Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak in support of Bill C-29, which is an act to amend the Criminal Code. It deals with the issue of mental disorder.
The current motion seeks to refer the bill to committee for review now. I am confident that all members should be able to support this motion.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice indicated on April 28, Bill C-29 is to a great extent the product of a study conducted by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, as it was then known. That committee recommended improvements to the criminal law governing persons found unfit to stand trial, or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.
The committee review will likely focus on how Bill C-29 responds to the issues that were raised before that standing committee by the many witnesses that it heard. Bill C-29 responds to those issues and includes additional amendments to ensure an effective, efficient and fair regime. There are a few aspects of Bill C-29 that I would draw to the attention of hon. members.
First, in dealing with persons found unfit 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 need of the public for public safety are taken into account. An unfit accused person cannot be absolutely discharged because there has been no opportunity for the Crown to establish that they have committed an offence. However, the unfit accused who does not pose a risk can be placed on a conditional disposition with minimal restrictions, if appropriate.
Many persons found unfit will become fit through treatment and once fit, will proceed to trial. Some others will not become fit for years, or perhaps they will never become fit, and cannot be tried. Our law already includes many safeguards for this group.
Bill C-29 will provide an additional safeguard to ensure that persons found unfit to stand trial who are likely to remain unfit and who do not pose a significant threat to the safety of the public can have their situation reviewed by the court. The court, and only the court, will have the authority to order a judicial stay of the proceedings for the unfit accused.
I want to assure hon. members who have voiced their concerns about public safety that the government shares their concerns about public safety. Bill C-29 has been very carefully drafted to protect public safety. A judicial stay of proceedings for an unfit accused will not be an option where the accused poses a threat to public safety.
The amendments include new provisions to ensure that an unfit accused who is not likely to ever become fit to stand trial, for example, a person who has an organic brain injury, and who does not pose a significant threat to the safety of the public may be brought to the court's attention.
A review board will be able to make a recommendation to the court to hold an inquiry into the status of the unfit accused where, in their opinion, and based on an assessment, the accused is not likely to ever be fit to stand trial and does not pose a significant threat to the safety of the public.
The court may hold an inquiry, hear from all parties, particularly the Crown, and determine whether a judicial stay of proceedings should be ordered in the interests of the proper administration of justice. The court will consider several factors in deciding whether to order a stay, including whether the Crown has had an opportunity to make its prima facie case against the accused, as it is required to do every two years. This is the current requirement in our law, that the Crown does establish that sufficient evidence can be brought forward to put the accused on trial.
The proposed amendments will address the situation of the permanently unfit accused who poses no risk and will permit the court to order a stay of proceedings. However, an unfit accused who poses a risk to safety cannot--I repeat cannot--be granted such a stay. Our law must ensure that the rights of the accused and the rights of the public to safety are balanced. The proposed amendments will do so.
Bill C-29 sets out a very detailed scheme to permit a judicial stay for an unfit accused. 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. The review board can order that the accused person's mental condition be assessed by a psychiatrist to assist the board in making this recommendation.
The review board then may make a recommendation to the court to hold a hearing to determine whether a judicial stay of proceedings is in the interest of the proper administration of justice. Where the court agrees to hold such a hearing, the hearing will provide opportunities to all parties to make their submissions. The Crown, who 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. The accused and the treating hospital or physician could also make submissions.
I would also highlight that where the court agrees to hold a hearing, the court must order yet another assessment of the mental condition of the accused. This requirement will ensure the court has the most up to date information about the accused when determining, first, that the accused is not likely to become fit to stand trial, and second, that the accused does not pose a significant threat to the safety of the public.
Ultimately, the court must decide whether the judicial stay of proceedings is necessary in the interest of the proper administration of justice. Bill C-29 sets out several factors for the court to consider in this process, including the nature and the seriousness of the offence committed. This new provision will address the concern that some people could be caught up in the criminal justice system because they are mentally ill, although they pose no threat to public safety.
Our law cannot permit the potential indefinite detention of persons who have not been tried and convicted. Bill C-29 provides a carefully crafted approach to prevent this indefinite detention, but only for those who do not pose a significant threat to the safety of the public.
I have one final point regarding the new provision. Where the court orders a judicial stay of proceedings for an unfit accused, the Crown may appeal the order. However, there is no right of appeal for the accused where the court does not order a judicial stay. This is because this is a discretionary provision. It is not a process that the accused can initiate. The review board must make a recommendation to the court and the court will then consider the issue.
In conclusion, I hope that my comments have addressed any concerns hon. members may have. I have highlighted why this new provision is necessary. Bill C-29 includes many reforms, all designed to address the balance between protecting the rights of the accused persons who are mentally ill with the rights of the public to public safety. Clearly, we have struggled with this issue over time. There is no question that this has challenged us, the judiciary and our social services within this country to properly deal with issues of this nature. I know that many hon. members have struggled with this, both here in the House and also at committee, to try to find ways and means to meet the needs of those who are mentally ill and yet face the justice system.
Clearly, from the perspective of those who are caught in what is sometimes described as a revolving door problem, there has to be a way to assess their ability to recover from their illness, to go forward and to face the charges that have been brought to bear within the court system.
As far as I am concerned, the bill moves forward the process of being able to deal with those who are mentally ill and find themselves before our criminal courts. I hope that hon. members will find that, in going forward to the committee, the bill will receive proper and due consideration and will come forward to the House for passage so that we may solve this problem.