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 (House), as of Dec. 8, 2017

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 mental disorder from which the offender suffers.

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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

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

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.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2017 / 12:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet NDP Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-375 sponsored by my colleague from Richmond Hill to amend the Criminal Code.

This bill has just one clause, and its objective is to provide more information on the profile of the accused in the pre-sentencing report used by the judge when determining the most appropriate sentence under the circumstances, or whether the accused should be absolved from serving a sentence.

At first reading, when the member for Richmond Hill introduced his bill, he stated the following:

The bill would mandate 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 disorders as well as any mental health care programs available for the accused be provided as part of their pre-sentencing report. Such information is vital for the courts to have in order to ensure that those Canadians with histories of mental illness are afforded care and compassion, and that they will receive appropriate treatment throughout the process of their rehabilitation.

Bill C-375 states:

Subsection 721(3) of the Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after paragraph (a): (a.1) any mental disorder from which the offender suffers as well as any mental health care programs available to them;

Pre-sentence reports are given to members with a vested interest in the case: the presiding judge, both counsel for the defence and prosecution, the parole officer, the individual and in some cases the institution where the sentence will be served.

This report serves to help the judge determine the most appropriate sentence for the accused and to inform them of the available services that might be necessary in their rehabilitation.

The NDP is committed to building a criminal justice system that works. We want to ensure that compassion and rehabilitation are at the heart of our policies. Providing information about an individual’s mental health in a pre-sentencing report allows the judge to make a more informed and appropriate sentencing decision and falls directly in line with a justice system based on rehabilitation, as does including information about available mental health programs and services.

To be clear, the objective of this measure is not to disclose the mental health condition of the individual or to perpetuate the stigma or false perception that people with mental health disorders are dangerous.

The objective of the bill is to add information to pre-sentence reports with a view to helping individuals receive appropriate sentences and, with the proposed changes, receive the services they need.

People with mental illnesses are overrepresented in Canada's criminal justice system. Documenting the number of people with mental illnesses who are convicted of certain crimes will help us make the case for alternative programs and solutions. This information can also be used to develop resources and initiatives that prevent people with mental illness from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.

Although provisions providing for pre-sentence reports are set out in the Criminal Code, which is a federal legislation, the administration of the courts and law enforcement are the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories.

At present, the provinces and territories include different information in their pre-sentence reports.

Some provinces, like Nova Scotia, already advise that mental health considerations be disclosed, but this is not the case for all jurisdictions. This bill would create a national standard for all jurisdictions to consider mental health during sentencing.

Bill C-375 would also require the report to include information about any mental health care programs that might help with the individual's rehabilitation.

The following is an excerpt from a 2015 John Howard Society of Ontario report:

Since the closure of institutions serving individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities, the criminal justice system has become a repository for individuals who lack adequate resources to cope with living in the community.

The correctional investigator's 2012 annual report found that 36% of federal offenders were identified at admission as requiring psychiatric or psychological follow-up.

What is more, 45% of male inmates and 69% of female inmates were treated for mental health issues while in prison.

Young adults aged 18 to 34 are overrepresented in correctional facilities since, according to Statistics Canada data from 2015-16, they represent only 28% of the Canadian adult population.

An Ontario study also showed that 80% of young inmates had a mental health issue.

In 2015-16, indigenous adults were also overrepresented in provincial and territorial corrections facilities since they accounted for 26% of admissions but represent only 3% of the Canadian adult population.

The overrepresentation of indigenous adults was more pronounced for women than men. Indigenous women represented 38% of women serving a sentence in a provincial or territorial institution, whereas for indigenous men, that figure was 26%.

In the federal correctional system, indigenous women accounted for 31% of women serving prison sentences, whereas for indigenous men, that figure was 23%.

The fact that people with mental health problems are being sent to prison and not being given the appropriate care is a real problem. Last April, the Toronto Star published the following quote from Justice David Paciocco of the Ontario Court of Appeal. He said:

From arrest to prosecution, conviction, sentencing, use of segregation, all stages of our criminal justice system are now consistently overrepresented by people who are suffering from psychosis, mania, mood disorders, depression, alcoholism and addiction, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.

The judge continued:

Those suffering from mental health issues who are swallowed up by the criminal justice system do not fare well. The use of segregation or other standard isolation practices are the clearest examples of a system whose practices rooted in punishment and control can exacerbate the challenges facing people with mental health issues. Individuals leaving the system leave with unmanaged or worsened mental health issues, which can contribute to recidivism.

