Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Court of Appeals acquits Quebec man of assisted suicide

From The Vancouver Sun in Canada:

QUEBEC, Canada — The Quebec Court of Appeal confirmed Dec. 22 the acquittal of a Quebec man charged with helping his disabled uncle commit suicide.

Stephan Dufour, 31, was found not guilty by jury on Dec. 12, 2008 in the death of Chantal Maltais (pictured), 49, who contracted poliomyelitis when he was four years old and was confined to a wheelchair.

"I'm extremely relieved for Stephan and his family," defence lawyer Michel Boudreault said Wednesday. "The legal procedures took a serious toll on them."

The Crown prosecutor called for a new trial and raised issue with the defence put forward by Dufour's lawyer in its appeal.

During trial the defence said Dufour was under his uncle's spell and his limited intellectual capacities prevented him resisting Maltais' multiple requests to put an end to his life.

Dufour testified he finally gave in to the pressure and the verbal abuse from his uncle, tying a choke chain to a rope and installing it on a pole in his uncle's bedroom. Two days later, on Sept. 9, 2006, Maltais was found hanged at his Alma, Que., home.

In a unanimous decision three Court of Appeal judges dismissed the appeal and sided with Dufour.

The ruling stated assisted suicide is a specific intent crime and the Crown had to prove the accused had the intent to cause the death of his uncle. The judges noted Dufour didn't want his uncle to die and his limited intellectual capacities prevented him from resisting to pressures from Maltais any longer.

Dufour was the first person in Quebec to face a jury trial on charges of assisting suicide.

The Crown said Wednesday it was too early to determine if it will ask the Supreme Court of Canada for a leave to appeal the decision.

Defence lawyer Boudreault said the unanimous decision leaves the Crown very little ground to appeal.

Dufour's case garnered a lot of media attention and Boudreault said the good thing that came out of the case is that it led people to debate the issue of assisted suicide.

The ruling could have an impact on another pending case of assisted suicide in Quebec. Leger Ayotte, of Trois-Rivieres, will face a trial before judge and jury in 2011 for allegedly "aiding or encouraging" his partner to take her life.

The woman in her 60s was found shot to death in her home.

Assisting a suicide is a crime punishable by up to 14 years behind bars.