The CBA says public safety best achieved by treatment of mentally ill offenders

  • June 05, 2013

OTTAWA – The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) says that Bill C-54, Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, should not be enacted as the changes aim to address a problem that is already well managed.

The CBA points to research that suggests there is no current evidence indicating the need to change the way things are now being done. The research shows that public safety is already front and centre when review boards assess cases, and those found not criminally responsible (NCR) who are detained in hospital tend to be held longer than if they had been found guilty and sent to prison.

Bill C-54 deals with accused persons found NCR by reason of mental disorder. It would make safety of the public the paramount consideration, and remove the requirement to deal with the NCR person in the least onerous and restrictive possible manner given the circumstances. It would subject “high-risk” NCR accused to a more onerous form of custody after trial, and would alert victims when NCR accused are discharged into the community.

In its 14-page submission, the CBA stresses the need for balance in dealing with those who are NCR. “There is a delicate balance that must be struck between public safety and individual liberty when determining how best to handle accused persons who have been found not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder,” says David C. Parry, of the CBA’s National Criminal Justice Section. “Substantial portions of Bill C-54 threaten this critical balance.”

The CBA notes that, consistent with the jurisprudence, both goals – public safety and individual liberty – are best achieved by treatment and reintegration into society. Bill C-54 prohibits reintegration of NCR accused back into the community, especially for those designated high risk. 

“Bill C-54 sends the message that NCR accused who commit serious offences cannot be efficiently treated and should be afforded fewer procedural protections. It sends the message that the societal interest of treatment and reintegration of mentally ill offenders is less important than the needs of victims,” says the CBA submission.

The CBA makes six recommendations, among them one that welcomes new notice requirements for victims. In Bill C-54, victims who request it will be given notice of the NCR accused’s absolute or conditional discharge. “The amendment fills a void in the legislation,” notes the CBA submission.

The other recommendations urge the government not to enact portions of the legislation, including the “high risk” designation. The CBA notes the goal must be reintegration, not retribution for acts done while a person is mentally ill.

Mr. Parry will appear before the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights at 4:30 p.m. on June 5, 2013, in Room 237-C in Centre Block. The CBA submission is available online.

The Canadian Bar Association is dedicated to support for the rule of law, and improvement in the law and the administration of justice. Some 37,000 lawyers, law teachers, and law students from across Canada are members.