EDITORIAL – We must stop assuming the mentally ill are more violent

Police take down suspect in stabbings.

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

THERE WERE TWO MORE horrible acts of mass violence on the weekend, this time in Canada, and this time very close to home.

The first happened Saturday at a North Vancouver public library and shopping mall, where seven people were stabbed, including a woman who sadly died from her wounds.

In the second attack, five people were stabbed Sunday during an apparent altercation involving a group of young people at a bush party.

Questions about that second one will, no doubt, revolve around why kids would be attending a bush party during these times. The North Vancouver attack appears to be much different — unprovoked and random.

Just as with the recent incidents of mass violence in the U.S., there will be speculation about the motives of the man who has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

That speculation will unerringly go towards the theory that he was mentally ill, and maybe he was, but maybe not. “Mental illness” is our go-to motive when there seems to be no other explanation for violence.

When an act seems senseless, we assume the perpetrator must be mentally ill. But that’s a dangerous assumption.

Experts tell us that mentally ill folks are no more likely to become violent than anyone else. In fact, they are more often the victims of violence than others. That’s because there’s a tremendous stigma still attached to mental illness.

We know, too, that mental illness doesn’t mean someone who suffers from it loses the capacity to know right from wrong. Testimony at the recent trial of the Toronto rental-van killer reminded us of that.

We don’t yet know what was behind the North Vancouver tragedy even though it appears the attacker was clearly disturbed. But even if it’s found that he was suffering from mental illness, we really must disabuse ourselves of the notion that the mentally ill are automatically prone to violence.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC, publishes the opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at


About Mel Rothenburger (9652 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on EDITORIAL – We must stop assuming the mentally ill are more violent

  1. lorrainewinter // March 30, 2021 at 1:46 AM // Reply

    Sean & Mel: with thanks. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Sean McGuinness // March 29, 2021 at 8:21 AM // Reply

    The mentally ill are more a threat to themselves than anybody else. But we as a society have shunned these people. It should be said that the so-called “sane” individuals in our population have killed far more people.

  3. Because there is, somehow, difference between random act of violence committed by someone who is mentally ill and someone that is not…if one goes stabbing, or shooting, or driving a vehicle over others that person should go onto the guillotine in my opinion, trail not necessary.

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