That is exactly what we want to avoid.

The New Democrat Party is committed to working with community workers, mental health professionals, front-line workers like the RCMP, and the provincial and territorial justice systems to demand better support services for people with mental illness. We also want to make sure communities have the resources and services they need to help people with mental illness before and during incarceration.

We need to continue focusing on compassionate care to help people with mental illness rejoin society after incarceration and avoid over-criminalization wherever possible.

If we can improve our ability to assess the needs of those being sentenced, our justice system will be able to direct them to the appropriate rehabilitation resources and so reduce the risk of recidivism—even eliminate recidivism entirely, in an ideal world. That is one of the reasons the New Democrat Party is calling for more detailed pre-sentence reports and will be supporting this bill.

Mental illness can have a tremendous impact on a person's life. Disclosure of mental illness definitely needs to factor into the determination of an appropriate sentence and rehabilitation plan.

Instead of spouting tough-on-crime rhetoric, the New Democratic Party has long been looking for ways to make our justice system work. Our goal is to help people convicted of crimes who have mental health problems get the resources and support they need to be rehabilitated and become fully functioning members of society.

We believe it is important to provide more support services and resources to people with mental illness who are involved in the criminal justice system.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2017 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand today and join in the second reading debate on private member's Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code.

Before I begin my speech I would like to thank my hon. friend from Richmond Hill, who in caucus and throughout this Parliament has been a tireless advocate for mental health.

This legislation would amend provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with pre-sentence reports to be more responsive to offenders with mental health issues. A pre-sentence report is ordered in some cases to help the court learn more about the person being sentenced.

Specifically, the bill would amend subsection 721(3) of the Criminal Code to provide that a pre-sentence report must, where available, and unless the court orders otherwise, contain information on any mental disorder from which an offender suffers, as well as any mental health care programs available to the offender.

Requiring information about the offender's mental health disorder would be in addition to the information that the Criminal Code currently requires to be included in a pre-sentence report. Under the current law, a pre-sentence report must, wherever possible, contain certain information about the offender, such as age, maturity, character, and willingness to make amends.

Bill C-375 would make it clear to the courts that where mental health information is readily available, it should be included in the pre-sentence report. For example, often offenders will provide information about their mental health situation to the probation officer who is preparing the report. The officer will often include this information in the report, which is in turn relied upon by the crown, defence counsel, and the sentencing judge.

The sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Richmond Hill, has indicated that his intention in introducing the bill was to ensure that information outlining any mental health disorders as well as any mental health care programs available is before the courts to ensure that those offenders with histories of mental illness are afforded care and compassion, and that they will receive appropriate treatment throughout the process of their rehabilitation.

I agree with the sponsor that this is important information that can be extremely valuable to a sentencing judge. In fact, it is my understanding that criminal courts in Canada can, and do, consider the mental health information of an offender when it is before them. Any sentence that is imposed without reference to available medical evidence, including mental health information, is vulnerable to attack on appeal. I do not read this proposal, however, as compelling offenders to provide information about their mental health situation against their wishes.

I understand that including mental health information in pre-sentence reports is already common practice in many jurisdictions. The legal effect of Bill C-375 would serve to codify this practice and signal to sentencing judges that this information is relevant to their deliberations.

Inroads are being made in recent years to eliminate the stigma around mental illness. People are more willing to talk about their struggles and their lives with a mental illness. This increased openness has led us to learn more about the scope of mental illness in Canada.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada indicates that in any given year, one in five Canadians experience a mental health or addiction problem. Other statistics indicate that by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, one in two experienced a mental illness. Additionally, we know that our young people are more likely to experience mental health issues than any other group.

It is well known that in the past decades, the number of individuals with mental health issues involved in the criminal justice system has increased. There is no singular reason for this increase, however, a number of causes have been cited as contributing factors. These include gaps in services for marginalized populations, including housing, income, and health services. In this regard I am extremely proud to be part of a government that is making great strides in these areas, for instance, the recently announced national housing strategy.

We also know that individuals with mental health illness are often likely to come to the attention of the police and be arrested and detained. Once detained, accessing appropriate mental health services can be a challenge.

