House of Commons Hansard #217 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was victims.


Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario


Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (mental disorder), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-54, the not criminally responsible reform act. The government introduced the bill because we want to ensure that public safety and the needs of victims receive the appropriate emphasis in the Criminal Code mental disorder regime. The mental disorder regime is the part of the Criminal Code that deals with accused persons who are found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.

Before I describe what is in the bill, I would like to mention what is not proposed by the bill. First, the proposed reforms do not seek to impose penal consequences on people who have been found by the courts to be not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. The bill is grounded on the need to protect the public from accused persons who pose a danger to society. This public safety objective forms the basis of the existing federal legislative regime on mental disorders and provides the justification for the proposed reforms as well.

Second, nothing in the bill would impact a mentally disordered accused's access to mental health treatment. It is well known that an increasing number of people who have become involved in the criminal justice system have mental health issues. These individuals pose unique challenges for police, courts and correctional officials. The government is committed to addressing the challenges posed by mental illness in the criminal justice system, and we have already made significant investments to improve the way offenders with mental health needs are managed. However, that is not the focus of the bill.

The not criminally responsible reform act does not apply to all individuals in the criminal justice system who have a mental illness. Rather, the bill focuses strictly on those who come within the purview of the Criminal Code's mental disorder regime and the corresponding provisions of the National Defence Act that deal with mentally disordered accused who are tried by a court. The mental disorder regime in both statutes applies only to individuals who have been found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. Individuals who have a mental illness but have not been found unfit or not criminally responsible are dealt with in the traditional criminal justice system.

To better understand exactly who is captured by the bill, it is important to understand the concepts of unfit to stand trial and not criminally responsible. Unfit to stand trial and not criminally responsible are two distinct concepts in criminal law. The question of whether an accused is fit to stand trial can arise at any stage of the proceedings before a verdict is rendered. If an accused has been charged with a criminal offence but is unable, due to a mental disorder, to understand the nature or possible consequences of the trial proceedings or to communicate with a lawyer, then the court will make an order declaring the accused to be unfit to stand trial. Usually treatment will be administered so that the person becomes fit and is able to be tried, but until a person becomes fit to stand trial, he or she is dealt with under the mental disorder regime.

The question of whether or not an accused is criminally responsible for the offence charged focuses on the mental state of the accused at the time of the alleged offence. An accused may be found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder if at the time of the alleged offence the person lacked the capacity to either appreciate what he or she did or to know that it was wrong.

Not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder was formerly referred to as not guilty by reason of insanity. The finding of not criminally responsible is neither a conviction nor an acquittal; it is a special verdict. Since a person found not criminally responsible is not convicted, the person is not punished or sentenced. Instead, the person is referred to the provincially established tribunal known as the review board, which is tasked with making decisions about the monitoring and supervision of mentally disordered accused persons.

Following a finding of unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible, accused persons are subject to the mental disorder regime and are subject to the restrictions necessary to protect the public.

The Criminal Code sets out the review board's powers with respect to decision-making as well as various procedural and administrative provisions with respect to the holding of hearings, appeals, ordering of assessments, et cetera.

In determining which of the available orders should be made regarding a mentally disordered accused, the review board must take into account four factors: the need to protect the public; the mental condition of the accused; the reintegration of the accused into society; and the other needs of the accused.

Bill C-54, which is before the House, has three main components. First, it seeks to ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration when decisions are made about not criminally responsible and unfit accused. Second, it creates a new high-risk, not criminally responsible accused designation. Third, it enhances victim safety and victim involvement in the mental disorder regime.

With respect to the role of public safety in the review board decision-making process, Bill C-54 clarifies that public safety is the paramount consideration in the decision-making process. As I just mentioned, the current approach is to balance four factors, of which public safety is one. The approach in the not criminally responsible reform act is to ensure that public safety is at the forefront of decision-making. In addition to clarifying that public safety is the paramount consideration, our legislation would also codify the meaning of the term “significant threat to the safety of the public”. This is the test used to determine whether or not a review board should continue to supervise a not criminally responsible accused.

Some provinces have indicated that review boards are interpreting this test too narrowly. To ensure consistent application across the country, our bill would codify the meaning of “significant threat to the safety of the public” consistent with the way it was interpreted by the Supreme Court of Canada. It would clarify that the review board can continue to impose restrictions on a not criminally responsible accused who risks committing further criminal acts, even though he or she does not pose a threat of violence per se. For example, if the board is concerned about a not criminally responsible accused committing thefts or break-ins, it would be able to maintain jurisdiction over him or her and impose the necessary and appropriate conditions.

I would like to turn to one of the key features of Bill C-54. The bill proposes a new scheme that would permit the courts to designate certain non-criminally responsible accused as high risk. This high-risk accused designation would ensure that a person so designated would be held in custody and could not be considered for release by the review board until the designation was revoked by the court. A person found by the court to be a high-risk accused would not be entitled to unescorted passes into the community.

