Bill C-14, An Act to Amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (mental disorder), is better known as the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act. First and most importantly, this bill makes the safety of the public the paramount consideration in the decision-making process for individuals who have been found not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial. Second, Bill C-14 creates a new scheme for finding certain persons who have been found not criminally responsible high-risk. Third, the bill makes key changes to the mental disorder regime with respect to victims. This last change aims to improve the sharing of information and the involvement of victims in the regime.
I first want to say that this last change is of great significance. I am pleased the government is moving forward to give victims greater voice.
I would now like to express my concerns about the first two elements of Bill C-14. The government begins by placing emphasis on the safety of the public. The Canadian Bar Association says that the “teachings of the Supreme Court indicate that providing treatment to mentally ill individuals is the most just and equitable approach to protecting the public.” Accordingly, the Criminal Code provides that these three criteria be equally taken into consideration. Yet Bill C-14 goes against the equality and supremacy of these three criteria. Indeed, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada made the point that what is important is “maintaining a balance between the goal of protecting the public, the treatment of a person who is mentally ill, and the protection of that person’s dignity.” Nothing in this new government provision would ensure the safety of the public in the long-term. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada also makes this argument, stating that, if society is to be protected on a long-term basis, it must address the mental illness.
The second provision of the bill creating a high-risk designation also concerns me. The Canadian Bar Association believes this amendment is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. In short, this amendment suggests, without research or evidence, that someone who commits a crime and is found not criminally responsible has a high probability of committing another crime. Yet the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada says the opposite. She believes that a previous crime committed by someone found not criminally responsible is not proof or a sign that they are a danger to the public. Moreover, this new provision would stigmatize not only the person found not criminally responsible but also millions of Canadians with mental illness. My final concern with this amendment is that persons found not criminally responsible would not be eligible for unescorted absences and could be denied an assessment of their condition for a period of up to three years. How can we evaluate their progress in society? How can we evaluate whether they are autonomous? How can we assess their progress?
There is no research that justifies these draconian measures or that indicates that these amendments will help protect the public or help treat individuals deemed not criminally responsible.