - both love and hate the person who wrought all this pain.

And what if Jeyabalan Balasingam had somehow survived? His mental state would have been an exculpatory factor at any criminal trial, you can be sure of that.

In our society, those who murder their own kids become objects of such grand pity that their misdeeds become blunted and blurred; the killers are transformed into victims by skillful defence lawyers and mercenary psychiatric experts. We project our own anguish on to the accused, and give him - or her - the benefit of temporary insanity when nothing about their conduct meets the criteria except for the criminal act itself.

It's always the same when ``depression'' is given, hastily, higgledy-piggledy, as the explanation for such inexplicably evil behaviour. Balasingam was despondent, chronically depressed, had been refusing to take his medication in the last year, was unhappy in his arranged marriage, had money worries, was isolated as a Sri Lankan immigrant (but Canadian citizen) in a city where few health professionals spoke his language.

None of which rationalizes Balasingam's crime.

If anything, this man's situation illustrates how far we have come, in Toronto, in trying to bring treatment to the mentally troubled. Balasingam, despite cultural and language barriers, was under the care of a doctor. He was not left to cope on his own.

Yet he did such an obscene thing anyway.

There's a clinical term for Balasingam's crime. It's called altruistic filicide, a word so recently coined it doesn't appear yet in most medical dictionaries. But the mere fact such a term exists proves that the phenomenon is not so uncommon that it can't be categorized. In fact, it's more horrifically common than you might imagine.

In many cases, depending on culture and politics and ideology, it's even more forgivable.

Consider these local cases from recent years:

In Canada, in 1997, 64 children under the age of 12 were killed. Of those, 62 were killed by parents. Six in 10 of the victims were 5 years of age and under.

That year also saw a large increase in the number of mothers accused of killing their children. That figure nearly doubled, from 13 in 1996 to 25 in 1997.

Spare me compassion for parents who kill. Even those who do us the small favour of taking their own lives as well.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail:

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