CONTROVERSIAL BILL FOR MENTALLY ILL OFFENDERS
|In February 2013 the Federal government announced Bill C-54 the “Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act”. If passed Bill C-54 will create a high risk designation for people who are found not criminally responsible for committing a violent act that results in serious injury or death. This Bill will stop the release of these designated individuals unless approved by the court; not the mental health review board which happens presently. Essentially this Bill is designed to punish people by incarcerating them up to an additional three years if they caused death or serious injury while they were mentally ill. Quite frankly this seems to be a knee jerk reaction by the Tory government to punish people who are found not criminally responsible for their actions. This sells well and will probably get them what they want most -votes, but is it needed?
This legislation has been heavily criticized by people who work in the mental health field. It should be noted that only three percent of people with mental illness come into conflict with the law and of that three percent charged only 0.001 percent are ever found not criminally responsible. Finally of those found not criminally responsible 93 to 97 percent of those do not reoffend after they have been treated. The reality is our mental health review boards do not release people back into the community who are a danger to the community. They work diligently to make sure that people who have been found not criminally responsible for their actions receive the treatment they need and only when they are well are they released.
This legislation like most of the Tory’s criminal legislation is all about adding on punishment so they can appear tough on crime and get your votes. Sadly in this particular case they wish to add on punishment to people who were not responsible for their actions due to mental illness. Regretfully with their majority I anticipate that this Bill will be passed in the near future.
Shawn Swarts is Managing Office Partner at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP.