Yet... | Gabriel Latner
Thursday, December 22, 2022 @ 12:08 PM | By Gabriel Latner
“We did this in a training course for work. You don’t disagree with anything they say. You don’t shout. You don’t give orders. You ask them questions. You figure out what they think is wrong, and tell them you want to help them fix it. You convince them you’re on their side. You use a calm and gentle voice. You tell them: I hear you. I understand. That sounds terrible. How can I help?”
I was at a party, and had wandered into a conversation about how police had handled (or mishandled) a man — clearly in an altered state of consciousness — who had a knife.
“What do you do?” I asked, expecting them to say they worked in law enforcement, corrections, or a hospital.
“Oh, I’m a librarian.”
It turns out that when long-term care facilities, group homes and shelters close, or are overwhelmed, a lot of people with nowhere else to go end up at the library. So, in addition to all their other duties, librarians have also become social workers and have to take courses in non-violent conflict de-escalation.
In July, some six months before he took a gun and went unit to unit, murdering members of his condo board, Francesco Villi was in court. So were some of his victims
Villi had sued the condo board members for “acts of crime and criminality” and “abusively abusing” their powers. At the July hearing, “Mr. Villi spoke at length about the nature of the claim he seeks to advance. … Mr. Villi believes that the electrical room which sits beneath his unit is improperly constructed, resulting in the emission of electromagnetic waves which have caused him significant pain and suffering over the years. Mr. Villi believes that the board members of the Corporation have actively engaged in efforts to intentionally harm him, likely at the behest of the powerful developer who built the condominium. Mr. Villi believes that all the individuals involved have not only conspired to harm him but have also conspired to ensure that the truth of the matter never surfaces.”
His statement of claim read like a criminal information and alleged that the board members had committed “perjury, extortion, fraud, criminal harassment, criminal intimidation, defamatory libel, and slander.”
Like any defendants faced with such a claim, the board members and their counsel did the reasonable thing, and brought a motion to dismiss under Rule 21.
It seemed an easy motion for the court to grant, especially since Mr. Villi had already been found in contempt of an order requiring him to stop harassing the defendants.
A friend’s client had a problem: a repeat trespasser who was there all the time, and well, “wasn’t all there.” There were peace bonds. There were injunctions. And there was some kind of frivolous lawsuit alleging a violation of his human rights, which meant there was going to be a Rule 21 motion.
“At least he’s not violent,” one of us said.
Mr. Villi was hardly the only litigant to complain about electromagnetic (EM) radiation. In 2019, the court dealt with the case of a man who believed his neighbours were using EM waves to control his dog, that EM radiation had killed his wife, and that this was all part of a conspiracy involving the RCMP — which, through mind control, could see through his eyes, and hear through his ears.
Before dismissing that action as frivolous and vexatious under Rule 2.1, the court acknowledged that the plaintiff’s beliefs were “strongly held.”
Set aside your skepticism, and accept that he believed it. How terrifying that must be, to know that forces far greater than you were conspiring to make your life a living hell. That they’d used invisible weapons to kill your wife. That they’d tried to kill you. That even your own body was being used against you. And no one would help. No one would listen.
Paranoid and persecutory delusions are unfortunately a not uncommon features of a variety of serious mental health conditions, including schizophrenia. Another common feature of these disorders is anosognosia, or the inability to perceive the existence of a mental condition.
To put it crudely, the “insane” don’t know they’re insane. And you can’t convince them that you’re not crazy for not understanding how the 5G nanobots are spying on us all.
If someone thinks they’re being “gang stalked,” telling them they’re wrong will only convince them that you’re part of the conspiracy.
One of my first cases involved a self-represented litigant. A mentor warned me to be prepared for anything. “I’m not saying all self- represented litigants are crazy, but all the crazy litigants are self-represented.”
That’s true, of course — if they have enough money for a lawyer, they’re eccentric, not crazy.
The greater truth is that most SRLs aren’t “crazy,” they’re just poor.
But some are, undeniably, unequivocally, unmistakably, mentally ill.
Which makes it even more important to stress that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. In fact, they’re more likely to be victims of violence.
Other parts of the justice system — like our criminal courts — have to deal with the seriously mentally ill in a more direct fashion. There are diversionary mental health courts. There are fitness assessments.
Justices of the peace and the Consent and Capacity Board are frequently called on to make decisions about whether an individual in crisis should be involuntarily assessed — or even treated — by a psychiatrist. There are forms under the Mental Health Act. There are community treatment plans. There are hearings and appeals and processes.
And those all seem very distant when you’re in a civil courtroom dealing with an SRL who believes that your client is using microwaves to read his mind.
Litigators and judges aren’t psychiatrists. We aren’t social workers. We aren’t even librarians. We have client and institutional interests to protect. We use the tools at our disposal. Rule 2.1. Rule 21. Section 140 of the CJA. We dismiss their claims as frivolous or doomed to failure. We tell them it doesn’t matter what evidence they have, we don’t even want to see it, their claims are legally untenable. We declare that they themselves are vexatious.
And we move on to the next case.
There are no easy or obvious solutions to such complex problems, though better minds than mine have come up with some good ideas.
Hindsight is 20/20, and no one is responsible for what Mr. Villi did, except, perhaps, Mr. Villi.
But how I wish that our adversarial system of civil justice was flexible enough that the next time someone trapped in a paranoid delusion brought his grievances to court, a judge or lawyer could say, in a soft and gentle voice: I hear you. I understand. That sounds terrible. How can I help?
But from a judge, that would bias. And from a lawyer, an admission.
And we can’t have that.
Gabriel Latner is a litigator and partner at Advocan Law.
The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients, The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.