Wednesday, August 25, 1999
Pitying parents who kill is final indignity to childBy Rosie Dimanno
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.
- Three psychiatrists agreed Gabriela Babineau was depressed, anxious, disorganized and delusional when she smothered her child, 3-year-old Rossio Katherina Chaparro-Najar, in 1995. She was found not criminally responsible because, according to Mr. Justice David Watt, the 45-year-old woman lacked the capacity to know that her actions were morally wrong. Babineau was under the ``delusion'' her estranged husband had sexually assaulted the child. The day previous to the killing, she had received papers summoning her to court for a custody hearing.
Police found Babineau clinging to an eighth-floor balcony railing. But she was not so mentally disturbed that she actually jumped.
- A crown prosecutor agreed with the defence submission that an Oakville woman was incapable of knowing her actions were morally wrong when she repeatedly stabbed her sleeping 6-year-old son in 1997. It was viewed as being a point in her favour that the woman had never before been known to abuse her children.
- Rohini Maharaj, 33, was described by Brampton neighbours as a ``wonderful'' mother, even after she killed herself and her two young sons by carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage. Maharaj was depressed because of a marital separation and financial problems.
Disturbed parents set fire to their children, strangle them, poison them, shoot them, drown them. Yet their disassociative state is nearly always proffered as an extenuating circumstance. What a horrible epitaph for those trusting, murdered, innocents.
Only when an even more odious motivation is introduced at trial does an accused parent suffer the full wrath of community disgust and judicial punishment:
- Susan Smith was sentenced to life in prison for strapping her two toddler sons into her car, then pushing it into a South Carolina lake. For nine days, Smith maintained a web of deceit wherein she made a nationally televised plea for the return of her children, after claiming they'd been taken by a black carjacker. Her trial was told Smith had drowned the boys after her new lover said they had no future together because he didn't want children.
- Thomas Dewald of Chatham, sentenced to life in prison last year, with no possibility of parole until 2022, for drowning his two children - aged 10 and 12 - in the lake just outside his parents' cottage. A widower, Dewald had been told by a woman with whom he was obsessed that she could not get along with his daughter. In this case, Mr. Justice Gordon Thomson rejected a joint submission from the crown and the defence asking that Dewald be allowed to apply for parole after just 12 years, in part because it was unlikely the man would reoffend.
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: email@example.com
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