Ottawa shooter’s robbery attempt a cry for help: criminologist
A strange series of attempts made by the Ottawa gunman to get arrested in Vancouver years ago so he could use jail time to recover from a crack addiction are likely the sign of a troubled mind looking to get help, says a Vancouver criminologist.
Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s mental health was assessed three times by officials in B.C.’s criminal justice system – once finding he may have had an undiagnosed bipolar disorder – after he confessed to a crime that may not have happened and then robbed a McDonald’s with a pointed stick.
“It’s clearly a cry for help,” said Dr. Stephen Hart a professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University. “Trying to get control in several ways. One through re-engaging through faith. The other trying to give himself into custody of the criminal justice system. He was feeling so out of control that he wanted someone to take control of him.”
Zehaf-Bibeau confessed to a 10-year-old armed robbery at the Burnaby RCMP in December 2011 – though the officer at the counter couldn’t determine whether a crime had existed, court recordings obtained by CTV News show.
So the officer arrested him under the Mental Health Act, and he was taken to Burnaby General Hospital for a first assessment to determine whether he was a risk to himself or others. He passed that assessment, and was driven to a Vancouver detox centre.
He was rejected there because he didn’t appear to be intoxicated, so Bibeau walked a few blocks away to the McDonalds on Main Street and held it up with a pointed stick. He was arrested there and taken into custody.
A psych assessment a few days later at Surrey Pre-Trial Centre found he wasn’t ill.
“He wants to be in jail as he believes this is the only way he can overcome his addiction to crack cocaine,” wrote the psychiatrist. “He has been a devoted Muslim for seven years and he believes he must spend time in jail as a sacrifice to pay for his mistakes in the past and he hopes to be a better man when he is eventually released.”
However in an assessment at his trial in February the forensic services court liaison officer Jack Bibby said he likely did have an undiagnosed mental health problem.
“Mr. Bibby feels he has an undiagnosed mood disorder. Something along the lines of bipolar,” a voice can be heard on the court recordings saying. “According to Mr. Bibby he’s like many people on the street who are suffering from undiagnosed mental health issues. They are living out there and they don’t have access to food and medical issues and start doing drugs.”
Zehaf Bibeau was released and it’s not clear if he sought further help. The man had been estranged from his family, was addicted to crack and heroin, and despite his conversion to Islam had been kicked out of his Burnaby mosque.
On the bus to Ottawa, Zehaf-Bibeau spoke of problems getting a passport to travel. His mother told police that he wanted to head to Syria. He was also angered by Canadian troops behavior, according to one companion.
“Only time we talked about politics he got upset,” said a man who called himself Darryl on an Ottawa radio station. “He said Canadian and American soldiers were raping and killing children.”
The instability in Zehaf-Bibeau’s life likely made him cast about for ways to deal with his issues, which may explain his conversion to Islam and may explain why he was vulnerable to suggestions that violence may solve his problems, Hart said.
“He was just a young man with problems. The radicalization happened along the way,” Hart said.
“It’s quite possible that if this man had gotten the help he needed, we would have strengthened him so that he was not recruited into an extremist belief,” he said.