Q&A: 'NCR' patient feels 'back in control'

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Cornwall native Sean Clifton, 45, is a forensic patient at the Brockville Mental Health Centre and the subject of a documentary film, NCR: Not Criminally Responsible, screened at the Brockville Arts Centre Thursday.

In 1999, he repeatedly stabbed Julie Bouvier, then 22, in a Walmart parking lot in Cornwall. He was found not criminally responsible for the violent act and now lives in Brockville on a detention order under BMHC supervision.

Bouvier survived the attack.

In an interview the morning before the screening, Clifton discussed the mental illness that led to the brutal act, the remorse he now feels and his long road to rehabilitation.

Michael Whalen, a social worker at the BMHC who speaks in the film, and BMHC outreach nurse Kyle Nielsen also took part in the interview.

Some readers may find parts of the interview disturbing.

Q: Did you discover from an early age that you had a mental illness?

A: No, I had relative mental health. I was kind of an oddball, I mean, in Cornwall. One of those... a character around town.

Q: Did that make you feel angry or excluded or did you pride yourself on being eccentric?

A: I had high hopes of moving to a bigger city someday, maybe Ottawa or Toronto. I fell out of love with big cities eventually, but for a while I thought if I could get away to Ottawa, where the population of people like myself is higher, I might feel a little better and a little more comfortable.

So I did... I had hopes of moving away someday.

Q: By the time we get into the 1990s, had you been through the mental health system in any capacity?

A: Yeah, I developed an obsessive compulsive disorder and I didn't call it an obsessive compulsive disorder. I thought it was just... I wasn’t sure what it was. I just thought I had to watch out for cigarette butts on the sidewalk when I went downtown and watch out for stepping off the curb and I remember closing my motel room door one time. I was living in a fleabag motel, and it took me about 10 or 15 minutes to close the door so it felt just the right way, you know.

So I developed that in about 1992 or ’93, somewhere in that neighbourhood.

So at one point during this my brother came from Guelph to visit me at my motel room and he knocked on the door and I yelled to him to come in. And thank goodness the door wasn't locked because it would have taken me about an hour to open the door and unlock the door.


I'd gone about five or six days, maybe even seven days without a drop of water or anything to eat, so my brother comes in the motel room and it was kind of dark and thank goodness I could make it to the toilet for a bowel movement, but I'd been urinating over the side of the bed because it was just so horrendous, you know, the trip to the bathroom and everything and the carefulness I had to go through.


So he phoned the ambulance and they took me to the hospital and they rehydrated me. They put me in the medical ward for a week or something like that and tube-fed me.

Q: So the medical ward, not the psychiatric?

A: Yeah because I was very dehydrated. So they admitted me to the medical ward and when I was healthy enough they sent me to the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital, where I was assessed and I guess they diagnosed the obsessive compulsive disorder because I could not pick up my utensils to feed myself. It was just too much work.

Q: You had the contamination fears?

A: Contamination fears, exactly right. Afraid of germs, afraid of some kind of disaster if I didn't do it just the right way, someone in my family getting hurt or dying or getting sick or me getting hurt or sick as well as the germs.

It was just I was full of all kinds of fears, so they fed me through a nasal gastric tube at the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital. That would have been about 1993.

Q: By the time you were at a rest home in Cornwall, did you feel like any of this treatment was working?

A: Uh, no. Nothing was working and I was wondering what am I going to do, you know.

They gave me a room on the attic floor of a three-floor old house and there were times when I just could not climb the stairs any longer. I'd come down in the morning, three floors down to the dining room and have breakfast, and then at the end of the day, nine o'clock or whatever climb the stairs up to the bed again and sometimes I'd have to do it on my hands and knees.

I remember at one point crawling into the second-floor linen closet and closing the door behind me just to get some rest because I just could not climb those stairs again.

Q: Was your family around to help you through this?

A: Oh yeah, they were very attentive.

Q: So your diagnosis at this point was still obsessive compulsive disorder?

A: Schizophrenia (as well).

Q: In the simplest of terms, can you tell me what happened that day in 1999?

A: I had a disagreement with the worker from the Brockville Psychiatric Hospital. I guess in those days it was called the ACRP team, Assertive Community Rehabilitation Program.


So I had a bit of a disagreement with the ACRP worker and I said this is crazy, you know? This is... I'd never been treated to something like what happened that day. I'd never been treated that way before.

