Judge to decide if man with brain disorder liable for his crimes

Rosie Mullaley
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Testimony in the trial of Harold J. Farr of St. John’s wrapped up Friday afternoon at provincial court. Farr is charged with more than two dozen charges of falsifying tax records while he worked at the Canada Revenue Agency. — Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

There are many things we know about Harold J. Farr.

He’s 52, is dying of Huntington’s disease and, during a four-year period, he defrauded the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) out of more than $50,000.

What we don’t know — and what the judge must determine — is whether or not his disease drove him to do it.

At provincial court in St. John’s Friday, lawyers argued whether Section 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada should or shouldn’t apply to Farr.

Section 16 states that an offender is not criminally responsible for committing a crime if he suffers from a mental disorder that renders him incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or knowing it was wrong.

“He didn’t commit the offences with criminal intent,” defence lawyer Robert Regular said.

Farr was diagnosed in 1994 with Huntington’s disease — an incurable, hereditary neurological disorder which causes cells in a specific part of the brain to deteriorate.

Symptoms include obsessive behaviour, aggressiveness and uncontrollable impulses — affecting a person’s abilities to think and reason.

Farr didn’t begin receiving treatment until October 2010.

He committed the frauds between November 2004 and July 2008, while working in a supervisory position at CRA.

He reset employees’ passwords to gain access to the CRA’s computer systems. Once he gained access, he falsified information for financial gain.

He made changes to income tax returns for himself, his wife, his father and his niece by increasing information about RRSP contributions, reports for personal income, net business income, medical expenses, spousal claims, charitable donations and child care expenses.

He faces more than two dozen fraud-related charges.

Farr has never denied what he did.

Neuropsychiatrist Dr. Hugh Mirolo, who has been treating Farr since October 2010, testified that while Farr may have known he was committing a crime, he had no control to stop himself.

Mirolo said before he was treated, Farr had been showing symptoms of aggressiveness — challenging a car salesman three times his size to a fight — and impulsiveness — buying several dogs and hundreds of curling irons.

Mirolo explained to the court, at the time, Farr’s judgment and ability to make reasonable decisions were impaired by the disease.

In his final arguments, Regular reiterated the doctor’s assessment. He said Section 16 applies to Farr because, with his neuropsychiatric condition, he lost the capacity to appreciate the nature of what he did.

“For a normal person, you can think about (committing a crime) and contemplate that maybe you shouldn’t do it, but that’s what’s different,” Regular said.

“Mr. Farr gets to a point where it comes into his mind, he gets on a treadmill and it winds him up and winds him up until it’s impossible to stop.”

He said the manifestation of his disease is proven in the fact that Farr worked at CRA for 28 years before.

“That’s an indication something changed (within him),” he said.

Halifax Crown prosecutor Constantin Draghici-Vasilescu acknow-ledged it is a tragic case with unique circumstances.

However, he pointed out Farr’s crime took a degree of planning and effort to hide what he did.

“He said (after charges were laid), ‘I knew what I was doing was wrong.’ That shows a camouflage and to do that, you have to be knowledgeable to some degree.”

The case will be back in court May 31, at which time Judge Colin Flynn plans to update lawyers on his progress in reviewing the information.

With a busy court schedule, the judge expects to have a final decision made before the end of June.

Whatever the verdict, Farr has a difficult road ahead of him. His illness casts an aura of sadness over the case.

Throughout the two-day trial, the small-statured man sat quietly, while family members, including his wife and daughter, sat behind him in the courtroom.