The complexities of this issue cannot all be addressed through a private member's bill, nor can the Criminal Code solve such a profound and complex social problem.

However, I think it is fair to say that the sponsor's intent is to take one meaningful step in addressing the larger problem of the overrepresentation of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system. The bill proposes a narrow and targeted approach to ensure that in situations where a pre-sentence report is ordered, readily available mental health information is to be considered.

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 most Canadians would agree that the issue of mental illness could be better managed in the criminal justice system. 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 we can divert offenders from the so-called revolving door of incarceration, improve chances of successful reintegration, and make more efficient use of scarce resources. These outcomes, and not simply punitive measures, should drive our decision-making. 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 proposals in the bill are also consistent with our government's other efforts to improve mental health care more generally across the country.

In budget 2017, the government committed $5 billion over the next 10 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 proposed to invest $57.8 million over five years starting in 2017-18, and $13.6 million per year thereafter, to expand mental health care for all inmates in federal correctional facilities.

This funding is in addition to the $69 million over three years announced in 2016 for immediate mental health needs, and more than $300 million provided annually to support culturally relevant mental wellness services in indigenous communities. These significant and historic investments in front-line mental health services will benefit all Canadians, not just those who find themselves at odds with the criminal justice system.

I am encouraged by these financial commitments. It reflects the importance of investing in upstream services to ensure that people can receive help when they need it, before they come into contact with the criminal justice system.

I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate on this important private member's bill. Safe and healthy communities are built upon a criminal justice system that treats all Canadians with respect, dignity, and in a manner that always upholds the rights and freedoms afforded to all Canadians by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

I would like to thank the sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Richmond Hill, for providing us with an opportunity to debate this important issue facing the criminal justice system.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2017 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Dane Lloyd Conservative Sturgeon River—Parkland, AB

Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I want to recognize and express deep gratitude to remarkable leader, a former minister, my predecessor, the Hon. Rona Ambrose, who served the people of Sturgeon River—Parkland with distinction. It is an honour to follow in her footsteps as the representative of Sturgeon River—Parkland.

I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code in regard to pre-sentencing reports. I want to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Richmond Hill, for championing the issue of mental health in Canada. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to require a pre-sentencing report that contains information on any mental disorder a offender suffers from.

Canadians expect their justice system to keep them safe from high-risk individuals, and we need a policy that strikes a balance between the need to protect society from those who pose a danger and to treat with compassion those with mental illness and mental disorders. I will not be supporting the bill because I do not believe it would achieve this balance between compassion for victims and their families, and for the offenders who suffer from mental illness.

Currently, section 721 of the Criminal Code enables a probation officer to publish a pre-sentence report after the offender is found guilty. The purpose of the report is to assist the court in imposing a sentence or in determining whether an accused should be discharged. A pre-sentence report must contain the following information: the offender's age, maturity, character, and willingness to make amends. It also contains the history of previous dispositions under the Young Offenders Act and the history of alternative measures used to deal with the offender and the offender's response to those measures.

Bill C-375 proposes to add another requirement to this list: the consideration of any mental health disorder from which the offender suffers, as well as any mental health care programs available to him or her. In practice, this would create some unfairness and inconsistencies in the application of laws and justice. Not all mental health disorders are the same. In fact, even the same mental health disorders can have a great deal of variance in how they impact individuals. It is paramount that compassion for those suffering with mental health disorders be balanced with the need to protect public safety and provide justice for victims and their families.

These changes are also a concern because they could add considerable delays to our court system, which is already overburdened. Increased delays and complexity would not help those in the justice system who have mental health disorders, nor would they be good for victims and their families. I do not think any of my colleagues in this House would want trials to be unnecessarily delayed, or after the fact, and I believe this legislation could add delays to our system.

Our understanding of mental health continues to evolve with more research. It is an incredibly complex issue, as I mentioned. There is a danger when anyone attempts to address mental health too broadly. The requirement of the bill to add pre-sentencing reports for mental disorders is too broad. As I said, not all mental health disorders are the same, and not all of them are equally relevant to our justice system. Currently, judges are able to take into account relevant information to ensure that the mentally ill are not treated poorly, and can do so without this legislation and in a way that is not cumbersome to the system. In the case of Vince Li in Manitoba, I believe that the justice system dealt quite ably with it by showing compassion both to the offender and to the victims and their families. It shows that the system is largely working well, and I believe this legislation could further tip the balance too far in the favour of the accused and against the victims and their families.

