An Act to amend the Criminal Code (presentence report)

Sponsor

Majid Jowhari  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (Senate), as of Nov. 8, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-375.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to require that a presentence report contain information on any aspect of the offender’s mental condition that is relevant for sentencing purposes.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Nov. 7, 2018 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-375, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (presentence report)
Sept. 19, 2018 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-375, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (presentence report)
March 21, 2018 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-375, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (presentence report)

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2018 / 5:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

moved that Bill C-375, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (presentence report), be read the third time and passed.

Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise today to address the House one last time before my private member's bill, Bill C-375, passes from here to the other place.

This moment has been a long time coming, and I would like to thank my colleagues on this side of the aisle and across who have spoken to my bill, providing support, additional context and, yes, some criticism, as well as my colleagues who studied Bill C-375 at committee and the witnesses who came to talk in support of it. I would especially like to thank my colleague, the MP for Guelph, for seconding the motion today.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2018 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, it is indeed an honour and privilege to be able to bring forward legislation that would alter the Criminal Code in accordance with the compassion and common sense priorities of my constituents in Richmond Hill.

In our community, I host regular talks over coffee and make time whenever I can to meet with constituents during office hours. Mental health has and continues to be a top priority in my riding of Richmond Hill. It is why I have worked to support organizations such as Home on the Hill, 360°kids and the Krasman Centre in my riding. It is also why, when I came to Ottawa, I told my constituents that I would focus my energy on advancing the progressive ideals I was elected to uphold and fight for, namely, the advancement of equality for all Canadians and, in particular, those who are marginalized and lack the support they need.

This began with my founding the Liberal mental health caucus, a group of like-minded Liberal members who heard from experts and those with lived experiences, in an effort to identify the gaps in mental health services and what resources could be best spent on in that regard. As part of this effort, my colleague, the member of Parliament for Guelph, and I went on a fact-finding mission to Kitchener, Ontario, where we toured the Grand Valley Institution for Women, operated by Correctional Services Canada. We learned that over 20% of the federal offenders have been identified as struggling with mental health problems, often with more than one disorder. Furthermore, the rate of mental illness among federal offenders has almost doubled in the last 20 years.

The correctional investigator's 2012 annual report found that 36% of offenders at federal penitentiaries were identified as requiring psychiatric or psychological follow-up. Forty per cent of male inmates and 69% of female inmates were treated for mental health issues while in prison. Most importantly, it became clear that the deinstitutionalization of mental health services and the closure of psychiatric hospitals, a victory for the compassionate and progressive treatment of individuals with mental health needs, had been replaced with a new form of institutionalization, where individuals with mental health needs find themselves falling through the cracks and being funnelled into a criminal system designed for incarceration and punishment, not treatment or support.

Since then, I have expanded the mental health caucus into the parliamentary mental health caucus, where we have heard testimony from witnesses on the topic of youth suicide. Most recently, we co-hosted many events around mental health at Parliament. However, it was in the early days during our exploratory visit to the penitentiary that inspired the creation of Bill C-375.

Bill C-375 is one small step forward in addressing the invisible cost society bears fiscally and socially for our historical inability to provide care, treatment and support for those suffering from mental health concerns. As initially put forward, Bill C-375 would amend paragraph 721(3)(a) of the Criminal Code, mandating that unless otherwise specified, when a pre-sentencing report is required by a court, in addition to such information as age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude and willingness to make amends, information outlining any mental health disorder as well as any mental health care programs available for the accused be provided as part of their pre-sentencing report.

Today, there exists no mandate for courts to consider the mental health history of an individual in presentencing proceedings, yet they are mandated to take into account subjective factors such as attitude or character.

As Bill C-375 ensures that pertinent information would be taken into account during presentencing, an individual with a history of mental health issues would be afforded the appropriate care and treatment during the administration of justice and their rehabilitation. Nevertheless, the Probation Officer Association of Ontario has noted that, at least in this jurisdiction, this was already standard practice and that federal legislation would simply codify and expand that across all jurisdictions.

In the long term, the legislation presents an opportunity for us to take a real step forward, decrease recidivism, improve rehabilitation, and further erode the stigmatization of mental illness.

In the short term, there are immediate benefits to the quality of life in our prisons, as well as to the efficacy of the services in the administration of justice and the rehabilitation of vulnerable populations.

In any individual sentencing, our justice system is well served by being made fully aware of relevant mental health concerns. With mental health information included in a presentence report, the interplay of mental health and the condition of incarceration can be taken fully into account. Readily available mental health information is invaluable when considering a step as drastic as solitary confinement or choosing the facility that can best provide the appropriate mental health services.

By ensuring that mental health concerns are considered in these decisions, we can reduce the strain on penitentiary security officers while creating an environment that mitigates inflammatory factors and encourages conditions that reduce recidivism in the long term. This can be particularly useful in crafting cases of conditional sentencing as well as in creating conditions for effective reintegration following release.

During committee testimony, a representative of the John Howard Society of Canada brought up an interesting example of where this context would matter even outside of incarceration. The representative noted that there are mental health issues that can predispose an individual to committing breaches due to their inability to appropriately understand the causality surrounding their behaviour. For instance, this issue would be relevant context when considering a probation order or other forms of custodial penalties that the individual may or may not be able to discharge without committing further infractions.

It is also my understanding that ensuring relevant mental health information is available at every step of the process would also make cases less vulnerable to attack on appeal, saving time and money for our judicial system and providing a net benefit in terms of the overall cost and burden associated with mental health issues.

Following its stint at committee, Bill C-375 was returned to the House with some amendments. Principally, these changes would do the following: First, alter the terminology by replacing “mental health disorder” with “mental health condition”, therefore replacing the word “disorder” with the “word condition”. Second, they require that the mental health information be relevant for sentencing purposes, so relevancy was introduced in the bill. Finally, they replaced the term “mental health care program” with “mental health services or supports”; hence, replacing the words “care program” with “services or supports”.

I am pleased with these amendments, which I feel would strengthen the core of my legislation. One of the realities of putting forward a private member's bill is that one tries to craft legislation that will find sufficient consensus to be made into law. That can make the legislation cautious in its approach.

The other fear I expect all members have is that their legislation will return from committee weakened or watered down, which is why I am so pleased that these amendments are a positive step forward.

The first and third amendments I mentioned, which alter the language of the bill, actually widen its scope, covering a wider array of mental health conditions as well as services available for the offender.

During committee, there were examples given of situations where a mental health condition could be entirely separate from the judicial consideration at play and by including it, one would be party to an unnecessary and inconsiderable breach of the offender's privacy.

The second amendment ensures that there is a clear connection between the mental health condition disclosed and the judicial consideration at hand. I appreciate that this amendment actually tightens my proposed legislation to the causality between an offender's mental health condition and the judicial situation.

As I said when the bill came before the committee, the relationship between mental health care and our criminal justice system is dynamic and evolving. This complex situation must be addressed by more than a single private member's bill, and I certainly would not frame Bill C-375 as a be-all solution. However, it is a strong step forward that would have a real-world impact on the lives of one or more Canadians, while saving the valuable time of our judicial system and money.

