Thank you, Mr. Chair.
At the outset, let me also echo the sentiments expressed by the chair to Mr. Ehsassi regarding the unfortunate situation that happened in Willowdale. All of our thoughts and prayers are with the ones who lost their lives and those in the process of recovery. We commend the great work of our first responders, and also of Mr. Ehsassi, who went to the riding to be there for the people.
On that note, good afternoon, members and colleagues. It is a privilege to be here before this committee today.
Let me start by saying that one in five Canadians will directly face a mental health issue at some point in their life. Four out of five will indirectly be impacted. The economic impact of mental health-related issues is estimated at $50 billion a year, and it continues to rise. While there are vulnerable populations across Canada, mental illness will affect all Canadians regardless of age, sex, or background. Accordingly, there is an overwhelming desire for real change across a broad range of stakeholders.
This bill reflects what I've heard on the ground in my constituency, testimony from various groups championing mental health, such as the CMHC, CMHA, and CMHI, and my own research and expertise as chair of the mental health caucus. I also considered the testimonies of front-line workers, research organizations, and most importantly our experience on our visit to the Ray of Hope youth facility and the Grand Valley Institution for Women last year.
As highlighted earlier, this also reflects the priority of my constituents in Richmond Hill, who have, since I took office, often shared their concerns regarding the dynamics between the criminal justice system and mental health.
In Canada, 10% of the population reports symptoms consistent with mental illness. Among our youth, 25% will experience a mental health issue as they navigate through their adulthood, particularly in the vulnerable transition period between ages 18 and 24. This vulnerable population is profoundly overrepresented in our prison system, and studies have shown that the majority of young inmates demonstrate a mental health issue.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, only a fraction—20% of youth—have access to the mental health services they need. We must be very clear on that fact. Mental health services are as much needed as any necessary medical services. To be forced to go without them is to invite life-altering consequences.
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 percent of male inmates and 69% of female inmates were treated for mental health issues while in prison.
Bill C-375 would amend paragraph 721(3)(a) of the Criminal Code, mandating that unless otherwise specified, when a pre-sentence report is required by a court, in addition to information such as age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude, and willingness to make amends, information outlining any mental health disorder, as well as any mental health care program available to the accused, be provided as part of the pre-sentencing report.
As Bill C-375 passed through the House, a range of opinions were expressed on the bill as it currently stands. Arguments were made questioning the need for such a bill, and in contrast that the bill does not go far enough. I'm happy to have this opportunity to discuss those concerns, and I'm intrigued to see what amendments may be proposed.
Today, there exists no mandate for the court to consider the mental health history of an individual in pre-sentencing proceedings, yet the court is mandated to take into account such nebulous and subjective factors as attitude or character. As Bill C-375 ensures that pertinent information will be taken into account during pre-sentencing, an individual with a history of mental health issues will be afforded the appropriate care and treatment during the administration of justice and their rehabilitation.
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 sentence, our justice system is well-served by being made fully aware of relevant mental health concerns. With mental health information included in a pre-sentence report, the interplay of mental health with 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.
Ensuring that mental health information is available at every step of the process will also make cases less vulnerable to attack on appeal, saving time and money for our judicial system and providing a net benefit to the overall cost and burden associated with mental health issues. Many members of Parliament do not have a chance to see their private members' bills seen before the House, let alone passed to committee. I'm proud of the bill that you have before you today, but it's decidedly a product of compromise. A private member's bill is one of the most direct venues through which a member of Parliament can direct real change on behalf of their constituents, and this private member's bill is a tool to further the discussion on this topic.
While I wish the scope and the reach of this bill was more encompassing, I believe that this balancing act has produced a bill that will do tangible good in the lives of Canadians while attracting common sense support on all sides. Likewise, I'm excited to work with the committee to re-examine and potentially strengthen the bill through amendments, and I believe the legislation as it stands is a strong model that will facilitate a fruitful discussion.
To conclude, I would like to remind the committee that the nexus of mental health care in our criminal justice system is complex, dynamic, and evolving. A judge must be presented with the relevant information in any given case in order to take advantage of this. This complex situation should 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.
I thank you for the opportunity. I would like to also acknowledge the work of Mr. Glenn Bradbury, who was instrumental in getting the bill to this state.
Mr. Chair, colleagues, I'm ready to answer questions from the committee.
Thank you very much.