Another danger with this proposed change would be that its broad definition could be applied to something very different from the sorts of illnesses considered relevant in past cases. For example, we are increasingly becoming aware that hard-drug addictions can be considered mental illnesses, but do we really want drug addicts using their addictions as an excuse for committing crimes? For the law to maintain the confidence of Canadians, it must be consistently applied. Sentencing exceptions for mental health disorders could create an incentive for the accused persons to claim they have a mental disorder.

Like all Canadians, we hope for the successful rehabilitation of those who have taken up a life of crime. Our first priority, however, must be the safety and security of Canadians and the communities where we work and live.

It is well known that an increasing number of people who have become involved in the criminal justice system have mental health disorders. These individuals pose unique challenges for police, courts, correctional facilities, and social workers.

In closing, any justice bill must balance the right of the public to be adequately protected when those who suffer from mental illness pose a danger to society with the right of those suffering from mental illnesses to be treated appropriately and with compassion.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2017 / 1:15 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Sven Spengemann Liberal Mississauga—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the second reading debate on this private member's bill, Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding pre-sentence reports. This bill seeks to address the issue of mental health in the criminal justice system through a targeted amendment to the Criminal Code provision governing pre-sentence reports. Specifically, the bill would clarify that a pre-sentence report should, where possible, contain information about any mental disorder from which an offender suffers as well as any mental health care programs available to them.

I am in full agreement with the sponsor that the issue of mental health is of great concern to the criminal justice system. It has been identified as a key concern by many criminal justice stakeholders over the years. As part of our commitment to broadly review the criminal justice system in Canada, the Minister of Justice has indicated that addressing the needs of vulnerable offender populations in the criminal justice system is a key priority. Addressing the issue of mental health is also part of the Minister of Justice's mandate letter from the Prime Minister. Specifically, her mandate directs her to address gaps in services for those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system.

The issue of mental health has arisen numerous times so far in the course of the minister's criminal justice review. It was raised by experts and other community stakeholders at the series of criminal justice round tables hosted by the Minister of Justice across Canada over the past two years. This thorough consultative process included a total of 20 round tables, with at least one in every province and territory. Mental health professionals, as well as representatives from traditionally marginalized communities, including indigenous and other racialized populations, featured prominently among the participants.

The round table held in Vancouver, in August 2016, was explicitly focused on mental health. At that event, our government heard, in no uncertain terms, that our criminal justice system must do a better job responding to mental illness. Experts in the field, as well as those with first-hand criminal justice experience, explained that addressing mental health is one of the critical ways our government can reduce crime, and in doing so, create safer and more prosperous communities throughout Canada.

Not only must we recognize mental health issues among those already involved in the criminal justice system, but by improving the mental health of our citizens before they engage in criminal behaviour, we can prevent longer-term struggles, which ultimately deprive our society of the full potential of those people. This idea was borne out in many of the stories and first-hand accounts we heard from Canadians throughout the round table process.

A typical story, one that is all too often true in our society, frequently begins with a young person from a marginalized community. That person experiences symptoms of mental distress, often beginning with depression or anxiety, but they go unnoticed because of a lack of institutional capacity or social support. The young person's mental state deteriorates, leading to lower performance at school, social withdrawal, and poor decision-making. The person's first involvement with the criminal justice system is often pursuant to a minor offence, such as a low-value theft or mischief. Nevertheless, he or she is convicted, and most likely, on a second offence, sentenced to a short period in custody. At this stage, the system fails to recognize the presence of worsening mental illness. Once inside the criminal justice system, the youth is exposed to an environment that aggravates rather than treats the mental health issues and the young person identifies with older, more serious offenders.

Upon returning to the community, the young person now suffers from a worsening, untreated mental illness and lacks the tools to effectively reintegrate. The unfortunate reality is that this person is now far more likely to reoffend and to live a life of continued criminal behaviour.

This story should not surprise any member of this House. While it is merely an example, our experience, including that gained through our own government's consultation process, has shown that this type of scenario continues to present itself in Canadian society.