I would like to take a quick moment to acknowledge of the work of Mr. Glenn Bradbury, who was instrumental in working with me in drafting the legislation. I would also like to thank those experts and colleagues who have advised me along the way. Indeed, it has been a long road.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2018 / 5:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and speak to Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code, to require that a pre-sentence report contain information on any mental disorder that an offender may have.

I understand and am sympathetic to those who suffer from mental health disorders. I proudly supported the private member's bill of my colleague from Niagara Falls, Bill C-233, which sought to address the challenges of Alzheimer's and other dementias on a national level. However, I am deeply concerned about this bill. This bill, when taken together with other legislation introduced and passed by the current Liberal government, continues a long and disturbing pattern of favouring the protection of criminals over the protection of the victims of crime.

Just last week, I stood in this place and compared the record of the last Conservative government on crime with the record of the current Liberal government. They stand in stark contrast. From day one of their mandate, the Liberals have demonstrated both an appalling indifference to victims and a disquieting compassion for criminals. We have seen this time and again. This is the government that willingly gave a $10.5 million payout to unrepentant convicted terrorist Omar Khadr, who killed American medic Sergeant Christopher Speer in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. Further, Tabitha Speer, Sergeant Speer's widow, was awarded a judgment of $134 million by a court in Utah against Omar Khadr. The Liberals could have, and I would suggest should have, waited to allow the courts to rule on an injunction for Mrs. Speer. Instead, they rushed payment to Khadr, making enforcement of the judgment unlikely.

What of our Canadian veterans who need help? To them, the Prime Minister had one thing to say, that they were asking for more than he was willing to give. However, for ISIS fighters, it seems the cash never stops flowing. The Prime Minister pledged to use taxpayers' hard-earned money to de-radicalize terrorists through such tried and tested means as reading Canadian poetry.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, for her part, refuses to use the term “ISIS terrorists”, instead choosing to use the vapid term “foreign fighters”. When pressed on her plan for these so-called foreign fighters, she offered this gem of an insight:

With respect to the foreign fighters, I think we need to remember why they are where they are right now.

We all remember why they are where they are. We remember that they left Canada to engage in horrific war crimes against innocent men, women, and children halfway around the world, crimes like beheading innocents, throwing gay people off buildings, and stoning women to death for the crime of being raped. According to the Prime Minister, these hardened terrorists can be “an extraordinarily powerful voice” in Canada. One wonders what those voices are saying.

The Conservatives have fought this disturbing hippyesque Kumbaya session with criminals and terrorists every step of the way. When Bill C-75 was introduced, it weakened the penalties for many crimes, including terrorism-related charges, to possibly as little as a fine. The Liberals spent months defending this decision before finally backing down and supporting Conservative amendments that ensured that terrorists would face the consequences of their actions. It took months of pressure and hard work to make this one obvious change. However, even now the bill remains deeply flawed.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2018 / 6 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I would point out that the comments I am making do build on a pattern we are seeing, which is certainly relevant to the bill before us here today, Bill C-375.

The bills the government has introduced have tended to weaken penalties, as in Bill C-375. The penalties were weakened to as little as a fine for many other serious crimes, such as forging a passport, impaired driving causing bodily harm, the use of the date rape drug, the abduction of children, and taking part in gang violence.

Even when the Liberals claim they are targeting criminals, they manage to miss the mark wildly. In Bill C-71, the Liberals claimed to be going after gang-related firearms crimes. That is another example, as is Bill C-375. Nowhere in Bill C-71 is the word “gang” mentioned. Instead the bill focuses on law-abiding firearms owners and does nothing to reduce gang violence. Recently, the Liberals have been talking about a hand gun ban. All that will do is hurt law-abiding Canadians. We all know that criminals break the law. Adding another law will not change that. Bill C-71 and the proposed hand gun ban are smokescreens to hide the government's disgracefully weak record on crime, and its disturbing—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2018 / 6:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, it is important that we understand the pattern of the current government's introduction of government bills or private members' bills, particularly justice bills. The fact is that the bills the government introduces tend to undermine the rights of victims and overly represent the rights of criminals.

I believe that the private member's bill before us today, Bill C-375 falls into that category. I am simply trying to demonstrate how Bill C-375 fits into the pattern that I was outlining earlier. It is not a well thought-out bill due to the changing nature of psychological research. The bill includes all mental health disorders. This is a mistake. It would provide prisoners with an incentive to claim they have a mental health condition, some of which are difficult to verify.

While I do have deep respect for the mental health workers in our justice system, their ability to meet their current responsibilities is already stretched. I believe that the requirements of Bill C-375 would further slow an already glacial process. I believe that would also result in an unequal application of the law, and weaker sentences for many offenders.

As I was saying earlier, my greatest concern about this bill is that it continues the Liberal pattern of prioritizing criminals over victims. For example, in my province of Saskatchewan, we were shocked to hear that Terri-Lynne McClintic, the woman who murdered eight-year-old Tori Stafford, was being housed in a healing lodge in the province instead of being held behind bars where she deserves to be.

Healing lodges are meant to help reintegrate offenders into the community, not to be housing for child killers. Tori Stafford's father begged the Prime Minister to send Ms. McClintic back to prison. The lead investigator denounced her transfer. The Nekaneet First Nation that runs the lodge is very concerned about that transfer. However, the Liberals refuse to act and send her back where she belongs.

The Liberal government ignores the rights of victims and coddles criminals. Canadians deserve better than a government that treats victims like criminals, and criminals like family. Therefore, I will be voting against this motion.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2018 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Alistair MacGregor NDP Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, BC

Madam Speaker, I had my opening remarks prepared, but after listening to the previous speech, it is important to clarify a few things.

What the member for Richmond Hill is attempting to do is amend a very specific section of the Criminal Code. That is well within the rights of the federal level of government. It is very separate from victims services. As we all know, victims services fall under the provincial jurisdiction. The administration of justice in Canada falls to the provincial governments. We have a very limited jurisdiction in amending criminal law, so it is important to state that clear fact.

Furthermore, when people get to the pre-sentence stage, they are no longer suspects, they are now offenders; they have been found guilty. Given the huge amount of evidence that exists regarding mental health issues in Canada's prisons and given the previous member's own stated support for mental health supports, I do not see why we should not tackle this issue. This is not putting the rights of offenders over the rights of victims. Those are completely separate issues. A judge is the expert of the case and has heard all of the facts. This is about giving that person, who is in a decision-making stage, even more facts to make the correct and appropriate decision.

I was at the justice committee. I heard the testimony from numerous witnesses who work in the criminal justice system. They support this piece of legislation going through. It is important to hold up facts, to back up our deliberations with those facts, and not to go down some rabbit hole talking about support for offenders over the rights of victims.

On a personal note, I have a friend who recently was subjected to a crime and she accessed victims services in the province of British Columbia. I can say, with pride, that she found those services to work very well. She found the judge in her case and all of the support staff were there every single step of the way. Therefore, for the Conservatives to suggest that victims do not have rights in this country is factually incorrect, given the experiences of my personal friend. She found herself supported every step of the way by the justice system in British Columbia. I just wanted to read that into the record.

I want to thank the member for Richmond Hill because the other key difference here is that this is not a government bill. This is from a Liberal backbencher who has taken the right that we all have in this place to take an issue that is important to a member's local community, which his or her constituents or Canadians within the wider region have identified as an issue, and to bring it forward. The member has identified this as an important piece, so we need to respect that. This is not a government bill masquerading as a private member's piece of legislation.