The high-risk not criminally responsible accused scheme would apply to the small number of accused who have been found not criminally responsible and who pose a higher threat to public safety. The scheme would permit a prosecutor to apply to the court for a designation when certain criteria were met.

First, it is important to note that the high-risk not criminally responsible scheme would apply to those found not criminally responsible. It would not apply to those who are found unfit to stand trial. The reason for this distinction is that an unfit accused has not yet been tried for the offence. It has not been proven that the person committed the acts that form the basis of the offence charged.

Further, if a person were not fit to stand trial, the person would also not be fit to participate in a hearing to determine whether he or she should be designated as a high-risk accused. If the accused is eventually tried and found to be not criminally responsible, he or she could at that point be subject to a high-risk designation, if the criteria were met.

Second, the high-risk designation process could only be launched with respect to a criminally responsible accused who was over the age of 18 years at the time of the offence. This is because the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act already provide public protection from youth who are found to be not criminally responsible by, for example, the imposition of an intensive rehabilitative custody supervision order on young people with mental health issues who have committed serious or violent offences.

Third, the accused must have been found not criminally responsible for a serious personal injury offence. The existing mental disorder regime in the Criminal Code defines a serious personal injury as an indictable offence involving the use or attempted use of violence, conduct endangering life and a number of sexual offences listed in the Criminal Code.

If these criteria were met, the Crown could apply to the court for a finding of not criminally responsible if the accused was high risk. If the Crown made the application, the court would hold a hearing to determine the level of risk posed by the accused.

The court would make the finding that a non-criminally responsible accused was high risk in two circumstances. The first circumstance would be if the court was satisfied that there was a substantial likelihood that the accused would commit violence that could endanger the life or safety of another person. This is a higher level of risk than is currently required to maintain jurisdiction over a not criminally responsible accused, which is a significant threat to the safety of the public. In order to justify the increased restrictions on the high-risk, not criminally responsible accused, the higher threshold of “substantial likelihood” is used in the legislation.

The second circumstance when a court could make the high-risk designation would be if the court were of the opinion that the acts in question were of such a brutal nature as to indicate a risk of grave harm to the public.

Although the level of risk posed by a high-risk, not criminally responsible accused designated under this category would be lower than in the first circumstance, the nature of the actions that resulted in a serious personal injury that formed the basis for the application would point to the need for increased protection and restrictions.

The result of a high-risk designation would be that the accused would have to be detained in a hospital. The review board would not have the discretion to order an absolute or conditional discharge. Also, the high-risk accused would not be permitted to be absent from the hospital except for medical reasons or for any reason that was necessary for treatment. The absence would require an escort and a structured plan that had been put in place to address any risk related to the leave.

Generally, mentally disordered accused persons have their cases reviewed on an annual basis, but they may be extended up to two years in certain circumstances. Our bill would provide review boards with the discretion to extend the period between reviews to up to three years if the mentally disordered accused was found to be a high-risk, not criminally responsible accused.

The high-risk designation could only be revoked by a superior court of criminal jurisdiction. If, at a review hearing for a high-risk accused the review board is of the opinion that there was no longer a substantial likelihood that the accused would commit violence that could endanger the life or safety of another person, it could recommend to the court that the high-risk designation be revoked. If and when the review board made this recommendation, the court would have to hold a revocation hearing. After considering all the evidence, the court would determine whether there is no longer a substantial likelihood that the accused would commit violence that could endanger the life or safety of another person. If so, the court could revoke the high-risk finding.

However, the revocation would not result in an automatic discharge of the accused. Instead, the accused would be dealt with as a regular not criminally responsible accused and would be supervised by the review board until the person no longer posed a significant threat to the safety of the public, at which time he or she could be discharged.

The third component of the not criminally responsible reform act are provisions that enhance victim safety and victim involvement in the mental disorder regime.

Victims have raised concerns that their safety was not specifically being taken into consideration by review boards when decisions were being made.Victims also expressed concern that they had no way of knowing if and when a not criminally responsible accused was going to be discharged into the community. Victims would like an opportunity to have concerns with respect to their safety taken into consideration, and where necessary and appropriate, addressed in the conditions of discharge. Bill C-54 addresses these issues.

First, the bill would explicitly require that the safety of the victim be considered by courts and review boards when they make decisions with respect to persons found unfit and not criminally responsible.

Second, the bill would require the review board to notify the victim, upon request, if the accused person is to be released into the community. The amendment to make victim notification available upon request is a necessary component of this new notice requirement, as some victims do not want to be kept apprised of the release of an accused and may find notification to be an unwelcome reminder of the offence.

A third element intended to enhance victim safety is the specific power provided to review boards to order non-communication orders between mentally disordered accused and the victim. There is also a provision to specifically enable the review board to prohibit the accused from going to a specific place. The Criminal Code already provides such safeguards in the bail context. We think it makes sense to also include these powers in the proposed mental disorder regime reforms so they would also be available to review boards.