It is because of stories like these that I commend the sponsor for his commitment to addressing mental health in the criminal justice system through Bill C-375. As I read the proposal, it would essentially codify the current practice of including mental health information in a pre-sentence report, where that information is readily available. In my view, this bill would not compel offenders to provide information about their mental health situation against their wishes, nor would it provide the court with the power to order the production of mental health records or empower it to order an assessment of the mental condition of the offender.

I understand that it is already common practice in many jurisdictions for offenders to provide information about their mental health through a probation officer where they feel it is beneficial to them. Therefore, in my view, the practical result of the bill would be to signal to a sentencing judge that this information is a relevant consideration at sentencing.

As I was reviewing the bill, I considered how such a proposal might fit within the broader goals and mandate of the Minister of Justice. The criminal justice system must protect all Canadians and keep our communities safe, but it must also protect the rights of all Canadians.

Our government is committed to ensuring the criminal law meets the highest standards of equity, fairness and respect for the rule of law. Healthy and safe communities are built upon a criminal justice system that treats the individuals with whom it interacts with respect, dignity, and in a manner that always upholds the rights and freedoms afforded to all by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Such a proposal could be seen as complementing our government's broader objectives of improving access to mental health care services for all Canadians.

For example, as members of the House will know, our government made a historic investment in mental health in budget 2017, with $11 billion of federal money being transferred to the provinces and territories over the next 10 years, almost half of which is to be dedicated to improving access to mental health and addiction services.

In addition, budget 2017 committed $118.2 million over five years to improve mental health supports for first nations and Inuit peoples. This money will be provided directly to communities so they can specifically tailor programs to meet their individual needs. This funding is in addition to the $69 million over three years announced in 2016 for immediate mental health needs and the more than $300 million provided annually to support culturally relevant mental wellness services for Canada's indigenous communities.

These significant and historic investments in front-line mental health services will benefit all Canadians, not just those who find themselves at odds with the criminal justice system. These upstream investments in mental health services could prevent a mentally ill person from coming into contact with the criminal justice system in the first place. Investing resources in our currently saturated mental health care system could decrease the likelihood that the criminal justice system would become the default method of dealing with these individuals.

I would like to briefly reflect on the communication I have had with members of my own community, constituents in my riding of Mississauga—Lakeshore, who have repeatedly written to me on the importance of mental health in Canada, particularly with respect to young people, indigenous communities, and also increasingly our seniors. In their correspondence to me, they underscore the importance for the government and all parliamentarians to take mental health seriously, to integrate mental health systematically into our policy decision-making processes, and to backstop the need to invest in mental health with adequate resources and investments.

I would like to thank the sponsor again for the steps he took in introducing the bill into the House of Commons. Through his own framework, his own lens of criminal justice and its intersection with mental health needs in Canada, he has moved the yardstick forward.

I am thankful for the opportunity to discuss this important proposal. I look forward to continued debate on this important private member's bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

December 8th, 2017 / 1:25 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Rémi Massé Liberal Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his excellent speech. As he highlighted, the purpose of Bill C-375 is to amend subsection 721(3) of the Criminal Code to require pre-sentencing reports to provide, unless the court orders otherwise, information on any mental illness that offenders may suffer from and any mental health care programs available to them.

Our government acknowledges that the criminal justice system must provide better answers to mental health problems. To that end, in budget 2017, the government committed $5 billion over five years to help the provincial and territorial governments make mental health care more accessible to Canadians. In her mandate letter, the Minister of Justice was asked to conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system. This includes identifying the needs of offenders that suffer from mental illness and determining how these services can be improved. By acknowledging the needs of offenders suffering from mental illness, we can reduce recidivism rates and make our communities safer.

We will continue to look at measures to address the disproportionate representation of offenders with mental disorders in the criminal justice system. According to the Correctional Service of Canada, more than 70% of federal offenders and more than half of federally sentenced offenders have mental disorders.

Criminal CodeRoutine Proceedings

October 19th, 2017 / 10 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Majid Jowhari Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-375, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (presentence report).

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise today to introduce my first private member's bill as the member of Parliament for Richmond Hill. This bill would amend paragraph 721(3)(a) of the Criminal Code.

The bill would mandate 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 disorders as well as any mental health care programs available for the accused be provided as part of their pre-sentencing report. Such information is vital for the courts to have in order to ensure that those Canadians with histories of mental illness are afforded care and compassion, and that they will receive appropriate treatment throughout the process of their rehabilitation.

I urge all members of this House to support this bill.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)