The very specific section of the Criminal Code that Bill C-375 addresses is section 721. There are some differences in the wording of this legislation, from second reading to the stage it is in now. That is because the justice committee did its due diligence and it listened to the testimony. I agree with the member for Richmond Hill that the language was tightened up to take account of some of that testimony. We had three meetings at the justice committee on this particular bill. I was present for two of them, where I got to listen to most of the witness testimony.

I thank the hon. member for Victoria, who serves as our party's justice critic and has done an admirable job at that committee for us. We attempted to move an amendment at the committee stage. It was not agreed to, but through all of the deliberations that went on, the bill that is now before the House has taken into account a lot of the improvements that were mentioned.

Pre-sentence reports already do exist. In section 721 of the Criminal Code, in paragraph 721(3)(a), pre-sentence reports already require that, “[an] offender’s age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude and willingness to make amends” be included in a pre-sentence report.

Therefore, it is key that we now include a new section 8.1, which reads, “any aspect of the offender’s mental condition that is relevant for sentencing purposes, as well as any mental health services or support available to the offender”. We do not want to house with the general population someone who has an obvious mental health issue. That would not serve the general population well, and it certainly would not serve that particular person well.

A lot of attention has been paid to mental health lately. At the justice committee last year we were engaged in a groundbreaking study on mental health support for jurors, because jurors are often dragooned into service from of their normal family lives. I was there when we were listening to jurors who partook in the Paul Bernardo trial. They had to watch all of the videos and hear all of the audio tapes. After the trial was done and they had delivered their verdict, they were simply given a handshake, a pat on the back, released back to their family lives and expected to go on normally. Therefore, I really hope that the Department of Justice listens to the recommendations in that report.

We are also making landmark strides in mental health with respect to first responders, our veterans, Canadians Forces personnel, and now in the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food we are tackling the issue with respect to farmers. I think the conversation is headed in the right direction, and I am glad to see that this particular private member's bill is continuing along in that vein.

We had testimony at committee from the Probation Officers Association of Ontario. These are people who are working every single day in the correctional system. We had the director from the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies there, as well as the executive director of the John Howard Society. We also had some testimony from the defence counsel of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers. These are people who are intimately involved with the justice system, understand it very well and understand where the shortcomings are.

However, Dean Embry from the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers did have reservations about the bill. In his testimony, he was quite concerned about some of its privacy implications. His concerns were taken into account and that is why we see the language tightened up.

Providing information about an individual's mental health in a pre-sentence report allows the judge to make a more informed decision about an appropriate sentence. However, this measure is not intended to result in the disclosure of one's mental condition. Also, I think it is very important to note that it is not about perpetuating stigma or the false perception that those with mental health disorders are dangerous. It is simply designed to assist the individual to obtain care and receive an appropriate sentence.

It is also important, because privacy concerns were raised, that the the pre-sentence reports are distributed only to members with a vested interest in the case. They include the judge, counsel for the defence and the prosecution, the parole officer, the individual and, in some cases, the institution where the sentence will be served.

We know that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and there are statistics on that. There was a report in 2012 showing that 36% of federal offenders were identified at admission as requiring psychiatric or psychological follow-up. Additionally, 45% of male inmates and 69% of female inmates received institutional mental health care services.

To conclude, we should be giving a judge as much information as possible to make an appropriate sentence for someone who has already been found guilty. Giving a pre-sentencing report, I think, is in everyone's interest. We should be giving a judge the widest amount of discretion possible to take in all of the facts of the case to make an appropriate sentence.

I thank the member for Richmond Hill for bringing this proposed legislation forward. I congratulate him for the bill's making it to this stage, and I look forward to offering my support when the House votes on the matter.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2018 / 6:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Lloyd Longfield Liberal Guelph, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of Bill C-375. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to require all pre-sentence reports to include information on the mental health of the offender.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Richmond Hill for bringing the bill forward for debate and for his hard work on the mental health caucus.

In the 19th century, Russian novelist Dostoevsky once said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” His meaning is clear. The administration of justice reflects the values of society.

The first MP to take a stand on this self-evident truth was also the first woman to sit in the House, Agnes Macphail. In 1935, after making a personal visit to Kingston Penitentiary, Agnes Macphail realized that the administrative system was not designed to reform prisoners, but simply to punish and separate inmates from society. Her most challenging proposal for reform was to end military and political appointments to penitentiary administration and to appoint instead superintendents with penology training and medical doctors with psychological training.

While her series of reforms brought meaningful change to our penitentiary system, there is still much work we need to do.

If mental health policies have been slow to develop in Canada, it is fair to say that this issue is especially present in our prison system. According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, 16.9% of male inmates have mood disorders, half suffer from alcohol and drug abuse and 16% have borderline personality disorder. Our government is seized with addressing this inequity.

Bill C-375 identifies an important gap in our justice system. It is already common place in many jurisdictions for offenders to provide information about their mental health through a probation officer. The practical result of this bill would be to signal to a sentencing judge that this information would be a relevant consideration at the time of sentencing.

Mental illness affects nearly all Canadians at some point in their lives, either personally or through a family member, friend or colleague. An estimated 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental health illness in their lifetime. The number of individuals with mental health issues who have become involved in the criminal justice system has increased over the past several decades.

What we have in place is simply not working.

The stated goals of the bill are consistent with the mandate given by the Prime Minister to the Minister of Justice, which asks her to address gaps in services to those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system. I think that most Guelphites, as well as most Canadians, would agree that the issue of mental illness could be better managed in the criminal justice system.

A number of factors have been cited as contributing to the increasing numbers of individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system. Some of these include a lack of sufficient community resources, including housing, income and mental health services. They all connect.

Individuals with mental illness are more likely to be arrested, detained, incarcerated and more likely to be disciplined rather than treated while incarcerated. Once they have been released from the criminal justice system, they are also more likely to be arrested and detained again. Further, there is a high rate of substance abuse among individuals with mental illness, resulting in more complex needs.

It is an area where we must continue to work together with our provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as community stakeholders, to ensure that meaningful progress is made.

I want to be clear that improving the mental health responses of the criminal justice system is not about letting offenders off easy. On the contrary, it is consistent with our government's stated commitment to a criminal justice system that keeps communities safe, respects victims and holds offenders to account.

In particular, addressing mental health is one of the critical ways that we can divert offenders from the so-called revolving door of incarceration to both improve chances of successful reintegration and also to make more efficient use of scarce resources. These outcomes, and not simply punitive measures, should drive our decision-making tonight. As a result, every step we take to improve outcomes for those with mental illness is a step worthy of careful consideration by parliamentarians.

The bill complements our government's progress in addressing mental illness issues. In budget 2017, as has previously been mentioned, the government committed $5 billion over the next five years to the provinces and territories to improve access to mental health services. In addition, to ensure that federally sentenced offenders with mental health needs receive proper care, budget 2017 also proposed to invest $57.8 million over five years starting in 2017-18, and $13.6 million every year thereafter to expand mental health care for all inmates in federal correctional facilities.

