Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege for me to rise in the House on the subject of the Criminal Code reforms introduced by the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General of Canada on March 29, 2004.
Specifically, these reforms to the Criminal Code affect people who are not criminally responsible or who have been deemed unfit to stand trial on account of mental disorder.
These provisions are quite important. Anyone who has looked at the Criminal Code provisions that apply to people who are not criminally responsible or who have been deemed unfit to stand trial on account of mental disorder, would see that some of those provisions are really out of date. Some of those provisions have never in fact been enacted. I also think there were some court judgments on some of those provisions that have provided clarity, and the government's amendments deal with that.
I would like to repeat a quote from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada when he tabled these amendments. He said:
We are committed to ensuring the law protects the rights of mentally disordered persons, while at the same time protecting public safety. For this purpose, I am proposing changes that will not only modernize the law but make it more fair and efficient, while preserving the overall framework that governs those found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder
These were the words of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.
For those who are not familiar with criminal law or with the Criminal Code, there are provisions that state that one may be found not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder. When that happens it means that the accused is neither found guilty nor acquitted, and in fact is not even sentenced. Instead, a court or review board determines the appropriate disposition. It could be an absolute discharge, a discharge with conditions or an order that the individual be detained in hospital based on a series of criteria set out in the Criminal Code.
These amendments cover a broad base of issues dealing with those who have been found not criminally responsible following an actual trial or those who have been declared unfit to stand trial following evidence that has been brought before the judge at hand.
What are some of the amendments that the Minister of Justice has brought forward? On the one hand there are amendments that expand the powers of the provincial and territorial review boards. Why? They need to enhance their ability to fulfill their mandate. What is their mandate? These review boards of the provinces and territories have a legislated mandate which requires them to make decisions about detentions, the supervision or the release of someone who was found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible but who has been ordered to be detained for a period of time.
At various periods those review boards have to sit in judgment of individuals who have been ordered to be detained under these circumstances to determine whether they can be released and, if they can be released, under what conditions; whether they are a threat to society and, if they are, they evaluate the level of that risk. The amendments that the Minister of Justice has brought forward would enhance the ability of the review boards to make those decisions.
My colleague just finished speaking to another series of amendments. She made an entire speech on the issue of victim impact statements and did it very well. What she basically said, through everything she provided the House, was that it would allow for victim impact statements to be read by the victim at a review board hearing and would allow the review boards similar powers to that of the courts to protect the identity of the victims. As she herself stated, this is a major advance.
Up until now the Criminal Code provisions that allowed for victim impact statements did not deal with review boards that had to determine what to do with someone who had been found not criminally responsible but needed to be detained or someone who had been found unfit to stand trial because of his or her mental condition. Because the victims were not able to give victim impact statements in those cases, the review boards were not able to take into account the impact that the crime had on the victim. That is important.
These amendments would also permit the court to hold an inquiry and order a judicial stay of proceedings for an unfit accused who is not likely to ever become fit to stand trial and who poses no threat to public safety. This is important because to date the Criminal Code provisions did not allow for any mechanism. Even when we knew that the individual who was found unfit to stand trial posed no threat to public safety, there was no way for the courts to stay the proceedings or order an inquiry. Those individuals had to go through the trial. They would no longer have to do that.
Another amendment is to streamline transfer provisions. We already have provisions for individuals who have been found guilty of a crime and who have been sentenced to serve part or all of their sentence in detention, either in a provincial facility or in a federal facility, depending on whether they have been sentenced to two years less a day or to two years and more, to be transferred from one province to another or from a territory to a province or vice versa. In some cases they may wish to be transferred because there are certain educational possibilities that are available in another province's detention centres or penitentiaries that we do not have in the province where they are detained. In other cases it may be because they would be closer to friends and family.
If a person committed a crime, say in Quebec, but the person was actually from Alberta, which is where his family, his network is, if he were transferred to his own province he could receive the support of his family and friends which may contribute to his rehabilitation. Under the Criminal Code provisions as they now stand, for those who have been found not criminally responsible following a trial or for those who have been found unfit to stand trial, given their mental disorders that have been proven, the transfer provisions were quite wieldy and not very effective or efficient.
One of the amendments the Minister of Justice has made to the legislation would actually streamline those transfer provisions. It would allow a person found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder to be relocated from one province to another when it is in the best interests of rehabilitation.
I wish to underline that these reforms that the Minister of Justice and Attorney General has brought before the House are outlined in the Government of Canada's November 2002 response to the report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights review of the mental disorder provisions of the Criminal Code. The proposed amendments also reflect current case law, as I mentioned at the beginning of my comments.
I would ask that all members of the House support these amendments. Let us get them adopted and through the House so they can actually be proclaimed and come into effect.