Finally, the bill would remedy a procedural matter raised in the 2012 decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario. In the Kobzar case, the court struck down the provision that provides for an automatic suspension of an absolute discharge immediately following a crown notice of appeal. The proposed reforms would replace the automatic suspension of an absolute discharge with a discretionary suspension, if the judge is satisfied that the mental condition of the accused justifies the suspension and the appeal.

I have had the opportunity to discuss a number of these issues with my provincial and territorial counterparts. In fact, a number of them wrote to me about concerns they have, including the need to ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration in the decision-making process. I can confirm that my provincial and territorial counterparts support the idea of expressly making public safety paramount.

In closing, I think the bill effectively balances the right of the public to be adequately protected when mentally disordered accused persons pose a danger to society, with the rights of the unfit and not criminally responsible accused to be treated fairly and appropriately. I urge all members to support this important piece of legislation.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his speech. I would like to ask him two questions.

First, is public safety not already a consideration of the courts and boards? Is that not the case already? If it is, this bill is somewhat redundant.

Second, many people are interested in another issue. Could the statistics minister tell the members of the House how many people who have been found not criminally responsible have gone on to reoffend and commit heinous crimes? We might be interested in seeing how many of these people became repeat offenders.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to answer both of those questions.

The hon. member is correct, in part, that the protection of the public is a consideration of provincial review boards. However, it is one of four considerations that the board has. We are taking the protection of the public, one of those four considerations, and saying that it is the paramount consideration. They are to take into consideration the protection of the public as number one, and then the other considerations. It is not one of four, but the paramount consideration. This is a substantial change.

There are statistics, and I would be glad to share the report with the hon. member. Here are some of the interesting facts about those who are not criminally responsible. A little over 27% of individuals found not criminally responsible have had a past finding of not criminally responsible; 38% of those found not criminally responsible and accused of a sex offence had at least one prior NCR finding; 27% of those accused of attempted murder had at least one NCR finding; and, 19% of those accused of murder or homicide had at least one prior finding of not criminally responsible.

Those are statistics and findings that have been researched. I would be pleased, of course, to share this with the hon. member in more detail.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, many of our bills focus directly on the rights of victims. Our government is moving closer to recognizing that victims are an important part of the Canadian justice system, and we want to make sure they are adequately protected.

I am wondering if the minister could talk about what the bill would do in terms of taking care of and protecting victims, and maybe what he has heard victims say about this legislation.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Yukon for his interest in all our reforms in the criminal justice area. I certainly appreciate the support he has given to this particular piece of legislation, and the other pieces of legislation that we have presented to Parliament.

This legislation has been well received by victims groups across this country. I have spoken with victims groups and individuals who have been victimized by people who have been found not criminally responsible. I very much appreciate how supportive they have been in speaking out on the measures contained in the bill.

As I indicated in my opening remarks, this is one of the three major components of the bill to better protect victims. The bill would ensure that when victims want to be notified that, for instance, an individual is going to be released, they will get that notification. Members are familiar with the Criminal Code provisions with respect to bail and the ability of the courts to impose certain conditions on an individual on bail in terms of staying away from the alleged victim. To extend those to the review board is only reasonable, so that individuals being released can have conditions put on them that take into consideration where the victim lives and goes to work or school. That will play a part in the conditions that are placed upon them.

Again, that is one of the three major components, and one of the ones I am most proud of in the bill.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned in my speech, we agree with the intent of the legislation. There are likely some important discussions to be had in committee.

I would like to ask the Minister of Justice about administration. The proposed measure will increase costs for the provinces, which are responsible for administering justice. Judging by what we hear from the justice department, the provinces will not be compensated.

Can the minister confirm that the provinces will not receive compensation for the additional costs that will be imposed on them for the administration of justice? Have there been negotiations and discussions with the provinces about that?

We were deeply troubled by that issue in the case of other bills, such as Bill C-10. I would like to know if that is the case for this bill.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, for the most part, the administration of justice within our Constitution comes within provincial jurisdiction, and it is very clear with respect to the issue we are discussing today. Those provincial boards are set up and administered by the provinces. This is part of the constitutional division of powers between the two levels of government. As I indicated in my comments, a number of provincial attorneys general have written to ask me to have a look at this area and make sure that protecting the public is paramount. We are, in one sense, responding to the concerns that are out there.

I just mentioned to the member for Yukon what victims are telling me. However, I do not want to leave the impression that those who are looking to have this area reformed are confined to victims groups, though we consider them very important. I was pleased at the response I received from my provincial and territorial counterparts. A number of them have come out publicly to talk about this. Certainly, they have made that point to me. We are very pleased to co-operate with them in our level of responsibility and within our constitutional jurisdictions.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.


John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, both my colleague and I are lawyers. As lawyers, we need to strike a balance between reason and compassion.