Last year, the hon member for Richmond Hill and I visited the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario, not too far from my home. There we saw the complex needs of the inmates. We saw trauma, addictions and the effects of adverse childhood effects. We saw bright young women incarcerated who really wanted more access to educational resources so that they could have a better life once their term was finished.

We saw a lot of opportunities for improvement, but at the root we saw a lot of care that is needed in mental health and addictions. Our government has acknowledged the need for funding in this area and has set aside $20 million in budget 2018 for mental health care of women offenders.

If we are to address and reverse the stigma surrounding mental health, we cannot ignore parts of Canadian society such as prisons. Often enough, society tends to make an “other” of the people on its fringes: people in the criminal justice system, indigenous peoples and people struggling with mental health issues.

Particularly for those who come before the criminal justice system, assumptions about the person's past and motivations come quickly. The bill helps to prevent the kind of assumptions from taking the place of fact in Canadian courts.

Eighty years ago Agnes Macphail took up the struggle to reform Canada's prisons. Then as now, fairness and respect are the ultimate goals of our reforms.

Bill C-375 acknowledges and seeks to address the gap in Canada's legal system that is easily addressed in the legislation before us today.

Before I end, I would like to thank again the hon. member for Richmond Hill for bringing this to the floor for debate. We both come from business backgrounds and both sit on the industry committee together and why are we talking about mental health? It is simply the biggest issue that we are facing within our constituencies. I thank the member for bringing this forward. I encourage all our colleagues in the House to support this very important legislation.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

October 31st, 2018 / 6:25 p.m.
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Sherry Romanado Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Seniors, Lib.

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate of private member's Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code (pre-sentence report). I would like to acknowledge the contributions of the members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for their hard work in studying the bill.

The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights recently completed its study of Bill C-375 and reported it back with one amendment that makes three changes to the proposed language of the bill. The bill, as amended by committee, has now been concurred in at report stage.

In my view, the committee's amendment clarifies the language in the bill and will ensure it better achieves its stated objectives.

Before I speak about the specific amendment, I would like to take a moment to speak about the bill itself. The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code provisions relating to pre-sentence reports. Pre-sentence reports are ordered by the court and prepared by probation officers to help the court learn about the person to be sentenced and, in turn, to help the court discharge its responsibility to impose fit and appropriate sentences.

Currently, the Criminal Code specifies that a pre-sentence report should contain certain information about the offender, for example, age, maturity and character, unless the court orders otherwise. However, the Criminal Code is silent as to whether or not relevant mental health information should be included.

Bill C-375 proposes to amend section 721 of the Criminal Code to clarify that, wherever possible, a pre-sentence report should also include available mental health information about the offender.

During its review, the justice committee heard from several witnesses, each with an expertise in mental health and the criminal justice system and each bringing a different perspective to the table.

The Probation Officers Association of Ontario shared some very useful information with the committee about the collection and transmission of that information. The association noted that, if an offender has a mental health diagnosis, probation officers have to investigate and confirm the diagnosis through contact with mental health professionals where possible.

However, sometimes an offender's diagnosis is not confirmed or the offender does not disclose it to the probation officer. In such cases, information about mental health may come from collateral sources, such as family members, employers or professional counsellors. If necessary, probation officers include comments about observed or reported behaviours in the pre-sentence report.

Essentially, Bill C-375 would codify this standard practice to require the inclusion of mental health information in pre-sentence reports. All judges and criminal justice professionals would have access to that information and would take it into consideration at sentencing following criminal proceedings.

As I noted earlier, the justice committee amended the bill to reflect some of the expert testimony presented to it. The amendment resulted in three notable changes to the original language of the bill.

The first change to the language replaced the term “mental disorder” with “mental condition”. This responded to a concern that, as introduced, the wording in Bill C-375 was too narrow, as it would have required a specific diagnosis. The impact of this part of the amendment would be to broaden the wording of the bill, as introduced, to ensure that a pre-sentence report contained more general information about the mental condition of the offender that might be relevant for sentencing purposes, as well as any related behavioural challenges, and not solely a medical diagnosis.

The second change to the language will ensure that only the information about mental health with a direct relationship to the proceedings will be provided to protect the offender's privacy. This would address the concerns the committee heard about the presence in public records of information unrelated to the offence or sentence.

The third change to the language specified that information about “mental health services or support available to the offender” be included in a pre-sentence report. This broadens the language of the bill as introduced, which provided that the pre-sentence report should also include information about “mental health care programs”.

Broadening this language would ensure that the legislation would not unduly limit the treatment an offender could access. This amendment responded to three of the issues discussed by witnesses, and in my view, it is consistent with the purpose of the bill.

When the bill's sponsor, the member for Richmond Hill, appeared before the standing committee, he indicated that the purpose of Bill C-375 was to ensure that mental health information be considered during sentencing and that individuals with a history of mental illness be provided appropriate care and treatment in support of their rehabilitation.

I believe that the bill, with the amendment adopted at committee, strikes the appropriate balance between protecting the privacy interests of the accused and ensuring that the court has the appropriate information to make a fit sentence.

This bill would only signal that where mental health information was available to the probation officer, either from the accused directly or through collateral sources, that information would be relevant to sentencing and should be included in the pre-sentence report.

I believe the committee's amendment strengthens this bill and responds to the concerns raised before the committee. As such, I will be voting to adopt the bill, as amended, at third reading.

Justice and Human RightsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

May 10th, 2018 / 3:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Anthony Housefather Liberal Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have two reports to table.

I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the 18th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to pre-sentence reports. The committee has considered the bill and agreed to report it to the House with amendment.

Mr. Speaker, I also have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 19th report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to Bill S-210, an act to amend an act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House without amendment.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 2nd, 2018 / 1:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been a good debate here on a Friday and I appreciate the time given to me by the House earlier with respect to my question of privilege.

I am rising now to speak on behalf of the Conservative Party with respect to Bill C-375 brought forward by the Liberal MP for Richmond Hill with respect to amending the Criminal Code. It is a short bill, because it is really trying to insert one element into the pre-sentence report. I will speak for a few moments about the bill's intention, from what I can find, and then some of the concerns we have with it essentially because it is vague and causes us some concern, which I will get into.

Specifically, the goal of the bill is to amend the pre-sentence report prepared under the auspices of the Criminal Code under subsection 721(3). It wants to insert a new ground for the pre-sentence report, which would be:

(a.1) any mental disorder from which the offender suffers as well as any mental health care programs available to them;

The MP for Richmond Hill with respect to introducing the bill has said that he wants it to include information on families with a history of mental illness to ensure that they are afforded care. We all agree with the afforded care aspect of this.

Mental health conditions and mental health conditions that may be involved in someone's criminal behaviour are serious but there also must be compassion. There is compassion with respect to treatment and making health care programs available and that sort of thing. Generally, our criminal justice system does that.

Various prisoner ombudsmen and people like that have highlighted that we do not have enough mental health resources within our criminal justice system, but the bill is not about that. The bill is about basically just highlighting mental health programming. I agree with that. That is reasonable. It is already being done now but perhaps it is not being done well enough. This legislation would insert that availability into the pre-sentence report. If the person is sentenced, that availability comes later but that is the part of this private member's legislation that we generally feel we are aligned with.

