Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to speak in support of Bill C-29 and to encourage all members of the House to support these reforms following the proposed review by the appropriate parliamentary committee. The need for these reforms are known to the hon. members who have participated in the review by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the mental disorder provisions of the Criminal Code.
The criminal law governing persons found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder and those found unfit to stand trial is not well known and in fact, is often misunderstood. Some may think that a person who commits an offence and is found not criminally responsible gets away with the crime. Some may think that there are in fact no consequences. However the law governing persons found unfit and not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder does provide for consequences. Usually those include treatment and also supervision.
The Criminal Code contains a whole section, part XX.1, dedicated to mental disorder. This part includes the law and procedure governing persons found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder and now are found unfit for trial. Part XX.1 is complex and in parts is very technical. However this part of the Criminal Code provides a regime that fairly and effectively provides for the supervision and treatment of a mentally disordered accused and for the protection of public safety.
For victims of crime, the criminal law and the criminal justice system is confusing, complex and often quite unwelcoming. Where the accused is found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, victims of crime face additional impediments to achieving a resolution of the offence. Victims of crime desire and deserve information about the justice system and about the case in which they are personally involved.
Law reforms coupled with changes in policies and expansion of services have given victims a greater role in criminal proceedings. For example, amendments to the Criminal Code back in 1988 introduced the notion of a victim impact statement as a mechanism for victims of crime to describe the harm and loss suffered because of the crime. Publication bans to protect the identity of sexual assault victims were also enacted in 1988. Subsequent amendments to the Criminal Code over the last 15 years have enhanced the role of victims of crime while respecting the rights of accused persons.
In response to the 1998 report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, “Victims' Rights--A Voice, Not a Veto”, the government enacted a package of reforms to the Criminal Code in 1999 to, among other things, ensure that victims were made aware of the opportunity to submit a victim impact statement; ensure that the safety of the victim was considered in judicial interim release decisions; fix the amount and clarify the automatic imposition of a victim surcharge; and allow judges a discretion to order a publication ban on the identity of any victim or witness where necessary for the proper administration of justice.
The 1999 amendments also provided for a victim impact statement to be prepared and submitted to the court or review board at a disposition hearing for an accused found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. The court or review board is required to consider the statement in determining the appropriate disposition or conditions of a disposition “to the extent the statement is relevant to its consideration as a criteria set out in section 672.54”.
The victim impact statement is provided for in subsection 672.5(14) which states:
A victim of the offence may prepare and file with the court or review board a written statement describing the harm done to, or loss suffered by, the victim arising from the commission of the offence.
When an accused person is found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, the review board will decide how the accused is to be supervised. Victims of crime have been overlooked in many cases and receive little information about what will happen next, or whether they will have any role or access to any information.
The amendments included in Bill C-29 will enhance the role of victims of crime where the accused has been found not criminally responsible, but the new provisions for victims fully respect the differences between the laws that govern persons who are criminally responsible and convicted and those who are not criminally responsible.
The accused found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder is not held accountable for his or her conduct. The appropriate disposition must take into account several factors, including the need to protect the public, the mental condition of the accused, and the reintegration of the accused into society.
The impact of the crime on the victim may be relevant to only some of the criteria. Where the court or review board is considering a conditional discharge, the victim's statement may be relevant to the crafting of particular conditions: for example, that the accused not contact the victim or that the accused not go certain places.
It should be noted again that the administration of justice is a matter of provincial responsibility. The provision of victims services as part of the administration of justice is also a matter of provincial responsibility. The provision of victim impact statement forms, assistance in preparing the statements, and the collection and submission of the statements to the Crown or the court are generally handled by the provinces' victims services programs, whether police based, court based or community based.
The standing committee recommended that courts or review boards conducting a review notify the victim where the victim has indicated interest in receiving such notification. It should be noted that after the initial disposition a review hearing would be held at least every 12 months. Review board administration varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and the capacity to advise victims as to the dates of review board hearings, locations, adjournments and outcomes will necessarily vary.
While similar provisions have been crafted to require a court conducting a disposition hearing pursuant to section 672.45, or a review board conducting a disposition hearing pursuant to section 672.47, to inquire of the Crown or the victim whether the victim has been advised of the opportunity to prepare a statement, other non-legislative initiatives are required to inform victims of crime about the provisions of the code which apply to them and about the relevant dates of proceedings, the terms of a disposition and other essential information.
In order to enhance the role of victims of crime, Bill C-29 includes the following provisions.
First, victims will be permitted to orally present their victim impact statement at the review board hearing. The statement would be prepared in advance and the victim could read it aloud or, in some cases, present it in another manner.
Second, following delivery of the verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, the court or the review board chairperson must inquire whether the victim has been made aware that he or she indeed can submit a victim impact statement.
Third, the initial disposition hearing can be adjourned to permit the victim to prepare a victim impact statement if he or she so desires.
Finally, review boards will have new powers to impose a publication ban on the identity of victims and witnesses where such production is necessary for the proper administration of justice.
To the greatest extent possible, Bill C-29 includes provisions for victims which parallel Criminal Code provisions that apply where the accused is convicted and sentenced. The government places a high priority on addressing the concerns of victims of crime. The Bill C-29 amendments are a contribution of the evolution in our justice system that recognizes the role of the victims of crime.
I would also highlight the exceptional efforts of victims services agencies and both police based and court based services that are primarily provincial responsibilities. The Criminal Code cannot legislate all that is needed by victims. Provincial legislation governs services, and provinces are responsible for the administration of justice.
The standing committee, in its consideration of the mental disorder law, highlighted that victims of crime should receive notice of hearing dates, notices of disposition and information about the terms and conditions. There is no doubt that victims need all this information and even more.
Bill C-29 is a positive step for victims and that, I hope, will encourage our provincial counterparts to complement this legislation to address these information requirements.
In conclusion, I would encourage all hon. members to support Bill C-29. These amendments in fact provide greater protection for mentally disordered accused persons and, most important, a greater role for victims of crime in our society.