Toronto police officers checking on a domestic violence complaint made a horrifying discovery on Jan. 7, 2011, after they knocked on the door of an east-end apartment where loud music was playing. “I want to show you something,” said Annesair Balkaran, then 20, who let them inside.
Face-down on the living room floor, surrounded by blood, was the body of her mother, Zaniffa Balkaran, 59.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer has declared Balkaran, now 22, not criminally responsible for the gruesome murder because she suffers from schizophrenia, depriving her of the ability to appreciate the nature of her actions.
Her lawyer, Andrew Vaughan, entered her plea of not guilty to second-degree murder, reduced from first. A collision of factors led to the grisly killing, said Vaughan. Crown Attorney Paul Amenta, citing a psychiatrist’s report, catalogued Balkaran’s lengthy mental health history, extended hospitalization and troubled relationships with her mother and boyfriend, which often resulted in run-ins with police.
Balkaran had previously threatened to kill other family members, who were so concerned they removed knives from her mother’s apartment. Her mother called 911 after Balkaran suggested she was “on a mission from God and her family has to die.”
Balkaran endured a “nightmarish” childhood in Trinidad after her father died and her mother moved to Canada. She was kidnapped and physically and sexually abused before she was reunited with her mother at age 9. Poor and isolated, Zaniffa struggled to deal with the deeply troubled teenager — she was paranoid, heard voices and was suicidal — and the two frequently clashed. In her later teens, as her mental health deteriorated, she frequently moved back and forth between her mother’s and boyfriend’s residences, and shelters.
In September 2010, Balkaran, then pregnant, was taken to emergency at the Rouge Valley Health Centre after she was found screaming in the street. But, as she did on other occasions when hospitalized, she played down mental health issues and was released.
Three days later, she was admitted to hospital involuntarily, under the Mental Health Act, after a series of bizarre episodes. She was transferred to a shelter, where she stopped taking anti-psychotic medication fearing it would harm her unborn child.On Christmas Day 2010, Balkaran delivered a baby girl at Scarborough General Hospital and the infant was immediately apprehended by Children’s Aid Society.
Balkaran was discharged three days later but there was no follow-up counselling or support after a prolonged period of not receiving the medication she “desperately” required, Amenta told court. “The system may have fallen through,” agreed Vaughan.
A hearing will be held to determine where Balkaran will be held pending an assessment by the Ontario Review Board.