The trouble with the bill is that because it is vague, maybe intentionally so, it seems like mental health might be an aspect of every sentencing decision that a judge looks at in a criminal court context. This being only a one-line bill, it is hard for us to determine. There has not been much public discussion on this, so it is hard for us to determine if that is the case. That concerns me and I will get into why shortly.

Right now what is in the pre-sentence report under subsection 721(3) of the Criminal Code is age, character, maturity, history, including criminal history, and the remorse or willingness to make amends. These sorts of things are the typical aspects that go into the pre-sentence report that a judge will consider before rendering a sentence, after a finding of guilt.

The reference to mental health in a vague sense here, “any mental health disorder from which the offender suffers”, does not actually go to intent or mens rea or actus reus, the fundamentals of criminal law. Was there a guilty mind? Was there a guilty act?

Is the member for Richmond Hill suggesting that even property crimes or things like that should consider all mental health aspects? It is not clear enough. If someone was depressed that would not necessarily mean he or she did not understand, that he or she did not have the mens rea to commit a theft. What is worse is when we start getting into crimes against other people. How does this relate to mental health impacting a decision when violence, for example, is committed against another citizen. This is why we have some concerns with it being vague.

Is the bill's intention to make this a requirement for consideration in all aspects of mental health or is it meant to be part of the general discussion on not criminally responsible due to mental disorder? That is already firmly established and I will talk about that in a moment.

I always try to remind people when we talk about criminal justice issues that rehabilitation, treatment, and all of those things are very important, and they have a place in our criminal justice system. However, what often is the difference in the House of Commons is that the Liberals or the NDP put rehabilitation of the offender always first, and in some cases, it is the only consideration with respect to sentencing and incarceration, whereas I find the Conservatives look at all aspects of the principles of sentencing an offender.

Remember, this is after a finding of guilt, regardless of what the underlying Criminal Code provision is. I refer the member and anyone following this debate to section 718 of the Criminal Code, which is our principles of sentencing. This is something we learn in law school, because it is kind of the foundation of our criminal justice system. While some people, advocates and people on the left, talk almost exclusively about rehabilitation, what are the principles of sentencing? What are the foundations of our criminal justice system? I will read them out.

The first is denunciation of unlawful conduct. The second is deterrence. The third is the separation of the offender and protection of society. The fourth is the assistance in the rehabilitation of the offender, which is the rehabilitation aspect. The fifth is reparation for criminal conduct on society or in some cases the victim. Finally, the last principle of sentencing in our Criminal Code is the promotion of a sense of responsibility.

I think that final one is probably the most important, alongside protection of the public in cases where there is violence. Certainly in cases where there is no violence, rehabilitation should probably be a key priority, especially for young people, and our system has that already. However, when we talk about cases that involve violence, that is when we think protection of the public, denunciation of conduct, promotion of a sense of responsibility, deterrence, and all of those other factors should take priority. I think average Canadians agree with that.

What is not clear about the bill is how it relates to capacity decisions of an offender. In pre-sentencing, is any mental health condition just part of a “not criminally responsible” discussion, because there is already provision for that, or is it just meant to be a consideration for later treatment? In the bill there is treatment and the consideration of historical conditions, and we see a lot of talk in society today now about trauma being intergenerational. Is intergenerational trauma somehow a consideration at pre-sentencing, meaning somebody should not receive a sentence appropriate because of trauma committed in the past? When there is a very light, vague bill, it is not clear for us to understand.

We already have a not criminally responsible provision for mental disorder where somebody does not have the capacity to understand, the mens rea or the mental intention of their act. They committed the act, the actus reus, which is one part of a criminal act. The mens rea or the mental intention is the other. We already have not criminally responsible.

In the Winko decision in 1999, the Supreme Court said that within that construct, if there is not capacity, then security of the public, if the offender is violent, is still a key priority. We talk about this often, because there are cases like the Schoenborn case in Merritt, B.C., where the public loses faith in the criminal justice system because they see NCR cases not having the protection of the public and other aspects of criminal sentencing principles applied. We know of the Vincent Li case in Manitoba and others. These erode public confidence in our system.

Our concern from the Conservative Party is that the bill is so vague. If this is just about making sure that treatment options are discussed while the person is incarcerated or serving a conditional sentence or something, that is one thing. However, with the consideration of historical mental illness and this sort of vague notion, we do not want to see a situation where there is a violent crime committed and the history of intergenerational trauma or depression would somehow be an excuse for the mens rea. Mental health conditions often will mean that people do have the capacity. I talk about veterans and mental health all the time. It is an injury in some cases, but that person still has the capacity.

Therefore, the MP for Richmond Hill has to shed a little more light on this to address these reasonable concerns.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 2nd, 2018 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Brigitte Sansoucy NDP Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House today to speak to Bill C-375, which would amend the Criminal Code in order to introduce information about mental health issues and disorders in pre-sentence reports.

The NDP is committed to building a criminal justice system that works for everyone. We want compassion and rehabilitation to be central to our policy. That is why my NDP colleagues and I will support this bill, which we believe is necessary to ensure fair and effective justice for all Canadians.

The NDP believes that this bill is a step in the right direction because it ensures that the judge will have all the information needed to hand down a fair and equitable ruling.

At present, nearly 36% of federal offenders need some form of psychiatric or psychological follow-up. I would remind the House, however, that paragraph 721(3)(a) of the Criminal Code requires only certain information to be included in a pre-sentence report, namely “the offender’s age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude and willingness to make amends”, but nothing on possible mental health issues.

This is despite the fact that people with mental illness are currently overrepresented in our criminal justice system. It would therefore be a good idea to take them into account by including mental health information in pre-sentence reports so that judges can make fairer and more appropriate decisions. Adding information on offenders' mental health represents a real opportunity to modernize our justice system and adapt it to reflect the current reality.

Bill C-375 is far from perfect, however. My NDP colleagues and I all agree that this bill desperately lacks ambition and does not go far enough. If we really want to bring about change, we need meaningful action on the accessibility of mental health care. Tuesday's budget could have been an excellent opportunity to invest, but no.

The NDP believes that mental health care should be just as readily available and accessible as any other health care service in our communities. It is only logical and only fair that comparable resources be allocated to mental and physical illnesses.

We must continue to focus on compassionate care in order to help Canadians with mental illness rejoin society after incarceration and avoid over-criminalization wherever possible.

That is why I believe that it is high time for the Liberal government to invest in programs that will truly help people with mental illness before or during their time in the criminal justice system. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, over a million children and youth in Canada have a mental illness, yet less than 20% of them are able to get the treatment they need.

That is why, during the last election campaign, the NDP promised to create an innovation fund for youth mental health services, with a particular focus on first nations and rural and remote communities. This innovation fund would be a real way of proactively preventing crimes committed by people with mental illness.

I believe that we need to completely rethink the way we look at things. We need to take care of these people and ensure that they get the treatment they need instead of completely abandoning them as is currently far too often the case.

We must also remember that these people who have serious illnesses often do not have the skills or the ability to adapt to the prison environment. However, with the closure of care facilities for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, the criminal justice system has become a refuge for people who do not have the resources to cope with life in society.

Solitary confinement and other such measures meant to enhance prison security are never appropriate solutions for people with mental illness. When they leave prison, they end up having untreated or aggravated mental health problems, which may contribute to recidivism.

