A man who shot an RCMP officer during a 2019 incident in Argenta has been found not criminally responsible due to mental illness.
Harry Richardson was found guilty of reckless discharge of a firearm, careless use of a firearm, unlawfully in a dwelling-house, and unlawful attempt to cause bodily harm in Nelson court on March 22.
After the verdict, Richardson applied to the court for a decision that he was not criminally responsible, and provided evidence from two psychiatrists to support him. A hearing was held on April 13, and Judge Philip Seagram gave his decision and reasons on May 4.
To be found not criminally responsible, the Criminal Code of Canada states the accused person must be shown to be suffering from a mental disorder, and that disorder renders the person “incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act, or of knowing that it was wrong.”
A person found not criminally responsible does not automatically go free, but may be subject to detention in a mental health facility. This determination has not yet been made for Richardson.
The Argenta incident, which featured 22 shots fired at police, shook the small West Kootenay community located north of Kaslo. Richardson was arrested on Oct. 11, 2019 after an overnight standoff.
Seagram said in the opinion of a forensic psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist, both of whom had interviewed and examined Richardson, he was ill with schizophrenia at the time of the incident and likely had been for several months leading up to it.
Seagram also cited Richardson’s history of mental illness going back a decade, and pointed to evidence of Richardson’s erratic behaviour in the weeks leading up to the Argenta incident.
He said Richardson’s actions in the Argenta incident were “inexplicable but for some profound malfunction of his mind.”
All the evidence adds up to Richardson having a delusional belief that the police were hunting him in order to kill him, Seagram said.
As an indicator of his mental state, Seagram cited evidence from the March 22 trial in which Richardson told an Argenta resident that “he was terrified because the police were hunting him down like an animal. He (said) that the police were going to inject him with a number of pharmaceuticals, which he named, and thereby ‘kill off his being.’”
The inability to make a rational choice, Seagram said, can stem from delusions in which a person sees wrong as right.
Seagram said one of the psychiatrists gave Richardson a test designed to identify whether a person is “malingering” his psychiatric symptom, or in other words pretending to be mentally ill. Richardson, Seagram said, got zero out of 25 on the test, indicating his symptoms were genuine.
Richardson’s next step is to appear at a disposition hearing conducted by the B.C. Review Board, which is empowered to decide one of three results: an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge (live in the community but with conditions or restrictions) or custody (detained in hospital).
While waiting for the hearing, which must happen within 45 days, Richardson will remain in custody.