I very much prize the clarity by the minister and the government in balancing those things. I wonder if the minister might elaborate on the question of compassion, not just to victims, but others who are implicated in the types of crimes we are talking about. If there is a comment that puts the minister and the government in a good light, it is that we hit the equilibrium in the right place. There is clarity about the criteria, and there is still an emphasis on compassion, certainly to victims and maybe to others.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada takes the whole issue of mental health very seriously. We have invested over $376 million in mental health research. We have increased health transfers to the provinces to help them meet their responsibilities in this area. My colleague, the Minister of Public Safety, would say that we have invested over $90 million in helping the individuals who are in federal custody with mental health problems. We all have a stake in making sure these individuals get the treatment and the help they need.

Indeed, even within this bill on the high-risk category, the individuals we are talking about who pose a risk to the public are also a risk to themselves. They are not helping themselves if they are back out on the street. It is important to realize that this strikes a very appropriate balance. We want to help victims. Ultimately, we want these individuals to get the help and treatment they need.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-54, the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act.

The minister often introduces bills based on newspaper headlines, and I have often criticized this way of doing things.

We are all well aware of which incidents served as the basis for Bill C-54. For Quebeckers, it was the Turcotte case, and for western Canadians, it was the case of the individual with serious mental problems who decapitated passengers on a Greyhound bus.

All of these incidents can be described as gruesome. I am not saying that the media like to report on these sorts of events; however, these events do give the media graphic video images that are not always nice to see but that make it easy to stoke public opinion.

Before we begin examining Bill C-54, we must understand what this bill refers to. We are talking about people who will be found not criminally responsible because of mental problems. We cannot look at the provisions of Bill C-54 without looking at section 16 of the Criminal Code, which deals with mental disorders.

Section 16(1) of the Criminal Code reads as follows:

16. (1) No person is criminally responsible for an act committed or an omission made while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.

I would like to simplify this provision so that those listening to us will understand. This means that people who, because of a mental disorder, are unable to appreciate the quality of the act they have committed, whether it be murder or another type of assault, will not be found criminally responsible.

However, the Criminal Code presumes that every person is of sound mind, even though one sometimes has to wonder about that. Seriously though, the Criminal Code presumes that individuals are of sound mind.

Section 16(2) of the Criminal Code reads as follows:

(2) Every person is presumed not to suffer from a mental disorder so as to be exempt from criminal responsibility by virtue of subsection (1), until the contrary is proved on the balance of probabilities.

That is the problem in some cases. Dr. Turcotte’s case received a lot of media coverage in Quebec. People followed the trial with great interest because they wondered how such an intellectual man, a doctor, could have killed his children in the wake of a family break-up, of separation and divorce. When people do not follow the trial and do not understand the kind of evidence required, their imaginations get the better of them.

According to the Criminal Code, the burden of proof that an accused was suffering from a mental disorder so as to be exempt from criminal responsibility is on the party that raises the issue and must be proven on the balance of probabilities. The concept of mental disorder is very often the biggest part of the problem. It is not always very easy to prove.

I believe that background is important and that we should recall some previous decisions of the House. In 2002, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled a report on the Criminal Code provisions on mental disorders.

After the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled its report, the government decided to retain the current wording of the definition of the mental disorder defence under section 16 of the Criminal Code and the definition of “mental disorder” set out in section 2 of the Code.

Section 2 of the Criminal Code is still as important as it was then and provides that “mental disorder” is defined as “a disease of the mind”. It is up to the trial judge, not the jury, to rule on what constitutes a disease of the mind or a mental disorder.

Some people believe that juries determine that. They think that juries are not equipped to make that kind of legal finding, and they are right. That is why it is up to the trial judge to determine whether it has been proven on a balance of probabilities that the person had a mental disorder.

That definition has remained the same since the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decision in R. v. Cooper in 1980.

A disease of the mind embraces any illness, disorder or abnormal condition that impairs the human mind and its functioning, excluding, however, self-induced states caused by alcohol or drugs as well as transitory mental states such as hysteria and concussion. In order to support a defence of insanity, the disease must, of course, be of such intensity as to render the accused incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the violent act or of knowing it was wrong.

So the test is quite rigorous. Mental disorder must be proven on a balance of probabilities. Those who have followed what is going on in criminal law or who have taken an interest in the matter and have followed trials in which such defences have been raised know that evidence cannot be provided by just anyone. It may be based on the facts so as to prove a certain type of behaviour, but the finding or establishment of scientific or psychiatric evidence is done by expert witnesses.

Incidentally, and here I am thinking out loud, it might be interesting to see how the assessments are designed. The trial judge assesses the independent status of the expert summoned by the defence or by the Crown and determines what kind of evidence was presented. That is part of the trial. Where the individual is found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder, it follows that he or she will be taken into the system to receive care.

