Mr. Speaker, I will start by talking about the implications when someone receives a verdict of not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. I will focus on understanding the parameters for and applications of such measures in criminal proceedings.
It is an honour for me to be able to inform the public. Over the holidays and over the past few weeks, I toured a number of reserves in Quebec. I was informing people about the amendments set out in Bill C-45, Bill C-38 and Bill C-27. These amendments will affect both the traditional and contemporary ways of life of the aboriginal peoples.
I will do the same thing today. I will be informing the public. My background is in law. I was a litigator for almost six years. I worked primarily in criminal law, but I also worked in mental health. During my years as a lawyer, I was called upon to present a number of applications under subsections 672.11(a) and 672.11(b). Later on, I will talk more about how these two parts of the section are applied.
Based on how the media have covered certain cases over the years, it seems clear that the bottom line is popularity and ad revenue, and that the media will resort to flashy tactics, broad appeal and—to a certain extent—misinformation. This is why some people err in fact and in law. This is not a criticism, because not everyone has a legal background, but there are some misconceptions floating around. I think it is important to get back to the basics with this debate, to talk about the foundations, what it truly means and how these sections are applied.
Subsections 672.11(a) and 672.11(b) of the Criminal Code refer to applications that the defence lawyer and the prosecutor can submit to a judge in a specific case. When we meet our client for the first time in a criminal case—I will talk about my experience as a defence lawyer—we can determine fairly quickly whether the individual is in a fragile state of mind, as we say. When we visit a client in his cell or in the psychiatric wing and he is not in his right mind, the psychiatrists' reports will often say that he is in a fragile state of mind, disoriented and confused.
It is at that point that the lawyer goes to the judge and says that when he met with his client, the client was not able to give clear instructions and seemed to be in a fragile state of mind and somewhat confused. There is therefore reason to believe that he is not in his right mind and should undergo an assessment pursuant to paragraph 672.11(a) or 672.11(b). The crown prosecutor may also broach this subject.
I see this all the time in my practice in my riding. For example, in the past few days, journalists from Radio-Canada—not to name names—have said that drug-related crime in my riding increased by 38% in 2012.
Psychosis and toxic psychosis are recurring themes. That is why I have submitted dozens of requests pursuant to section 672.11 over the years. That is specific to my practice in my riding. There is a lot of violence. The psychiatric wing is very well equipped. There are a number of psychiatrists working in Sept-Îles. Some cases, not the majority, were so serious that clients were routinely transferred to the Philippe-Pinel Institute in Montreal for help.
It can take about a month for a client to leave and get assessed to determine if he is criminally responsible. The client is sent to Montreal or, sometimes, to Sept-Îles. The serious cases are usually sent to Montreal to be assessed. The client comes back with an assessment, and the findings go on for pages.
It is interesting reading material and I miss it very much. I will not hide the fact that I miss my practice. I often receive calls on my business cell phone asking me to represent someone. I have to refuse because I do not have the time.
When the client returns and we look at the case, we examine the assessment and the expert report, which provide information about the circumstances and the expert's opinion. To date, I have never seen the Crown challenge the assessment or ask for a second one, but that can happen.
The judge relies on the findings of the expert in Montreal or Sept-Îles, as the case may be. The judge will refer the case of the individual in question to Quebec's administrative tribunal. He will rule that the individual is not responsible and simply transfer the file.
This is one aspect that we have not talked about much. I have not heard anything about this today. None of my colleagues has mentioned this. In Quebec, the administrative tribunal is responsible for the file and will determine the course of action to be taken for people who are not criminally responsible.
To put all of this into perspective, I will add that the hearings of Quebec's administrative tribunal are held by videoconference at the Sept-Îles hospital, in my experience. The tribunal members appear by video. The lawyer is present with his client, who must appear once or a few times a year, if I am not mistaken.
Ultimately, the members of the administrative tribunal will determine what course of action should be taken in a case. That is where the problem lies. I will provide more information on this subject in the next few minutes.
I worked for years with clients with mental health problems. Some but not all people with these types of disorders are stubborn about or opposed to being monitored and taking medication. Many of my clients were opposed to taking medication.
One of the criteria for determining whether people are mentally ill is that they are not aware of their own illness. As a result, as soon as they are not being so closely monitored, individuals who do not realize that they are sick tend to stop taking their medication because they do not believe that they are sick and they do not think that they need to take it. This is a fairly volatile client group. These people may simply stop going to their monthly appointments with their psychiatrist and may just vanish.
I have dealt with this type of situation in my practice. The extremely difficult cases I have had to deal with sometimes gave me the shivers. I will not give any identifying information because of privacy concerns. However, some files dealt with necrophilia, arson and extreme violence. Over the years, I was able to help some of these individuals get back on the right track.
Sometimes, once these individuals were released following their hearing before Quebec's administrative tribunal, they vanished because they were not being monitored closely enough.
I have sometimes received calls after a few months or years from the police or from the client himself who is in a fragile mental state but, in a moment of lucidity, called me to find out the status of his case. I would ask him if he was still taking his medication and where he was in Quebec. I wanted to know where he was because I knew he had high potential for violence. I will spare you the details, but they sometimes keep me awake at night.
In short, these individuals decided to run away, which is why I insisted that, at the very least, they be more closely monitored and that their location be tracked in order to prevent them from vanishing.
I also dealt with arson, which is a fairly common occurrence. Those working in the field of psychiatry see all kinds of people. Sometimes it can be interesting to read about these cases.
The cases could give you goosebumps.
Some recent highly publicized cases have called the existing approach into question. So we must refocus the debate on the best interests of victims, while ensuring that the rule of law and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are respected.
I plan on returning to practising law sometime in the future. Perhaps I should not say this, but it comes naturally to me to represent these individuals and help them get back on the right track after they are assessed by the people in Montreal. The judge would simply refer the whole thing to Quebec's administrative tribunal.
As I have already said, decisions from this tribunal do not carry a lot of weight, at least not in Sept-Îles. It may be different in a metropolitan or urban area, where the hearings are conducted in person. But that is not the case where I come from. I remember one case in particular, with someone who took off after the hearing and attended only one hearing with the administrative tribunal. Perhaps this person was eventually caught. An arrest warrant may have been issued. The police eventually tracked him down to make sure that he was not in a fragile state of mind, that he was taking his medication properly and did not represent a danger to himself or others. I am thinking of cases of schizophrenia, since people with this illness can be dangerous to themselves and to the general public.
That is something that poses significant problems. I am thinking about a specific case, but I should mention that he was a martial arts expert and he assaulted anyone who tried to go into his cell or into his room in the psychiatric wing. He thought the Hells Angels were coming to the hospital to get him. That is why he punched people, including large men. The hospital uses “code 88” when a patient becomes violent. All of the large men are asked to help out. It may be “code 89”; I cannot remember anymore. There is an internal code at the hospital in Sept-Îles. Whatever the case may be, he punched out five people. He was in pretty good shape.
He was found not criminally responsible because he could not discern right from wrong. He was a victim of his own illusions. However, he was released and no one knew where he was for a while. A few months went by, maybe a year or two, and then he called me about his case. I knew then that he had stopped taking his medication and appearing at hearings.
That is my summary of the risks and implications, which I submit to you.