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.