Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to express my support to Bill C-10 and to urge all the members of this House to support its reforms.
I will take a few moments to discuss this bill, because we do not want to delay its adoption. In fact, there is some support for referring this legislation to the parliamentary committee as early as today and moving on to the next bill, and I support this approach.
As we mentioned earlier, in 2002, the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness reviewed the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to mental disorder. The work of the committee is reflected in Bill C-10, which is before us today.
The public may remember the former provisions, which referred to “not guilty by reason of insanity”. This term has almost always been a part of our past. Those who studied the history of Louis Riel in our country will remember, for example, that an entire group of people wanted him to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, which Riel refused to do. We know what his fate was. Nonetheless, these measures are very old and this is a term we have always had.
However, modern criminal law refers to people who are found not criminally responsible for reasons of mental disorder and persons declared unfit to stand trial. This better describes the reality. Yet, the law in this field is not well known and often misunderstood.
Unfortunately, people continue to think that someone who commits an offence and is declared to be not criminally responsible is benefiting from some sort of “escape clause”. That is not the case. There are consequences. Sometimes, those consequences are even harsher than for an accused who is found guilty. Once again, this concept is not well known. The law respecting persons declared unfit to stand trial or those found not criminally responsible because of mental disorder provides for consequences. Usually treatment and supervision can potentially go on indefinitely and, in some cases, involves detention in a secure psychiatric facility. Ultimately, it could even mean life imprisonment in a special facility for individuals so afflicted. It is not a matter of not punishing them for the crime for which, at the same time, they are not guilty for the reasons I just described. Naturally, their punishment is different, but they are in no way exonerated.
The Criminal Code includes a whole part, namely part XX.1, which sets out a comprehensive code to ensure, in a fair and effective fashion, the monitoring and treatment of a mentally disordered accused, and also public safety.
I have indicated that this area of the law is not well understood, even by some lawyers. In the case of victims, criminal law and the criminal justice system are often overwhelming, complex and daunting. Victims rarely need to know the law until they find themselves at the core of the justice system, often when they arrive in court. When an accused is found to be unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, victims of criminal acts are confronted with more obstacles in their pursuit of justice.
Victims want to get information on the legal system and on the case that involves them, and they deserve to get such information.
Law reforms, new thrusts and a broadening of the services have given victims a greater role in criminal proceedings. For example, the Criminal Code was amended in 1988 to include the victim impact statement as a means to allow victims of criminal acts to describe the damage or the losses suffered because of the offence that was committed. Incidentally, I remember the debate because I was here at the time.
Before then, the impact on victims was not taken into consideration, or at least the victim did not have a chance to make a statement on it. As a result, rightly or wrongly, in my opinion a bit of both, victims felt that their personal grievances were not reflected in the sentence brought down.
Some provisions passed in 1988 also provide for publication bans to protect the identity of victims of sexual assault. Once again, important changes were made. Other changes made to the Criminal Code over the past 15 years have helped give a more important role to victims of criminal acts, while respecting the rights of the accused. Naturally, that element of respecting the rights of the accused has to be included, because an accused person is not necessarily guilty. On the contrary, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Then he is no longer considered as accused, but as guilty, if that is the finding.
In response to the report published in 1998 by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, entitled “Victims' Rights: A Voice, Not a Veto”, the government adopted a series of amendments to the Criminal Code in 1999 to ensure, among other things, that victims are informed of the possibility of submitting a victim impact statement—which I described earlier; to include the safety of the victims in the factors that have to be taken into account in making a decision on interim release; to specify the automatic imposition of a mandatory victim fine surcharge, and the amount of this surcharge; and to give judges the discretionary power to impose a publication ban to protect the identity of any victim or witness, as required in the interest of the proper administration of justice.
The 1999 amendments also looked at victims of offences committed by an accused suffering from a mental disorder and provided for a victim impact statement to be written and filed with the court or review board at a hearing to determine the sentence for an accused found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. This would concern a person accused under section 671.541 of the Criminal Code, which reads:
—the court or review board shall ... take into consideration any statement filed ... in determining the appropriate disposition or conditions under section 672.54—
And yet, it is the victim, in each case who decides whether to write and file this kind of declaration. The victim impact statement is provided for in paragraph 672.5(14), which states:
A victim of the offence may prepare and file with the court or review board a written statement describing the harm done to, or loss suffered by, the victim arising from the commission of the offence.
Where a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder has been rendered in respect of the accused, the review board has to determine how the accused will be supervised. The victims of crime are often neglected, and receive little information on the follow-up, on how their safety concerns will be met or whether or not they will have a role to play or have access to any information.