I encourage people to read the February 2013 issue of the Barreau du Québec's Journal du Barreau. On page 8, they will find a column by the eminent lawyer Jean-Claude Hébert on criminal non-responsibility, mental disorder, prisoners and patients. When the public looks at these cases, they sometimes think they make no sense. The crime in itself is terrible; it gives us the shivers and makes us question human nature. Then we hear that the person was incapable of criminal intent to commit the murders in question because he or she suffered from a serious mental disorder. I do not mean a minor bout of hysteria because the person was in a bad mood. It takes much more than that. We heard some incredible things during all those trials which were often amplified by some of the media because that increases circulation or makes for good phone-in shows. When I hosted a radio phone-in show, I heard about cases that made people wonder what was going on with the justice system.

Our role as politicians and legislators is not to inflame the debate based on hearsay or statements we cannot really prove. Mr. Hébert touches on the extremely relevant point on whether we are talking about prisoners or patients. Here we are clearly talking about patients. These are people who have been acknowledged as suffering from a serious mental disorder. So if we think the verdict is wrong, Mr. Speaker, there is a solution. You know it as well as I since you are a distinguished jurist.

In the circumstances, if we are not satisfied, that means we can appeal the decision. And if the reported facts are accurate, I believe the Turcotte decision is under appeal. However, if the diagnosis and the judge's decision on the matter were well-established on a balance of probabilities, as provided for by subsection 16(2) of the Criminal Code, as I said earlier, the Court of Appeal will confirm the judge's decision. Otherwise, it will overturn it and rule that the person may not use that defence. It will tell the individual that he or she was aware, was not suffering from a serious mental disorder and, in the circumstances, may not be considered not criminally responsible.

However, we are not at that point. We are dealing with cases in which the individual actually has a serious mental illness and is taken into care by the state. Another system enters into play, therefore. That is what Bill C-54 is trying to do.

I have heard some more incredible things about this. First this was announced by the Conservative government more than three times: first, by the Minister of Justice himself, second, by Senator Boisvenu and, third, by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, and then by the Prime Minister. We have heard all kinds of things.

After listening to the press conferences, I was eager to read the bill, since it seemed to solve all the problems for victims and all the problems of repeat offenders. I would also add, as an aside, that I am very eager to see the minister’s statistics.

Again, I really urge my colleagues to go and read the vaunted report I was talking about. It is the government’s response, so it is not just the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, it is the committee’s recommendations and the government’s response to those recommendations. That report shows the low percentage of people who are found not criminally responsible, with all due respect to the Boisvenus of the world who think there are tonnes of them. There are not tonnes.

It is true that the percentage has risen over the years. However, and this is what it does not say, before 1991, if I recall correctly, when the amendment was made to the Criminal Code, the term was changed from “not guilty by reason of insanity” to “not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder”. At that point, summary conviction offences were also added, and this resulted in a lot of cases that had not been covered previously.

Obviously that had an impact on the statistics. According to the government’s responses, we are talking about a tiny percentage of cases where the individuals were found to be not criminally responsible. Of that minute number of repeat offenders, the minister talked about 28% of them who may have already committed an offence. The entire issue is now whether they had committed serious crimes when they had a mental disorder.

You know, as do I, that statistics can be made to say just about anything. So we have to look at this kind of case and stop playing the game that some of the media play. These are not subjects that should be played with to inflame the population. On the contrary, what is really happening has to be explained. We are dealing with something that no one in this House is familiar with, unless perhaps a psychiatrist was elected in the 2011 election, but I doubt that. Unless you are a mental health professional, these are cases that are sometimes incomprehensible in terms of the evidence involved.

I was working in radio at the time, and I recall a crime in my region. A woman had killed her husband, and there was some question of the whole issue of battered wife syndrome. Some absolutely unbelievable discussions ensued. People were surprised that someone could be acquitted of murder because of battered wife syndrome. The person in question was able to leave her home and function. It was proven that very serious mental disorders could arise out of that syndrome. Today, not as many questions are being asked about that syndrome. Things like that need to be toned down.

And so after listening to the press conferences, I thought that the Conservatives were going to delve into the concept from A to Z. The actual statistics show that there may be some exceptional cases in the system, but we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater every time there is a big headline in the newspapers, so they can take it out and about in the ridings.

It is so popular to say that the Conservatives are listening to people, that the issue is complicated, that they have done something, that they will be getting tough on people with mental disorders to make sure that they stay inside at least until they find it is reasonable to let them out.

I look forward to seeing what is going to happen in committee. My colleague from Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques very subtly announced that we were going to pass this bill at second reading. It is the sort of issue that deserves this kind of treatment. We always want to try to get rid of the irritants in the legal system for the victims, who are shortchanged in the legal system. They really are and I agree 100%. I do not think the victims will be treated properly with the band-aid solutions that we are getting from this government.

During the press conference given by the Minister of Justice, which Mr. Kennedy attended, Mr. Kennedy said he appreciated the efforts, but that we must not forget that victims must be cared for and given help. This is not what we are seeing in Bill C-54. A clause was added where they can, if they ask, draft something in writing. One of the victims who was with the Prime Minister said that she was unable to write. She said that she was still too close to the whole thing to be able to talk about what happened and so on.

