Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act makes public safety chief consideration

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I gave the following speech on Monday (May 27th) in the House of Commons. 

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.

I stand in support of Bill C-54, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act in relation to mental disorder.

The bill's short title is the “Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act."

To be more specific, New Democrats support the bill so that it can be further studied in committee. It merits further study.

Cutting to the chase, this bill amends the legislative framework applicable to mental disorder in the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act.

It amends the legislation to specify that the safety of the public is the paramount consideration in the decision-making process.

I repeat, because this is key, that public safety must be paramount in the decision-making process.

The bill also creates a mechanism by which Canadians who are found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder may be declared high risk, and the bill increases the involvement of victims.

I will have more to say about that in just a moment, but first I will provide an overview of the current Criminal Code mental disorder regime.

The current Criminal Code mental disorder regime applies to a small percentage of accused.

Under Canadian criminal law, if an accused person cannot understand the nature of the trial or the consequences and cannot communicate with their lawyer on account of a mental disorder, the court will find that the person is unfit to stand trial.

Then, once that person becomes fit to stand trial, they are tried for the offence with which they were initially charged.

At the same time, if a person is found to have committed an offence but, because of a mental disorder at the time, lacked the capacity to appreciate what they did or know that it was wrong, the court makes a special verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.

They are either convicted or they are acquitted.

A person found either unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible is referred to a provincial or territorial review board, and the board decides on the course of action.

Under the current law, a review board can make one of three possible decisions.

First, if the person does not pose a significant threat to public safety, there can be an absolute discharge.

That is only available to a person found not criminally responsible.

The second possibility is a conditional discharge.

A third option that is open to a review board is detention in custody or detention in a hospital.

This bill proposes to amend the mental disorder regime in three ways.

The first is by putting public safety first.

I cannot stress that enough: public safety must come first.

The changes proposed in this bill would explicitly make public safety the paramount consideration in the court and in the review board,  decision-making process.

Second, the legislation would amend the Criminal Code to create a process for the designation of those found not criminally responsible as “high risk."

That is the designation — “high risk."

That would be in the case when the accused person has been found not criminally responsible for a serious personal injury offence where there is a high likelihood for further violence that would endanger the public, or else in cases where the acts were of such a brutal nature as to constitute a risk of grave harm to the public.

As for what happens when a not criminally responsible person is designated high risk, they would not be granted a conditional or absolute discharge.

That would not happen.

Further, the designation of high risk would only be revoked by the court following a recommendation of the review board.

This bill outlines that a high-risk, not criminally responsible person would not be allowed to go into the community unescorted.

Again, it is all about public safety.

The escorted passes would only be allowed in narrow circumstances and subject to conditions sufficient to protect public safety.

Also, the review board could decide to extend the review period for those designated high risk to up to every three years instead of annually.

The third way this bill proposes to amend the mental disorder regime is by enhancing the safety of the victims and by providing them with opportunities for greater involvement of the Criminal Code mental disorder regime in three ways.

First is by ensuring that they are notified, upon request, when the accused is discharged.

Second is by allowing non-communications orders between the accused and the victim.

Third is by ensuring that the safety of victims is considered when decisions are made about an accused person.

Provisions in the proposed legislation would also help ensure the consistent interpretation and application of the law across the country.

Amending the legislative framework applicable to mental disorder in the Criminal Code and National Defence Act is a difficult issue for victims, families and communities.

However, and I cannot repeat this enough, public safety must come first when complying with the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We support this bill so that it can be further studied in committee.

In the coming weeks, at the committee stage, we will talk to mental health experts, victims and the provinces to find out what they believe is the best approach, but, and this is a big but, we do not want to play political games with this bill.

We must focus on the policy's merits.

As for consultation and who pays the cost, which was a question asked of the Conservative speaker who spoke last, in a Global News interview, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice stated that the provinces would be responsible for assuming the costs of the new policy.

That said, we must ensure that the provinces have the financial resources to pay for the new policy.

However, there are other unknowns.

There are outstanding questions and information the federal Conservatives should be able to provide.

Again, with this bill, public safety must be paramount, but we also need the information and data to make the best decisions we can make.

There are several outstanding questions.

First, what statistics did the government collect on persons deemed not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder?

We would be looking for those statistics by province, by territory and by type of offence.

Second, how many people were deemed not criminally responsible over the past 10 years, and how many of those people were granted an unconditional discharge?

Third, which persons deemed not criminally responsible and discharged were found guilty of a subsequent offence?

That is a good question.

Fourth, what persons deemed not criminally responsible and discharged were deemed not criminally responsible for a subsequent offence? What was the nature of the subsequent offence?

Fifth, for each of the last 10 years, what was the rate of repeat offences for all offenders under federal jurisdiction by province and by territory?

Finally, which treatment facilities across the country, public and private, accept people deemed not criminally responsible, and how much money is out there to actually look after these people once they are in institution, if they go to an institution?

Most Canadians are familiar with Sheldon Kennedy.

He is a former National Hockey League player. He is also an abuse victim. His story is well known across the country.

Here is what Kennedy had to say when he heard about this bill. He said:

What I really like is the focus on victims. I think that's key, and when we look at this type of crime we catch some child sex perpetrators but I think it's paramount we take care of the victims of these perpetrators.

Let me be clear: we want to know how we can help victims.

Over the next few weeks, we will talk to mental health experts, victims and the provinces to learn what they believe is the best approach.

I cannot stress this enough: we do not want to play political games with this.

We want to examine the merits of the bill, which must be adequately funded by the federal government.

We need answers to those outstanding questions.

What I listed were just several questions. There are many more.

We need the answers to those questions to make the best decisions about moving forward.

Thank you, 

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