So I went to the psychiatric ward, which was across the driveway from where the office of the ACRP worker was. I went up to the emergency ward and I said: “I've got to talk to somebody, you know?”

I knew if I could just sit down, if I could say, you know, let's have a cup of coffee and sit in the dining room I could talk it out a little bit, you know, and get it off my chest. I just had to talk to somebody just on the ward for just 15 or 20 minutes and say what happened and everything.

And they said they were too busy to talk to me. But I don't blame them, because the whole, my life in Cornwall was kind of like that. I was kind of this person the people watched out for when they went out in their cars.

Q: So on that day you had a disagreement with the worker, you ended up at a shopping mall?

A: Yeah, I went back to the rest home for a few minutes and then went to the shopping mall and shoplifted a knife and waited for a victim to come along.

It hurt so much being laughed at by the girls all the time. It hurt twice as much being laughed at by the girls than the guys. So when I lost control I tended to lose control at a girl. It's unfortunate, you know, but it hurt so much more being laughed at and treated to that kind of a treatment by the girls.

Q: I know you've expressed remorse in a letter to the family for what you did. At what point after what happened did you start feeling bad?

A: I was so confused and mixed up for years after. I think within a day or so I started to feel remorse and regret. But I just had other things on my mind.

Within about two or three years I approached the Crown attorney at a review board hearing and I told him, I said I'd like to approach Mr. Bouvier and apologize. And he said: 'Put it in writing.'

And I couldn't look after myself let alone compose a letter of apology. In those days I would stand in the TV room and count the seconds on the clock for 15 minutes or something before I felt confident enough to kind of shuffle my feet away from the clock and go down the hall to my bedroom and I was taking, you know, 15, 20-minute trips to the bathroom just because the rituals were so bad.

Q: As a result of what happened, you were returned to Brockville, to this facility here. How did treatment change after that?

A: Well, I wasn't allowed off the ward even with a couple nurses by my side for... seven, eight months or something.


It's been a long road. I couldn't go anywhere without a nurse for seven, eight months and then finally I was allowed out in the yard with a nurse, and then eventually they invited me to go and come along while they worked in the community.

Q: So that's how your reintegration started?

A: Oh yeah, very slowly, and it's been a long time.

Q: (To Nielsen): The symptoms, the mental health issues that prompted the incident in 1999, do you feel that those symptoms are now under control?

A: (Nielsen): Absolutely and that's the hallmark of what we do here is risk management in terms of whether it be symptom management or risk to the public, is we have to be very comfortable that those symptoms are under a certain level of control for us to even allow ... each level of privileges as they slowly increase.

The symptoms have to be very well managed even just for ground privileges, let alone to the point where someone's living independently in the community.

Q: So in Sean's case they are now being well managed?

A: (Nielsen): Absolutely.

(Whalen): And Sean's progression to living in the community went from hospital into supervised living, from supervised living into supervised supported, which is sort of like our co-op model, and then eventually into independent, like Sean. There was a long, gradual progression for Sean to move even into his own independent living environment.

Q: And Sean, do you feel those symptoms are now under control?

A: The aggression?

Q: Whatever symptoms led to what happened.

A: Yeah, I like to think of it as being back in the driver's seat, back in control of myself.

I never felt violent compulsions before. Trips downtown could be painful in Cornwall. Trips to the shopping mall could be painful and everything, but I never really felt like hurting anybody because of it.

And now, after that fateful day in the parking lot of Walmart, I feel, I'm feeling quite... I'm feeling back in control of myself.

Q: You never had those feelings again?

A: No.

Q: Do you foresee a time when you'll be out of the hospital? You'll just be a regular person, out and about?

A: I've been shooting for that for a few years now. The nurses tell me it'll happen someday. Like I said, there's people guilty of murder got out after four years and things.

I've come a long way. I'm no longer showing the symptoms that may have drove me to commit such an act. The OCD and the lack of sleep and all the rituals may have impaired my judgment. Now that's in the past. I think I'm ready and I think I may one day be released.

Q: Do you think you'll ever apologize to Julie, in person?

A: I would love the opportunity to, but like I said in the movie, if she's not completely offended by my presence or if it doesn't, she's not too afraid to meet me, I would love to apologize to Julie when she's ready, however long that takes.



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