This is not what we are hearing at the Standing Committee on Justice. What we are hearing is that when they are in the system and the trial begins, they become witnesses just like all the other witnesses. They are often treated with even less respect than witnesses in civil and commercial cases. Deals are reached between the Crown and the defence. Then, all we see is someone who is wondering what is happening; the case is closed. Why? Because there has been a deal between the Crown and the defence. I would not call that putting the victims first.

This is what I have been trying to say right from the start. If the government really wants to change things and give the impression that it is taking care of the victims, it has to stop coming up with band-aid solutions. They look okay but they do not do very much.

It is difficult to be against motherhood and apple pie. So when we hear that special care will be taken when a high-risk person is involved, I would like to send out a note of caution to the people of Quebec and people in other regions who have gone through this kind of thing. They may have been witnesses, through the media, to certain events. Will the bill ensure that someone like Dr. Turcotte would be considered high risk? This is certainly not the case when I take a look at the definitions in Bill C-54. It does not seem to come under any of the criteria at all.

I am not clairvoyant, but we have to admit that past behaviour is often a predictor of future behaviour. I can just see the senator touring all around Quebec and parts of Canada and telling people that they listened and solved the problem. I say that is not the case. The title of the bill indicates that this is a reform. The minister may be right in saying that it is a major change because he has made this criterion the most important one of all. Except that was already the case in the courts. The courts repeatedly said that public safety was the most important criterion.

Do the Conservatives really believe that a court or a commission would not consider the risk to public safety before releasing a person who was found not criminally responsible for a horrible crime? Do they take the people who sit on commissions or on the benches for idiots? If the answer is yes—that is the impression we sometimes have—they should have made the entire exercise mandatory. What did they do instead? They made it optional. The Conservatives should stop saying that they are not satisfied with the courts and give them the authority to go out and see what is happening.

I will have a lot more to say about this in committee. This time, I hope the minister comes armed with statistics instead of empty talking points. I hope he brings the studies prepared by his department on the bill's constitutionality and compliance with the charter. I can see us keeping someone in prison who will file a writ of habeas corpus. I really do not want to hear that kind of debate.

For all these reasons, we will support the bill at second reading. However, we need to study the bill in detail because we do not want to have more victims. The Conservatives cannot say that punishing someone who is considered ill is a kind of victimization. In this case, all that can be done is to help them heal.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


John Weston Conservative West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite cares deeply about this issue. It is a great pleasure to hear her speak so passionately. According to world-renowned philosopher Plato, reason is above passion.

I would like to ask the member two questions. We can see that logic and reason play a huge role in this bill. There is an analysis of the criteria we want to use when making decisions about the people being discussed today.

The minister emphasizes public safety. Among the four criteria presented, public safety is the first one we will base our decisions on.

What could be more important than keeping the public safe? What could possibly matter more than the safety of a community when we make decisions about the people we are discussing today?

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

I temper my passion with reason, Mr. Speaker. I have scrutinized each and every clause of the bill. I will always react passionately, however, when someone attempts to tell us something is there that is not.

First off, both those questions have very simple answers. Public safety and protecting the public are a priority for Conservatives and New Democrats alike. Not once have I stated otherwise. I wish they would stop insulting our intelligence by saying the system never fails, however. To err is human. I agree that we should strive to reduce the possibility of error.

We have case law. As every lawyer in the House knows full well, whoever pleads their case in court must base their arguments on different aspects of the law, namely legislation, case law and doctrine. Those three things make up our legal system and ensure rule of law in Canada. Case law has already established that a judge must always consider public safety and protection of the public above all when deciding whether or not to release someone.

Is that rule consistently applied? That is another matter. Legislating more consistent application will not necessarily make it so. A judge or board will still be able to argue that, given the facts of the case, there is no threat to public safety, which does not necessarily mean something will not happen six weeks or six months down the line. There are never any guarantees when dealing with human beings.

This is why I object to these false prophets who walk around claiming to solve all the world's problems when, in fact, they have not done squat.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I sincerely thank the justice critic for the official opposition for her interesting, thoughtful and important speech.

In this case, the key issues relate to human rights and people suffering from mental illness. This is somewhat different from criminality, since it is a health issue. We need to strike a balance between protecting public interest, which is very important, and protecting human rights.

If we were to imagine a system that would, at the same time, protect the rights of ill people and protect society against violence, what would the best possible system look like?

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Françoise Boivin NDP Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to have a perfect answer to this question. It is the question that we must always ask and to which we must always try to find the most specific answers. We also have to give the people who are in a much better position than we are in this House the tools they need to solve this problem.

I have a great deal of respect for psychiatrists and all those who work in the mental health field. Unfortunately, here in Canada, they often get less than their due. Even my Conservative colleagues have to admit it. It is something that we are not used to dealing with and that we really do not understand.