While the Conservatives want to focus on harsher penalties that will only make matters worse, the NDP prefers to focus on real solutions. This is why the NDP believes in helping convicts who have a mental disorder get access to resources and support so that they can rehabilitate and reintegrate as productive members of society. We believe that we must do everything to reintegrate former inmates into society and to make sure they have the tools to do so.

I want to take a moment to highlight a number of organizations in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot that are working very hard to help people with mental illnesses and their families. These organizations include The Lighthouse; Les Ateliers de transition; the Auberge du coeur Le Baluchon; the Centre psychosocial Richelieu-Yamaska; the Centre de femmes L'autonomie en soiE; the Collectif de défense des droits de la Montérégie; the Maison alternative de développement humain, or MADH, as it is known; the Trait d'Union Montérégien; and, of course, our volunteer centres and our health and social services institutions.

Every day, these organizations work to help people in need and contribute to improving life for the entire Saint-Hyacinthe and Acton Vale community. Le Phare is one such organization. Its mission is to bring together and help the loved ones of a person with serious mental health problems and provide them with a wide range of support services in order to help them reintegrate into society more easily.

Saint-Hyacinthe and the surrounding region can also count on the work of the Centre psychosocial Richelieu-Yamaska, which has set out to help people with mental health problems in their quest for a better quality of life with a focus on significant and lasting integration into the community.

It is thanks to local organizations like those that we can change things. That is why I believe that we must help them at a federal level in order to allow them to continue their vital mission.

I want to acknowledge another community organization in my riding in particular, the Trait d'Union Montérégien, a not-for-profit community organization that provides a sponsorship service for the social reintegration of adults who have lived with, continue to live with, or are at risk of living with emotional distress.

Since 1991, more than 300 people were able to meet a friend through this organization. When one understands how much support a good friend can provide, one understands how essential an organization like Trait d'Union Montérégien is for people who do not benefit from such relationships in their usual social circle.

The work that these organizations do is invaluable and a source of hope for thousands of people across Canada who are struggling with mental illness. However, I believe that it is vital that the government take action at the national level because the work that these community organizations do locally is not enough to bring about real change. That is why the NDP committed to working with all community workers, mental health professionals, front line workers such as the RCMP, and the provincial and territorial justice systems to seek better support services for people with mental illnesses. I encourage the government to do the same.

I repeat that the NDP will support this bill. However, my colleagues and I believe that the government needs to do more to deal with the overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system.

In our eyes, amending our Criminal Code to include information about mental health issues and disorders in pre-sentence reports is a good start. In conclusion, however, this move falls well short of what is needed to make a real difference for the thousands of people suffering from mental health issues who need real support from the federal government. It is time for the government to find the courage to release funds for mental health care. That is the kind of ambitious initiative I was expecting from the 2018 federal budget, but sadly, we will have to keep waiting.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 2nd, 2018 / 1:35 p.m.
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Eglinton—Lawrence Ontario

Liberal

Marco Mendicino LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak to private member's Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to pre-sentence reports.

Let me say at the outset that our government will be supporting Bill C-375, and we commend the hon. member for Richmond Hill for his leadership and collaboration on the important issue of mental health in our criminal justice system.

I was listening very carefully to some of the concerns expressed by my Conservative colleague from the riding of Durham. It is important to address the thrust of it, which is that this private member's bill is somehow vague. In fact, in our interpretation of this private member's bill, it serves to clarify and cure a vagueness in the Criminal Code by making an express reference to mental health concerns in the context of the criminal sentencing process. What is important for my hon. colleague to appreciate is that in that context, when we are talking about finding someone not criminally responsible as a result of not having the mental capacity to appreciate the consequences of committing a criminal offence, it is a separate and distinct legal concept from the provisions under sections 718 and 721 of the Criminal Code, where after an accused individual pleads guilty and has accepted responsibility for committing those offences, a judge would take into consideration mental health issues as part of the overall sentencing exercise. I offer those comments in the spirit of constructive dialogue.

Let me say for my hon. colleague from Richmond Hill that in the first hour of second reading debate, the sponsor stated that his bill is intended to ensure that individuals with mental illnesses who find themselves in the criminal justice system are afforded the care, compassion, and appropriate treatment they need during the process of their rehabilitation. Specifically, the bill aims to make the criminal justice system more responsive to individuals with mental health issues by amending subsection 721(3) of the Criminal Code to specify that a pre-sentence report must contain information regarding any mental disorder from which the offender suffers.

A pre-sentence report is a written document prepared by a probation officer to help the court learn more about the person to be sentenced. Its purpose is to assist the court in making the appropriate sentencing decision. These reports are intended to be an accurate, independent, and balanced assessment of an offender and his or her prospects for the future.

Accordingly, these pre-sentence reports help to provide judges with a firm evidentiary basis on which to exercise their discretion at sentencing. When judges are given the necessary background and context about each unique set of circumstances, the result is a sentence that better protects the community, rehabilitates the offender, and ultimately reduces crime.

The Criminal Code currently outlines that certain information about the offender, including his or her age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude, and willingness to make amends, should be contained in a pre-sentence report.

It should also include the criminal history of the offender under the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the history of previous sentences and findings of guilt. The history of alternative measures used to deal with the offender, and the offender's response to those measures, should similarly be contained in the report. Those measures may include judicial cautions or programs requiring community service or repairing harm done.

However, the Criminal Code does not presently expressly require that information about the mental condition of the offender, as it relates to the offence, be included in the pre-sentence report. In my view, this is highly relevant information for a judge who is attempting to craft an appropriate sentence. Indeed, as we learn more and more about the role of mental health issues in contributing to criminal behaviour, the importance of considering this information at sentencing is beyond question.

The impacts of mental illness are of course not limited to the criminal justice system. They are linked to much broader challenges being faced by our society as a whole. Today mental health issues cost Canadians millions of dollars each year. As the sponsor has previously said, it is estimated that the total cost of mental health challenges exceeds $50 billion annually in health care expenses and lost productivity. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, in any given year, one in five people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. These challenges are even more pronounced in the criminal justice system.

While statistics are not as fulsome as we may like, there is evidence to suggest that in our penitentiaries, mental health issues are two to three times more prevalent than in the general population. The rate of mental illness among federal offenders has more than doubled in the last 20 years. In fact, individuals with mental illness are more likely to be arrested, detained, and incarcerated and are consequently more likely to be disciplined rather than treated. This is an ongoing issue, as once they have been released from the criminal justice system, they are also more likely to be rearrested and to reoffend. In other words, an offender whose mental illness is unrecognized and untreated is at far greater risk of being caught in the revolving door of incarceration and repeat offending.

That is why we need to continue to develop measures like the one proposed in Bill C-375, to address mental health in a proactive way. In particular, the bill will help to ensure that our judges are well-equipped to assess the needs of those being sentenced and enable them to direct the offenders to proper rehabilitation. This, ultimately, will help to break the vicious cycle of criminality by addressing this issue at the outset.

The social and economic benefits of this smart and proactive approach to criminal justice can hardly be overstated. Under the prior government, we saw time and time again that a regressive approach to sentencing divides families and consumes financial resources that could be better used to improve the lives of Canadians and to keep all of them safe. Instead, by identifying and meeting the mental health needs of offenders in the short term, we can stop that revolving door of chronic reoffending and create a safer, more prosperous community for all. All of this begins by identifying the underlying problem, which is precisely what Bill C-375 works to ensure.

