Mr. Speaker, congratulations on your appointment.
Since this is my first speech in this House since the election in June, I would like to take a few moments to thank everyone from my riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and all the voters for trusting in me. I want to assure them that I intend to continue to represent them well and to be available in the riding, as I was after I was first elected in 1997 and the second time I was elected in 2000.
I want to welcome all the residents of the former city, which became a district and then finally the new City of Dorval.
It is a pleasure for me to rise today and to speak in support of Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mental disorder).
I am sure that all the hon. members will be able to support the motion to refer this bill to committee.
As the hon. members probably know, other members having mentioned this in the House, Bill C-10 is the result in large part of a study conducted in 2002 by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights—its name at the time—which recommended improvements to the Criminal Code with respect to people with mental disorders, in other words, people who are not criminally responsible or are unfit to stand to trial on account of mental disorder.
The committee review should likely focus on how Bill C-10 responds to the issues raised before the standing committee in 2002 by the many witnesses it heard. Bill C-10 responds to these issues and includes additional amendments to ensure an effective, efficient and fair regime.
There are a few aspects of Bill C-10 that I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members and to Canadians who are listening to this debate.
First, with respect to persons accused of offences who are not fit to stand trial under the current law, a person found unfit to stand trial cannot be absolutely discharged. The law governing mental disorder requires an individual assessment of an accused to ensure that both the needs of the accused for treatment and rehabilitation, and the needs of the public for public safety, are taken into account. An unfit accused person cannot be absolutely discharged because there had been no opportunity for the crown to prove that the person had indeed committed an offence under our Criminal Code provisions.
However an unfit accused who does not pose a risk can be placed on a conditional disposition with minimal restrictions where appropriate. Many persons found unfit will eventually be made well and will become fit through treatment. Once fit, they will proceed to trial, but some will never become fit or will become fit only after many years and cannot, therefore, be tried.
The legislation already contains many guarantees for an accused found unfit to stand trial. Bill C-10 adds one more, whereby the court may be asked to review the situation of an accused found unfit to stand trial, if the accused is notlikely to ever be fit to stand trial and does not pose a significant risk to thesafety of the public. The court, and only the court, shall then have the power to order a stay of proceedings.
I want to assure all hon. members who have expressed concern about the safety of the public that the government shares their concern. Bill C-10 has been carefully examined to ensure the public safety of all Canadians. A stay of proceedings will only be possible if the accused poses no significant risk to the safety of the public.
In June 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada delivered judgment in Demers, a case that dealt with a permanently unfit accused. The court held that the current law, as it applies to a permanently unfit accused who is not dangerous, violates the charter because it provides absolutely no mechanism for the proceedings against the accused to end.
Everyone, including the members of that justice committee back in 2002, recognized at the time and recognizes now that it simply had to change.
Bill C-10 would provide a charter compliant approach to permit the court to enter a judicial stay of proceedings after first determining that the accused is permanently unfit, and second, that the accused does not pose a significant threat to the safety of the public.
Bill C-10 will permit the court to hear the case of an accused found unfit to stand trial who is not likely to ever be fit—for instance a person with an organic brain lesion—and does not pose a significant risk to the safety of the public. A review board will be able to make recommendations to the court to hold an inquiry on the condition of the accused if, in its opinion and pursuant to an assessment, the accused is not likely to ever be fit to stand trial and does not pose a significant risk to the safety of the public. The court will also have power to hold an inquiry on its own motion, not acting on the recommendation of the review board. During this inquiry, it will hear the parties, the Crown in particular, and determine whether it should order a stay of proceedings in the interests of the proper administration of justice. In determining whether a stay would be in the interests of the proper administration of justice, the court will consider several factors, including the nature of the offence, the time elapsed since the commission of the offence and whether the Crown has the opportunity to demonstrate the correctness of the charges. This is already a legal requirement: the Crown must demonstrate there is sufficient evidence to justify a trial.
The proposed amendments address the situation of the permanently unfit accused who does not pose a significant risk and permit the court to order a stay of proceedings. However, an unfit accused who does indeed pose a risk to the safety and security of Canadians cannot be granted such a stay. Our law must ensure that the rights of the accused and the right of the public to safety are balanced. In my view, the proposed amendments do this.
Bill C-10 provides a very detailed scheme to permit a judicial stay for an unfit accused. I would like to reiterate just some of the features that I noted earlier and that have been noted by others in the House.
First, the review board, after holding one or more annual review hearings for an unfit accused, must come to the opinion that the unfit accused is not likely to become fit and that the unfit accused does not pose a significant threat to the safety of the public.
Second, the review board can order that the accused's mental condition be assessed by a psychiatrist to assist it in making this recommendation.
Third, the review board may then make a recommendation to the court to hold a hearing to determine whether a judicial stay of proceedings is in the interests of the proper administration of justice.
Fourth, where the court agrees to hold such a hearing, the hearing will provide opportunities for all parties to make submissions.
Fifth, the Crown, which represents the public interest, could make submissions on the nature of the case against the accused, public safety, and the mental condition of the accused.
I have only one minute left, so I am going to wrap up. I will go directly to my conclusion, because most of the points have indeed been covered by my colleagues.
To conclude, I hope that my remarks have allayed the hon. members' concerns and shown why this new provision is necessary.
I encourage all hon. members to support the speedy referral of Bill C-10 to committee, so that it can be passed quickly.