Mental Disorder and the Instability of Blame in Criminal Law


Chancellor Day Hall Maxwell Cohen Moot Court (room 100), 3644 rue Peel, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

Join us for the 2013 Michel Proulx Memorial Lecture in Criminal Law with Benjamin L. Berger, Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, and présidente d'honneur, the Honourable Sophie Bourque, Superior Court of Quebec.

RSVP by March 29, 2013 to [at] or 514-398-7934.

This event has been accredited by the Barreau du Québec for 1.5 hours of CLE.


Recent high-profile cases, as well as the Federal Government's crime agenda, have drawn our collective attention to the relationship between mental health and the criminal justice system. These developments are attracting debate on their own terms, but they also gesture to the way in which criminal law doctrines regarding mental disorder have always served as cyphers for social understandings of crime and attitudes toward blame.

This talk will examine the criminal law's persistent failure to account for mental conditions that, on the most compelling theoretical accounts of criminal responsibility and blame, ought to concern us deeply.  It will argue that this gap – the gap between how we think about criminal responsibility and what is actually addressed by the law of mental disorder – is best understood as a marker for the criminal law’s central social function: the laundering and containment of blame.

Ultimately, peering through this gap provides a line of sight into the symbolic and communicative role of the law of mental disorder, and the criminal law more generally: it is a mechanism for concealing collective responsibility for complex social problems.

About the speaker

Benjamin L. Berger (BA, LLB, LLM, JSD) is an Associate Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University. Professor Berger teaches and researches in areas of criminal and constitutional law and theory, law and religion, and the law of evidence.  

He has published broadly, and his work has appeared in multiple legal and interdisciplinary journals and edited collections. He is a Former Law Clerk to the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada. Professor Berger is active in professional and public education, is involved in public interest advocacy, and has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada.

About the Michel Proulx Memorial Lectures

A shrewd judge, a great lawyer and a learned professor of law, the Hon. Michel Proulx devoted his life to the improvement of the criminal justice system and to the advancement of human rights in Canada. To honour his memory, family and friends created the Michel Proulx Memorial Lectures in criminal law.