Twitter: @TelyCourt

Organizations: Canada Revenue Agency

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Terry Walsh
    April 26, 2013 - 03:06

    Wow it never ceases to amaze me the lack of intelligent comments people write about a disease they have little or no knowledge about. Maybe and just maybe if you lived in someone else's shoes for a day or lived with someone who has a brain injury of any degree you could write an intelligent response. More over how many of you understand what the science of Neuropsychiatry is and of how lucky that this province has someone with Dr. Mirolo's medical expertise and qualifications. Dr. Mirolo has over 20 years of post graduate studies in his field with Fellowships from Yale & Dartmouth Universities and is more than qualified to understand Mr. Farr's disease and the complications associated with the issues he faces on an everyday basis. Yes he committed a crime but stop and think of how many people who have all their faculties and have tax accountants who know all the loop holes to avoid having to pay personal taxes and move their money offshore are they not as guilty of defrauding the government? Mr. Farr should pay back the money, however he does not deserve to be convicted and have a criminal record, My wife has a brain injury and until you see the devastating and confusing aspects of their daily routine trying to live through confusion, severe head aches, having to write your entire day objectives down so you can function and get everyday chores completed, don't make uneducated remarks and comments, please. How would you like to wake up every day of your life with this hanging over your head.

  • lottee
    May 14, 2012 - 09:04

    Odd...if he has been diagnosed sine 94 - why was the CRA not monitoring him better as an employer..by the sounds of it..he had access to millions of peoples personal information...which really does lie with CRA - was any of this information compromised?

  • unbelievable
    May 13, 2012 - 10:36

    Unbelievable how cold and heartless people have become and all over paper. That's what money is paper and you get up in arms over it. There is less people crying out when a child is molested or someone is murdered !!! This man already has a death sentence isn't that more than many of the hardened criminals who rape ,armed robbery,molest,murder ever get. What purpose would putting this man in HMP ever serve? Society values money more than life these days here in NL . Shame!!!!

    • Heather
      May 23, 2012 - 12:48

      Couldn't agree more!

  • ktee
    May 13, 2012 - 08:59

    The man is not bringing out the illness card now. He has been diagnosed since 1994. There is no treatment for impulsiveness, in the case of this disease. If you could literally see this man's disease, you would see many important parts missing. It does affect many behaviors, and none of the affects are good affects. It's unfortunate but many people with this disease are in jail or prison for inappropriate behavior. Society can punish him if it wants to, but it won't be corrective or satisfying. Just costly. Very soon he will be confined to a nursing home, and die a pretty grueling death. This happens to be one of those diseases which robs people of everything both mentally and physically and very slowly. It's really quite awful. Sometimes it happens where a court just can't make something right, because there is just no particular justice to be had. No jail is gonna do to this man what his disease will. If the disease itself was able to be a sentence of the court, it would be stricken down as cruel and inhuman even for the worst of offender.

  • bill
    May 12, 2012 - 11:25

    I'm with Dee on this one. Get caught Oh I have a medical problem so go easy on me. I would say he knew exactly what he was doing

  • Mary
    May 12, 2012 - 11:04

    I totally agree with Jaydee! Why bring out the illness card now. The fact of the matter is Mr. Farr knew what he was doing was wrong but yet continued to do it. If it was the disease why did it only affect him at those times? Disease or not I think Mr. Farr needs to be dealt with. He needs no special treatment. That would be just opening up a whole can of worms for other people suffering with diseases that don't know what they are doing?

  • Dee
    May 12, 2012 - 10:23

    Ya right another another one with problems,so let him off with the crime .Like most of us we run into money problems from time to time,be responsible for your actions sir.

  • JP
    May 12, 2012 - 09:48

    I'm all for taking your punishment when you do wrong and get caught. However, in Mr. Farr's case, I can't help but wonder why after such a long career did he suddenly begin to commit serious fraud. Yes, he admits to planning, plotting, etc., but I think the lawyer is onto something here in this case. Obviously Mr. Farr should not be allowed to ever be in a position of trust or where he can manipulate things to his favour, due to his disease. If found guilty the most he should face would be some type of house arrest or probation along with a Restituion Order. Sending this man to jail would be a crime now in and of itself! Good luck to Mr. Farr and his family. I say pay back the money and take care of yourself with your families support.

  • Audrina
    May 12, 2012 - 09:08

    My heart goes out to this man.

  • jaydee
    May 12, 2012 - 08:46

    I am sorry that he is sick but he still needs to pay for his crimes. He admitted he knew what he did was wrong so why can't he be punished? Sorry but its too late to bring out the illness card now.