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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Report: Ottawa Gunman Had Tried to Go to Jail for Addiction Treatment

Three years ago, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau took extreme efforts to "clean up" from his crack addiction but was deemed mentally healthy and denied treatment.

7 Substance

A stunning—and deeply poignant—revelation has emerged purportedly shedding light on the motives of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, who killed a service member during an attack on Canada’s Parliament building in Ottawa this week before he was shot dead. Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was a self described “crack addict,” according to newly obtained court documents. Some three years ago, he tried to rob a McDonald’s in a desperate bid to be sentenced to prison in order to access treatment for his addiction.

“My plan is…I’m a crack addict, and at the same time I’m a religious person,” he said in court in 2011. “I want to sacrifice freedom and good things, for a year maybe, so when I come out I’ll appreciate things of life more, and be clean, or maybe get a therapy like a detox, if you guys could send me to one.” Zehaf-Bibeau had been arrested for trying to hold up a fast-food burger joint in Vancouver with a sharpened stick, before waiting “calmly” for police to come. 

This was not Zehaf-Bibeau’s only effort to get behind bars. After confessing multiple times to an armed robbery he claimed to have committed a decade earlier in Quebec, he was checked briefly into a psych ward and then released. A detox also refused him treatment since he wasn’t intoxicated at the time. “I wanted to come to jail so I could clean up and do my things,” he told the court. “I was living on the street.”

According to a psychiatrist’s report, Zehaf-Bibeau’s behavior was “unusual” but he displayed “no features or signs of a mental illness.” The report said: “He wants to be in jail because he believes this is the only way he can overcome his addiction to crack cocaine.” In other words, he was making what the shrink suggested was a rational last-ditch effor to get treatment for addiction.

Early on in the case, prosecutors tried to release him on bail, partially due to overcrowding in jail. But Zehaf-Bibeau begged the court to let him stay. ”If you guys release me what do you think’s going to happen, that same loop and I’ll be right back here again,” he said. He was eventually sentenced to 66 days and then released.

Little is known about the motives behind Zehaf-Bibeau’s attacks on Parliament. He reportedly “embraced extremist ideas” and had planned to travel to Syria, but was not flagged as a threat.

He was reportedly staying at an Ottawa shelter in the months leading up to the shooting, where one volunteer says he always carried a Koran and used prayer in an attempt to stay off drugs. “But then when he collapsed into drugs, he became isolated,” says the volunteer. “He was always sleeping. For three days he wasn’t talking. His intention was to get passport and get home. He had to stay away from drugs.”