A Toronto man who killed his wife should be allowed to collect on her life insurance policy because he was insane at the time, Ontario’s top court ruled Tuesday.
In overturning a lower judge’s decision, the Appeal Court of Ontario decided that public policy, which normally would bar killers from benefiting from their victims’ deaths, does not apply in this case.
However, the court put its decision on hold to allow the government to try to seize the money.
In 2006, Ved Parkash Dhingra killed his estranged wife Kamlesh Kumari Dhingra and was tried for second-degree murder. Then 66 years old, he was found not criminally responsible in 2008 on account of mental disorder. He was later granted a conditional discharge.
Dhingra, who had suffered a mental disorder for many years, sought to collect on his wife’s life insurance policy worth $51,000.
The victim’s son disputed the payout and claimed the proceeds for the estate.
Last June, Ontario Superior Court Justice Andra Pollak ruled Dhingra was not entitled to the insurance money, even if he didn’t mean to kill his wife.
“(Dhingra) committed second-degree murder,” Pollak ruled. “Even though he was found not criminally responsible, he still physically committed the crime.”
Relying on a handful of relevant cases, the Appeal Court decided Pollak was wrong to discount Dhingra’s mental state.
“If a person found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder is not ‘morally responsible’ for his or her act, there is no rationale for applying the rule of public policy,” the court found.
“It was an error for the application judge to describe the appellant as having ‘committed second-degree murder.’”
However, in a novel twist, the court also looked at whether Ontario’s Civil Remedies Act, enacted by the legislature in 2002, might trump the common-law rule.
Among other things, the act aims to compensate victims of crime and prevent criminals and others from profiting from wrongdoing.
Under the act, the attorney general can ask the courts to have “proceeds of unlawful activity” forfeited to the government, even if a person was found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.
The court, however, can refuse the forfeiture “where it would clearly not be in the interests of justice.”
While the Appeal Court decided the Civil Remedies Act did not trump the common-law rule of public policy, it did decide the attorney general could still ask the courts to give proceeds of the insurance policy to the government.
A decision would then rest on whether the interests of justice would be served in doing so.
As a result, the Appeal Court ordered the money paid to Dhingra, but stayed the order for 30 days to allow the attorney general, who did not take a position in the appeal, to decide if it wants to seek forfeiture of the funds.