We have all heard of instances of constituents who have been the victims of crime wondering whether the inmate will be on provisional or other release and within a few kilometres or metres of their home. That is what they fear anyway. These are concerns often expressed by our constituents. Tools are provided in here to address this problem.
In considering Bill C-10, the standing committee examined other proposals to expand the role of victims of crime. The committee heard several witnesses; some advocated greater victim involvement while others did not support the interests of victims. The committee—it is very important to point out—dismissed the comments of those who sought to restrict the role of victims.
We went further at committee—and eventually at the government level—where the role of victims is concerned, because that was the approach we wanted to take to ensure and enhance the protection of victims of crime.
The committee also examined the existing provisions of the Criminal Code, as well as measures that should be policy rather than statute in order to better meet the victims' concerns.
The amendments in Bill C-10 will strengthen the role played by victims of crime in cases where the accused was found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. The new provisions relating to the victims fully take into account the differences between the provisions governing persons who are criminally responsible—who have been found guilty and sentenced—and those governing persons found not criminally responsible.
The accused who is found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder is not held responsible for his actions, of course. In its decision, the court must take into account several factors, including the need to protect the public, the accused's mental condition and the need to return the accused to the community eventually.
The impact of the crime on the victim may be relevant to only some of the criteria. Where the court or review board is considering a conditional release, the victim's statement may be relevant in imposing certain conditions: for example, that the accused not contact the victim or that the accused not go certain places.
However, the victim can also benefit from submitting a statement even if the situation of the accused does not change.
It is important to note, once again, that the administration of justice and the delivery of services to the victims are areas of provincial jurisdiction. The provision of victims services as part of the administration of justice is also a matter of provincial responsibility. I know that there was a question about this a few minutes ago.
The provision of victim impact statement forms, assistance in preparing the statements, and the collection and submission of the statements to the Crown or the court are generally handled by the provincial victims services programs.
In 2002, the standing committee recommended that courts or review boards conducting a review notify the victim where the victim has indicated interest in receiving such notification.
Bill C-10 includes provisions that require the court holding an initial hearing, or the review board holding such a hearing, when the court does not, to ask the Crown or the victim whether the latter has been informed that he or she can submit a victim impact statement.
Following an amendment adopted by the committee, as mentioned earlier, the government adopted many, the victim will receive notice of hearing dates and the applicable provisions in the Criminal Code, including relevant provisions on victim impact statements.
The manner and timeframe for issuing such a notice will be established by the rules of the court or the review board. Other non legislative measures will also be needed to inform victims of crime of provisions of the code specific to their case, hearing dates, conditions of a decision and other essential information.
We must bear in mind that, until the accused has been declared not criminally responsible, the victim should benefit from the application of all the provisions of the code that are there to facilitate the victim's involvement and to protect their safety and privacy. Only when the accused has been declared not criminally responsible is the application of the new special provisions in the code necessary in order to ensure that the victim participates in the review board hearings.
Bill C-10 also includes provisions that will strengthen the role played by victims of criminal acts.
These victims would be permitted to make an oral presentation of their statement during the review board hearing. Therefore, it would not be necessary to have a great deal of expertise to draft the statement. The victim would be allowed to present his or her statement orally. The statement would already be drafted, and the victim would be permitted to read it or, in some cases, to provide his or her statement in another form including, for example, by giving a copy of it if this is relevant. It is always up to the victim to decide to draft a statement and even to read it. In these cases, it is the victim who has these alternatives. It is perfectly normal for it to be so, and I am pleased that Bill C-10 allows for such options.
Where a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder has been rendered in respect of the accused, the court or the chair of the review board must ask the prosecutors, the victim or his or her representative whether the victim has been informed that he or she can make a statement.
The first hearing may be adjourned to allow the victim to prepare a statement, if he or she so wishes.
The review boards will have new powers to impose a publication ban to protect the identity of the victim and of the witnesses, as required in the interest of the proper administration of justice.
Following an amendment made in committee, a notice of hearing will be given to the victim and the other relevant provisions of the Criminal Code will be applied, provided the victim makes a request to this effect in the timeframe and the manner provided by the rules of the court or review board.
As we can see, the government went rather far in its efforts to better represent the victims of such criminal acts and, of course, to protect the victim and the public at large, while also looking after the rights of the accused.
I urge all hon. members to support Bill C-10. The amendments that are included in it provide better protection to an accused suffering from mental disorder, while giving a greater role to victims of criminal acts.