It appears to me that supporting this bill is consistent with a number of broader initiatives of our government that are aimed at supporting those mental health issues, and they go back to our prior budgets. In budget 2018, we build on the investments made in past years, proposing an additional $20.4 million over five years, beginning in 2018-19, and $5.6 million per year ongoing. The funding is aligned with the recently announced investment of $5 billion over 10 years to improve mental health services across the country.

Bill C-375 is also consistent with the mandate given by the Prime Minister to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General . In particular, she was directed to “address gaps in services to...those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system.” In my view, the measures proposed in Bill C-375 are consistent with that mandate and will serve to advance our government's broader plan to address the challenges related to mental health in Canada.

Before concluding, I wish to draw attention to a few questions I have identified with this bill. I would like to think that these issues could be studied by the committee and possibly addressed through minor amendments.

First, I note that the bill focuses on the need for a diagnosis of an offender, and not on the symptoms or behaviours that manifest as a result of a mental health issue. In my view, it would be more useful to a sentencing judge to have broader information about the offender's mental health more generally, rather than the official diagnosis.

Second, I would note that the bill does not contain a link or a nexus between the mental health information that is sought and the purpose for which it will be used. For me, this raises some concerns that a sentencing court could be provided with mental health information that may not be directly relevant to the offence, and by extension the sentencing process. I trust that these are issues the committee will address through its study.

Finally, it seems to me that the language with respect to “mental health programs” could create some confusion as to what type of information should be provided to the court. In my view, it is unclear what is meant by the term “programs”, as mental health care is, indeed, a specific type of medical care and not specifically delivered through programming.

Once again, I expect that all these issues can be thoroughly addressed at committee.

I would once again like to thank the sponsor of this bill and commend him for his work and his commitment to mental health issues. I know that it comes from a place of great sincerity and authenticity. I look forward to supporting this private member's bill, along with all members of the House.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

March 2nd, 2018 / 1:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise once again to discuss my private members' bill, Bill C-375. At the outset, I would like to thank all members who have substantially contributed to the substance of this private members' bill. I would like to thank the members today for once again covering the scope and intent of the bill.

For the next four minutes, I limit my remarks to responding to some of the concerns raised earlier as part of the first hour of debate. I listened intently to those members who spoke previously to the bill. While the debate has been spirited, I have been encouraged by its good faith and co-operative nature. In and of itself, this is an of acknowledgement by all parties that there is a need for real change at the intersection between our justice system and mental health. I hope that Bill C-375 can play a role in this change and inform future changes as governments of today and tomorrow navigate that dynamic relationship.

If I could, I would like to take some time to address the contradictions and inaccuracies raised by some of my colleagues across the aisle during the first hour of debate. They raised two concurrent concerns. First is that, in cases where mental health information is relevant, judges already choose to include mental health information in pre-sentence reports. Second is that the process of mandating that this information be provided where relevant would add a new burden to the justice system.

I think the contradiction here is very clear. If judges are already choosing to include this information in the pre-sentence report in all relevant cases, then we are simply codifying an existing practice. There can be no additional burden because this practice is already applied when relevant. As well, if this legislation would add a burden, then we must accept that mental health information is, in fact, not being requested in all relevant cases.

While we are on the topic of additional burdens, it is my understanding that a sentence imposed without reference to relevant, available medical evidence is vulnerable to attack on appeal. Whatever hypothetical burden would be added to the justice system by adding additional information to a pre-sentence report cannot possibly compare to the burden of time and cost that the judiciary is opened to by vulnerable verdicts.

In addition, more than one of my colleagues have suggested that providing mental health information in pre-sentence reports would result in unfairness and inconsistencies in the administration of justice, by which they must mean to say that judges will make considered decisions based on information they would otherwise not have had. This is an intended feature, not a bug. I trust our judiciary. I consider them credible decision-makers and I trust they will not become confused when provided with additional context. However, for our judges to make an informed consideration, they must have all the facts.

Mental health is an ongoing project, a frontier of medical and social science. Even those at the forefront of their field continue to make new discoveries and find new connections and contexts. As such, judges must be provided with all information, whenever possible, so as not to prejudge an offender before they have all the facts. In this constantly changing field, what may or may not be pertinent is in flux, and it is unreasonable to expect every judge to take full account of relevant mental health information in the absence of the facts and context contained in the pre-sentence report.

There have also been colleagues who have suggested this bill would not go far enough. I agree. In drafting legislation, particularly private members' bills, there may be a tendency to err on the side of caution. To narrow the scope, one must consider the end result. I am proud of the bill as it stands, but far be it from me to suggest we cannot broaden its scope or clarify its existing intent. I believe the House stands united in our belief that improvements can and must be made at the intersection of our sentencing process and the lived reality of Canadians who continue to struggle with mental health.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2017 / 12:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

moved that Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code (presentence report), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise today to address this House for a second time to talk about my private member's bill, Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to pre-sentence reports. I would like to thank my hon. colleague and friend, the member for Mississauga—Erin Mills, for seconding this bill today.

I would like to reflect at the outset of my statement on the great honour and privilege I possess as a representative of my constituents in Richmond Hill. This is an honour that no member in this House takes lightly, and like my colleagues, I am aware of the great responsibility that comes with representing one's constituents in this House.

I came to Ottawa having made the commitment to my constituents in Richmond Hill that I would focus all my energies on advancing the progressive ideals I was elected to uphold and fight for, namely, the advancement of equality for all Canadians, in particular, those who feel voiceless and marginalized.

When it comes to the subject of mental health, we are all aware of the great sensitivity involved in addressing the challenges of this often marginalized group. It is perhaps for this very reason that we must do everything we can to ensure that no stone is left unturned in safeguarding the rights and dignity of those suffering from mental illness. This is a goal I have committed myself to working toward actively and with great care.

Through my work as founder and co-chair of the all-party mental health caucus, I, along with other participating members, heard from numerous stakeholders and experts involved in the field of mental health. I know I can speak for all members who participated when I convey how eye-opening the testimony was. What we heard painted a picture of the current mental health landscape as rife with gaps and areas for improvement. In particular, issues related to mental health and the criminal justice system came to the forefront as needing special attention.

To obtain a better understanding of the current issues surrounding the treatment of individuals with mental illness, caucus members visited Kitchener, Ontario, where we took a tour of the Grand Valley Institution for Women, operated by Correctional Service Canada. We heard from Ms. Sherry Payne, herself a formerly incarcerated woman, who informed us of the various challenges faced in the correctional system when it comes to mental illness.

Our experiences working with the mental health caucus led to our resolve that many operational and legislative changes are still needed to improve the delivery of services to mental health sufferers, in particular those in our criminal and correctional systems.

Section 2 of the Criminal Code defines “mental disorder” as “a disease of the mind”. Unlike diseases of the body, the symptoms that mental illness carries are very often hidden and difficult to diagnose. In too many instances, as well, mental illness is also misdiagnosed or ignored entirely. In Canada, 10% of the population reports symptoms consistent with mental Illness. This burden, sadly, is often greater among our youth, fully 25% of whom will experience a mental health issue as they navigate to adulthood.

