Why N.S. could seize insurance money given to man not criminally responsible for killing wife

A law professor says the Nova Scotia government could seize life insurance money that a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge granted to a Cape Breton man found not criminally responsible for killing his wife.

Justice Frank Edwards ruled that Richard Maidment, 42, who also uses the surname McNeil, is entitled to his wife's life insurance, which totals $200,000 plus interest, according to court documents.

Edwards, who released his decision this week, wrote that Maidment doesn't benefit from a crime because he didn't commit a crime and is not a criminal.

In 2015, Sarabeth Forbes named Maidment as beneficiary to her life insurance and her son as a contingent. 

Maidment has schizophrenia and his mental health had been deteriorating dramatically in the days before he killed Forbes on April 18, 2017, in their Gardiner Mines home.

Gary Mansfield/CBC

He was charged with first-degree murder and found not criminally responsible in December 2017. Maidment is now confined to the East Coast Forensic Hospital in Dartmouth, N.S.

Forbes's co-workers and friends say they're sickened by the judge's decision, and believe the money belongs with her son.

What the province could do

Jane Thomson, an assistant professor of law at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, said there's precedent for provincial governments to intervene in cases like this.

She told CBC's Maritime Noon that under Nova Scotia's Civil Forfeiture Act, "someone who is appointed by the attorney general can apply to the court for an order forfeiting the life insurance proceeds if they are the proceeds of unlawful activity."

She said "unlawful activity" encompasses actions for which a person has been found not criminally responsible.

If the application is successful, the money would go to the provincial government, but Thomson said it could hold the money in trust for Forbes's son. He was 10 years old when his mother was killed.

An Ontario example

Thomson pointed to a case in Ontario from 2012 where a husband who killed his wife was found not criminally responsible, and was granted her $51,000 life insurance claim.

In that case, Ontario's attorney general filed an application so the province would get the money instead, but in the end, a Superior Court judge quashed the province's attempt.

Edwards cited part of the Dhingra vs Dhingra case in his decision to grant Maidment the insurance money.

Thomson said the forfeiture law in Nova Scotia is very similar to the forfeiture law in Ontario. 

She said it would be relatively straightforward for the province to file an application under the act, but cautioned the government against reacting too quickly.

"He was found not criminally responsible for a reason," Thomson said. "It's a tragedy, but it was clearly at least found by this court not something that he could control."

What the province has to say

The Department of Justice said it can't comment on this "private legal matter that's currently before the courts," and that the Civil Forfeiture Act only allows for forfeiture to the province, and not to third parties.

"We understand this is a difficult situation for the community," spokesperson Barbara MacLean said in an email to CBC News.