I will never be able to repeat it enough: the danger with this bill is that we are making Canadians believe that the people who committed these offences are not patients, but prisoners. They are not criminals like Bernardo, for example, or like someone who coldly and with no regard for other people’s lives decided to commit unspeakable crimes. We have examples of this, here.

In this bill, we are talking about serious mental disorders. I cannot say it often enough: if we are not happy with the verdicts, we should discuss the verdicts. If we are reasonably satisfied with the verdicts, they have not been appealed and they are final decisions, the person is taken into care. What I think is that the system requires greater investment in protecting mental health. We have to be reasonably satisfied that the people in question are being well treated. However, it would be very sad to let people believe that we live in a society that is full of people who have been recognized as not criminally responsible because of mental illness and who are walking around in the open.

On the other hand, we have to ensure that these people and the victims are up to speed. There are some good elements in this bill, as I said in my speech. I just do not like how the stage is set, sometimes, because it takes some of the credibility away from the bill, with the kind of political speeches we are hearing about something as serious as mental disorders.

Not Criminally Responsible Reform ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

We must now proceed to statements by members. There will be time for one more question after oral question period.

Canadian Rotary ClubsStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, this weekend Canada will welcome Mr. Sakuji Tanaka, the president of Rotary International. Today he will join celebrations marking 100 years of Rotary in Toronto and tomorrow he will highlight the leadership role of Rotary in the effort to eradicate polio.

Rotarians are the voluntary backbone of their communities, and Canadians appreciate their work with youth and seniors and on important local projects. Canadian Rotary Clubs are also making a tremendous impact around the world. In my riding, the Rotary Clubs in Bowmanville and Port Perry have supported clean water projects in Laos and the Rift Valley region of Africa. The Rotary Club in Uxbridge has been working with Dignitas in Malawi to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to infant. My own Rotary Club in Courtice has worked with the Michael “Pinball” Clemons Foundation and Free the Children to build schools in Africa.

Today also marks the conclusion of the Pennies and More for Polio program, through which our government and the Gates Foundation each matched dollar for dollar the millions raised across Canada by Rotary. As Rotary's founder Paul Harris once said, “Great things happen when good people come together”.

Today I salute the good Rotarians working across Canada and the great impact they are making around the world.

Employment InsuranceStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government just does not get it. After Liberals and Conservatives stole $57 billion from the EI fund, the Conservatives are making things even worse for the unemployed, for seasonal workers and for those in precarious or intermittent work. Now fewer than four out of ten unemployed people have access to benefits, and those benefits are being decreased. Do the Conservatives not realize that seasonal industries are an important part of our economy? They include forestry, fishery, construction and agriculture, and tourism too, which just hit the $1 billion a year mark in my province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Then Conservatives say that people do not want to work. They could join me on the planes from Atlantic Canada filled with workers off on the long commute to Alberta, to Fort McMurray and beyond, and to other parts of Canada and the world for weeks and weeks at a time. Is this a culture of defeat? I do not think so.

People want to work, and so do the unemployed, but they do not want to be treated like offenders or fraudsters, have their incomes reduced and have their communities hurt. The Conservatives should roll back these callous cuts and stop attacking the unemployed.

YukonStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Ryan Leef Conservative Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, February may be the dead of winter, but that does not slow Yukoners down. The Yukon Quest 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race celebrated its 30th year. Congratulations to the dedicated volunteers and organizers who have made this race a world-renowned success year after year. I would also like to recognize the athletes, both the drivers and the dogs, who endure the world's toughest sled dog race.

Earlier in the month Michael Sumner, Yukon's own Special Olympian figure skater, won the silver medal at the world championships in Korea. It was a pleasure for me to award Michael the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal for being such an awesome ambassador for athletes, for Yukon and for Canada.

Last week we enjoyed the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival. Congratulations to Kim Solonick, this year's Rendezvous Queen as Miss Ecofor Consulting. Congratulations, Kim.

Rendezvous is our mid-winter festival and the only legal cure for cabin fever blues. We have broken the back of winter. Spring is on the way.

National Brain Awareness MonthStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, March is National Brain Awareness Month, a time to encourage Canadians to learn how to nurture a healthy brain, to help recognize individuals who have been adversely affected by brain disorders and to advocate for a national brain strategy.

Today, 5.5 million Canadians and their families live with a neurological disease, disorder or injury. If the brain is not working properly, then every part of life can be compromised. Often people living with a brain condition face stigma and a general lack of understanding about their condition, leading to feelings of frustration, hopelessness and isolation.

The national population health study of neurological conditions will end in March 2013. My appeal is for a joint meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers of health to help support the development of a framework, working with stakeholders across the country, toward a pan-Canadian action plan for the brain.

VeteransStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, Canadians are proud of our veterans and their heroic efforts to protect our democratic systems and beliefs. Many of them sacrifice their lives or their safety in order to serve Canada.