In our federal penitentiaries, this proportion is even higher. Over 20% of federal offenders are identified as presenting with mental health problems, often with more than one disorder. Furthermore, rates of mental illness among federal offenders have almost doubled in the last 20 years.

Globally, the World Health Organization reports that by the year 2020, mental and behavioural disorders will account for roughly 15% of the global burden of the disease, which it projects is further likely to increase in proportion in subsequent decades.

Even with respect to our attitudes toward mental Illness, there is still work to be done. While half of Canadians reported in 2017 that they are more comfortable talking about mental health than in the five years before that, it is also reported that this has not led to an adequate and proportionate growth in community resources for those suffering from mental illness.

For individuals suffering from mental illness, theirs is often a daily struggle to integrate into families, peer groups, and society as a whole. These same families and peer groups bear an untold burden, both emotional and economical, that must be addressed.

It is estimated that the total cost of mental health problems to the Canadian economy exceeds $50 billion annually in health care expenses and lost productivity. This represents nearly $1,400 for every Canadian. Over the next 30 years, this cost will add up to more $2.5 trillion for Canadians. We all must therefore recognize mental illness as an issue that affects not only the present circumstances of Canadian families but their future as well.

I am happy to be able to say that our government announced in budget 2017 that it will invest $5 billion over 10 years to improve mental health services, with an addition of $118.2 million to address mental health programming among first nations and Inuit people.

Bill C-375 is also inspired by another idea. We believe that better is always possible. Bill C-375 would amend paragraph 721(3)(a) of the Criminal Code such that, unless specified, when a pre-sentencing report was required by a court, in addition to such information as age, maturity, character, behaviour, and attitude, information outlining any mental health disorder, as well as any mental health care programs available for the accused, would be provided as part of the pre-sentencing report.

I would like to take this opportunity to outline in detail why my colleagues in the House must support this essential bill to address mental health concerns in our criminal justice system.

Currently, courts are not mandated to consider the mental health history of individuals in pre-sentencing proceedings. This significantly increases the likelihood that such vital information will not be taken into account during pre-sentencing and that individuals with histories of mental health issues may not be afforded appropriate care, compassion, and treatment during the process of their rehabilitation.

What are the real-world consequences of this status quo? Pre-sentencing reports are a vital tool at a judge's disposal, and 87% of judges see pre-sentencing reports as important in giving much-needed analysis and advice on an offender's treatment needs. By and large, when a pre-sentencing report is present in a case, there is a significantly higher likelihood that an offender will receive a community sentence as opposed to a custodial sentence.

By stating plainly and unambiguously that mental health backgrounds and treatment options must be included in pre-sentencing reports along with other background information, probation officers who are tasked with preparing these reports would have to work from a clear standard whereby the investigation of an offender's mental health background would be deemed to be at least equal to other factors.

Underlying this framework is the ideal that individuals with histories of mental illness are best approached using the model of what Justice Richard Schneider terms “therapeutic jurisprudence”. This, in contrast to traditional punitive approaches, seeks as a primary goal to limit offender recidivism with the courts. Thus, the bill in many ways takes one further step toward the de-institutionalization of mental health and one further step away from when mental health sufferers were subjected to mandatory and undignified confinement.

Across Canada, individuals with mental illness find themselves involved in the criminal justice system under circumstances that are tragic and horrific, both for themselves and their victims.

Many of the experts and advocates I have spoken to on this subject agree that a host of policy approaches are required to address this. Bill C-375 is just one such approach to addressing mental health and the criminal justice system. As a modest and uncontroversial step in the right direction, I extend my hand to all members from each caucus to work together with me on this important initiative.

In closing, I am confident that with this small yet significant change to our Criminal Code, all members of this House will do their part in ensuring that those suffering from mental illness will be afforded the compassion and care they need and deserve.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2017 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-375, introduced by the hon. member for Richmond Hill, an act to amend the Criminal Code. More specifically, Bill C-375 seeks to amend section 721 of the Criminal Code. Section 721 deals with pre-sentence reports. What Bill C-375 would do is amend section 721 to require that probation officers consistently, in every pre-sentence report, always report on any mental health disorder of an offender, as well as report on programs and services related to mental health that are available to the offender.

There is no question that mental health is a serious issue in Canada's criminal justice system. We know that the percentage of individuals in prison who have mental health or addiction issues is very large. Indeed, according to the latest report from the correctional investigator of Canada, more than half of the female prison population has some mental health issue and 26% of the male population has a mental health issue. Therefore, when we are talking about the criminal justice system, prisons, and issues of mental health, we are talking about a very significant percentage of the prison population.

There is no doubt that a lot of attention has been placed on issues around mental health in prisons as a result of some recent highly publicized incidents involving prisoners with mental health issues and how they were treated. There is no question that there is plenty of work to do to ensure that the health and safety of prisoners with mental health issues are protected. To that end, Parliament has a responsibility and a duty to act to ensure that those issues are addressed and to deal with shortcomings of the federal prison system in dealing with persons with mental health issues.

With that said, Bill C-375 specifically deals with pre-sentence reports. By way of background, each and every year in Canada thousands of pre-sentence reports are prepared. Pre-sentence reports are not mandatory. They are prepared at the request of a judge who may need the report or who may look forward to the report to obtain additional information and background about the offender in order to craft an appropriate sentence for that offender.

Section 721 of the Criminal Code provides that certain information must always be included in pre-sentence reports. Additionally, subsection 721(2) of the Criminal Code provides that provinces may, by regulation, require that additional information be included in pre-sentence reports in their respective jurisdictions. Additionally, judges have the discretion to request that certain issues or certain matters be addressed in a pre-sentence report when the judge deems it appropriate, having regard for the unique circumstances of each individual offender. Taken together, the reality today is that when we are talking about the mental health issues that may concern an offender, and issues concerning programs and services related to mental health in respect of offenders, the fact is that today such information and those issues can be addressed, investigated, and put forward in a pre-sentence report.

Indeed, it is not uncommon, again depending upon the specific circumstances of each individual case and offender, for judges to make that request and to take those matters into consideration. While I appreciate that Bill C-375 is a well-intentioned bill and I know that the hon. member for Richmond Hill has been a strong and passionate advocate on issues concerning mental health, vulnerable persons, and Canadian society, I believe the bill is unnecessary.

Moreover, in addition to being unnecessary, I believe that Bill C-375 has the potential to create confusion and result in unfairness and inconsistencies in the administration of justice. To that end, there is a considerable variance in the behaviours and conditions falling under the umbrella of mental illness. The fact is that not all mental illnesses and disorders are the same. Even within some disorders, the degree of impact can vary considerably. In addition to that, there is a real potential for Bill C-375 to cause delay and further backlogs in our criminal justice system.

Further, Bill C-375 would significantly increase the amount of work a probation officer undertakes in preparing a pre-sentence report. That additional work may be necessary in many cases. Again, that is already done in those cases, because by the time a verdict is rendered and a judge gets to the sentencing part of a specific case, issues concerning the mental health of an offender almost certainly have been brought to the attention of the trial judge.

Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach that can create inconsistencies, lead to confusion, result in backlogs or slow down the administration of justice, I would submit that the best approach is to do what is taking place, which is to leave it to the discretion of trial judges.