TORONTO — The brother of a Carleton University student who killed herself in 2008 said whatever happens to a U.S. man originally charged with trying to encourage her to commit suicide won’t bring her back.
William Melchert-Dinkel, a former nurse from Minnesota, was convicted in 2014 of attempting to assist the suicide of 18-year-old Nadia Kajouji, of Brampton, Ont., who died after jumping into the frigid Rideau River in 2008.
But the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that there wasn’t enough evidence to uphold Melchert-Dinkel’s conviction in Kajouji’s death.
“The original punishment of 180 days sleeping in jail wasn’t anything severe anyways and there is not a punishment that will make Nadia come back,” Marc Kajouji told The Canadian Press from Puerto Rico, where he now lives.
“I’m not an eye-for-an-eye guy anyway.”
For the most part, he said, his family has moved on, somewhat. They’ll never forget Nadia, he said, and her suicide nearly broke them. Their father, Mohamed Kajouji, has found solace in his homeland, Morocco, where he spends part of his time with family.
“He’s doing much better, but it still hurts for all of us — birthdays, the day she went missing, holidays, Halloween,” he said.
“She really liked Christmas as well, so this time of year isn’t easy, but I don’t think a parent can ever accept it.”
The court upheld Melchert-Dinkel’s conviction on the higher charge of assisting the suicide of a British man, saying he gave 32-year-old Mark Drybrough, of Coventry, England, detailed instructions on how to hang himself.
Melchert-Dinkel was obsessed with suicide and death and trolled chat rooms dedicated to suicide methods posing as a woman.
He said at trial he entered into a suicide pact with Kajouji and tried to get her to hang herself while he watched via webcam.
The defence argued that the online activities were protected speech, the victims were predisposed to suicide and Melchert-Dinkel’s comments were not a factor in their deaths.
Melchert-Dinkel was initially charged with encouraging Kajouji’s death but the trial judge ruled state prosecutors failed to prove his assistance was a direct cause of her suicide and found him guilty of the lesser charge of attempting to help her kill herself.
The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed Melchert-Dinkel’s original convictions last year. The justices declared that a state law banning someone from “encouraging” or “advising” suicide was unconstitutional, but upheld part of the law making it a crime to “assist” in a suicide.
Marc Kajouji has spent the intervening years working as an ambassador with Your Life Counts, a national organization that counsels those in crisis, both youth and families, and advocates for suicide prevention.
Unlike other G7 countries, Canada doesn’t have a national suicide prevention program, said Your Life Counts founder Rory Butler. Because of that, he said, funding is hard to come by.
“The truth is the money isn’t there,” Butler said.
Not long after Nadia Kajouji killed herself, her brother, Marc, Butler and Conservative MP Harold Albrecht worked on Bill C300 to enable the creation of the Canadian Suicide Prevention Strategy. That bill became law in late 2012.
“Nothing has happened since,” Butler said. “We’ve faced a lot of stonewalling.”
Butler said he will reach out to Ottawa in the new year hoping that Justin Trudeau’s government will be more amenable to following through on the bill. Your Life Counts is also hoping that a big awareness program coming in a few months, called the “Share Reasons to Live” with messages from celebrities such as Howie Mandel, will put more pressure on the government to act.
Meanwhile, Marc Kajouji said he will continue to use his sister’s death as a means to raise awareness about suicide in Canada.
He said he’s seen positive changes in the way Canadians discuss suicide, but those words must be turned into policy and funding for programs to lower the suicide rate — about 11 suicides per 100,000 people — which has remained unchanged for many years. About 4,000 Canadians kill themselves every year in the country, according to data from Statistics Canada.
“When someone kills themselves today, no one will really know about it beyond family,” Marc Kajouji said. “But I feel privileged to be able to speak on Nadia’s behalf and we take a bit of pride to bring awareness to the problem of suicide.”