I am proud to reiterate the important support that our government provides to veterans such as Mr. James Joyce, a World War II veteran from British Columbia who is visiting Ottawa today with friends from my riding of Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. Mr. Joyce served for four years in the Royal Canadian Navy on the frigate Poundmaker in the Atlantic and on the minesweeper Miramichi in the Pacific. Like all veterans, including World War II veterans in my own riding, he is deserving of our respect and admiration for his courage.

Our Conservative government listens to veterans. Under our Prime Minister and the Minister of Veterans Affairs, we have responded by delivering record amounts of funding and key programs. We recently put in place Helmets to Hardhats Canada, the new veterans charter and the veterans transition action plan to help veterans transition to civilian life.

I assure veterans of our government's commitment to providing services that meet their needs and those of their families.

Official LanguagesStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that last Wednesday I saw the vast majority of my colleagues rise in the House to support my private member's bill, Bill C-419, calling for bilingualism for officers of Parliament.

This bill is an important way for elected members of Parliament to show that they want to maintain institutional bilingualism. By supporting this measure, we have helped make the Parliament of Canada a fairer and more representative institution.

This is a huge victory for all official language minority communities.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the enthusiasm of the communities of Moncton and Dieppe, in Acadia, and Saint-Boniface, in Manitoba, where I have seen first-hand the strong attachment to the French language.

I am especially pleased that we are able to work together beyond ideological differences for the good of our country. It is with co-operation and good faith that we will succeed in strengthening Canada's official languages from coast to coast to coast.

Thank you to all those who supported Bill C-419. I hope that my bill will keep moving in this direction in the House.

Global Community AllianceStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with both pride and humility that I congratulate Global Community Alliance, which held its fourth annual gala last Saturday.

Global Community Alliance is one of 300 organizations in Ottawa—Orléans that relies heavily on volunteers.

Its gala aims to highlight diversity and encourage unity in Ottawa, values that our community holds dear.

Moses Abayomi Pratt did an excellent job organizing the event, which raised money for Black History Month.

Congratulations to Yomi and his wife Kelly Pratt, to Ryan Pascal for his inspiring speech, and to Bertilia Christian, Tarrah Mauricette, Ewart Walters, Adrienne Coddett, Gabriela Bernal Astrain, MPP Yasir Naqvi and my friend June Girvan for the recognition they received.

To all, thank you for making Ottawa—Orléans and our nation’s capital a place where everyone has a chance to succeed.

Harriet TubmanStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.

St. Catharines Ontario


Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Mr. Speaker, March 10 will mark the 100th anniversary of Harriet Tubman's death. Harriet Tubman escaped slavery to become one of the great heroes of the 19th century. She was best known as the conductor on the underground railroad, where she risked her life to rescue people from American slavery by bringing them to freedom here in Canada. She helped these black refugees settle after their arrival and played an active role in the campaign to abolish slavery in the United States.

The last stop on that railroad was Harriet's church, the British Methodist Episcopal Church of St. Catharines.

On March 9, I will be proud to join members of the BME church in St. Catharines, and I invite anyone who is interested to join our community in celebrating the life and achievements of Harriet Tubman, one of Canada's greatest abolitionists and a woman who made an historic difference.

Federal Income Tax ReturnStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


Denis Blanchette NDP Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, the people of Louis-Hébert are furious this tax season.

Filing a tax return is bad enough as it is. There is certainly no need to complicate things unnecessarily.

But that is what this government is doing by not sending the forms to everyone who wants them.

Not everyone can use a software program or hire an accountant to file their tax return. The Minister of National Revenue should know that. She once ran a tax preparation program for seniors.

We are getting calls at our constituency offices from angry citizens, including an 80-year-old woman who thinks that this is unacceptable.

People are upset that they cannot get their forms by mail, cannot reach anyone by phone in a timely fashion, and cannot find the full tax form package where they are supposed to be able to get it.

We cannot reduce paper use on the backs of people who have no alternative. It is unacceptable.

I am calling on the Minister of National Revenue to listen to reason and respect the choice of every taxpayer the next time.

Human RightsStatements By Members

11:05 a.m.


James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to commemorate the tragic murder of Shahbaz Bhatti two years ago. As Pakistan's minister for minorities, he worked bravely and tirelessly on behalf of minority groups, many of whom were discriminated against under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Minister Bhatti himself was well aware of this. He was the first and only Christian in the Pakistani government's cabinet.

Despite escalating violent threats, he continued his work bravely and undaunted until he was savagely gunned down on the street following a visit to his mother's home in 2011.

Our government is committed to continuing the legacy of standing up for the natural rights and freedoms of all, the freedom to worship under peace and security. Our new Office of Religious Freedom will not only advocate on behalf of religious minorities under threat but also promote the values of pluralism and tolerance.

I hope that all of my colleagues will join me in not only remembering Shahbaz Bhatti but in carrying on his fight for freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.