Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate on Bill C-10 on behalf of my colleague, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.
I want to thank the electors of Burnaby--New Westminster for the confidence they expressed in me on June 28, as well as underline the good work that many organizations in our community do, such as the Nikkei Centre, the Japanese Canadian National Museum and Archives, Queensborough and MacPherson Sikh Temples and Crystal Mall, which is the centre of the Chinese community in my riding.
I would like to speak to Bill C-10, which is a response to the June 2002 report of the justice and human rights standing committee. The report reviewed the mental disorder provisions of the Criminal Code and the committee recommended 19 specific reforms, as well as further consultation and research. Among the changes recommended by the committee were: improving the definition of mental disorder, fitness to stand trial, the repeal of hospitalization orders, and the need for adequate treatment.
The bill attempts to cover the issues of how to deal with accused individuals unfit to stand trial. This means that they are so incapacitated that they cannot be tried, convicted or acquitted.
Provincially appointed review boards are charged with the task of determining how an unfit accused should be supervised. This legislation therefore increases the authority of the review boards. Those boards would be empowered to order psychiatric assessments of the accused, decide whether to require the presence of the accused at a hearing rather than to use detention, and lengthen the time between review hearings when appropriate.
The bill allows victims to read a victim impact statement at a review board hearing and allows for publication bans to protect victims or witnesses.
Bill C-10 would allow for the transfer of a person found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder if the transfer would promote the recovery or treatment of the accused.
These are all very important measures that we can fully support on principle, with some caveats related to the expanded law enforcement powers and to some extent the increased powers of the review panel, which will have to be scrutinized at committee stage.
Generally, Bill C-10 seems to be a good response to the report of the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. It deals with complex issues in obscure legalese, and requires a high degree of legal proficiency.
I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance of setting standards for clear and simple language in legislation and legal documents. Should a member of Parliament have to be a lawyer in order to be able to do his or her work and understand a bill? In order to read and understand Bill C-10 properly, one needs a copy of the Criminal Code.
I urge the government to introduce bills that are written in plain and accessible language. Please, do not tell me those who want to participate in the democratic life in this country need to be lawyers. We should not write bills that can be deciphered only by a few hand-picked lawyers who are paid $400 an hour.
I also want to emphasize the absolute necessity that people with a mental disorder be well represented. This brings up the fundamental issue of access to justice.
Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:
Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination--
Equal access to justice is one of the fundamental principles of society and a constitutional right of every Canadian. This is simply not a reality for many Canadians. Courts, both civil and criminal, are blind to the financial costs of legal action and, as a result, fail to provide equal and just protection to everyone. The reality is that access to the judicial process is dependent on wealth and this means that those with money reap the rewards while those without are often left behind.
When Bill C-29 was before the House, my colleague and former NDP MP from Dartmouth, Wendy Lill, said:
Imagine that the rights conferred by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms were only available if they were affordable. Imagine if our rights to life, liberty and security were available only if we were sufficiently wealthy to secure them for ourselves. What if the right to have a court proceeding translated into a language that we understand were violated because the government stance is that only those who can afford to hire their own translators can enjoy these rights? What if our right to be fairly represented by counsel amounted to nothing more than our ability or inability to hire the best lawyer we could afford?
Again, even our systems of legal aid are failing to do their part as discrepancies between provinces, inconsistent results and underfunding have placed the entire system in crisis. We know that the Minister of Justice called on the legal community to increase pro bono work and that he is very much supportive of a broader, more democratic access to justice and to legal services.
If all our lawyers were as committed to serving the community, I have little doubt in my mind that voluntary guidelines would be sufficient to entice the legal community to provide significant pro bono legal work for all those who need it, particularly the poor and the mentally or physically challenged.
In the real world, not all lawyers can afford to do so. Justice demands from most lawyers more than they are willing or able to give away. Only a minority would go above and beyond, and only a minority would consistently trade a conventional bottom line for a non-conventional bottom line.
In fact, Edward Greenspan, a well renowned criminal lawyer, once said, and I quote, “A lawyer can't turn away a client just because he's charged with an odious crime any more than a doctor can't refuse to treat a patient just because he suffers from an odious illness”. I would add that a lawyer cannot turn away a client just because he is poor or mentally challenged any more than a doctor cannot refuse to treat a criminal just because he suffers from being a criminal.
We have a system of legal aid that should be precisely available for this purpose. Unfortunately, the system is underfunded and very narrowly focused. The system falls under provincial jurisdiction, which complicates a coast to coast to coast approach and strategy to fix the problem.
We need a system of legal aid in this country that is wide enough to be available to ordinary Canadians. We need a system that is deep enough to deal with the difficult cases and with the long term supervision of people who suffer from mental disorders. In sum, we need a legal aid environment that would make it easier for professionals to be at their best in their humanity, a legal environment where a lawyer does not have to be a hero to bring justice to the poor and the challenged, and tax incentives for pro bono work to service requirements that young lawyers should provide to the community.
We must also recognize that the costs of law school are increasingly unaffordable and we should provide more generous tuition credits to increase the number of law school students. This is also important and would address some of the issues facing post-secondary education. Surely, adequate funding and better integration with appropriate fiscal incentives to represent those with lower incomes would be a good place to start.
We in the NDP caucus support this bill in principle and support its referral to committee for further assessment and improvement. We look forward to continuing our involvement in passing this important piece of legislation.