Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to stand today and join in the second reading debate on private member's Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code.
Before I begin my speech I would like to thank my hon. friend from Richmond Hill, who in caucus and throughout this Parliament has been a tireless advocate for mental health.
This legislation would amend provisions of the Criminal Code dealing with pre-sentence reports to be more responsive to offenders with mental health issues. A pre-sentence report is ordered in some cases to help the court learn more about the person being sentenced.
Specifically, the bill would amend subsection 721(3) of the Criminal Code to provide that a pre-sentence report must, where available, and unless the court orders otherwise, contain information on any mental disorder from which an offender suffers, as well as any mental health care programs available to the offender.
Requiring information about the offender's mental health disorder would be in addition to the information that the Criminal Code currently requires to be included in a pre-sentence report. Under the current law, a pre-sentence report must, wherever possible, contain certain information about the offender, such as age, maturity, character, and willingness to make amends.
Bill C-375 would make it clear to the courts that where mental health information is readily available, it should be included in the pre-sentence report. For example, often offenders will provide information about their mental health situation to the probation officer who is preparing the report. The officer will often include this information in the report, which is in turn relied upon by the crown, defence counsel, and the sentencing judge.
The sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Richmond Hill, has indicated that his intention in introducing the bill was to ensure that information outlining any mental health disorders as well as any mental health care programs available is before the courts to ensure that those offenders with histories of mental illness are afforded care and compassion, and that they will receive appropriate treatment throughout the process of their rehabilitation.
I agree with the sponsor that this is important information that can be extremely valuable to a sentencing judge. In fact, it is my understanding that criminal courts in Canada can, and do, consider the mental health information of an offender when it is before them. Any sentence that is imposed without reference to available medical evidence, including mental health information, is vulnerable to attack on appeal. I do not read this proposal, however, as compelling offenders to provide information about their mental health situation against their wishes.
I understand that including mental health information in pre-sentence reports is already common practice in many jurisdictions. The legal effect of Bill C-375 would serve to codify this practice and signal to sentencing judges that this information is relevant to their deliberations.
Inroads are being made in recent years to eliminate the stigma around mental illness. People are more willing to talk about their struggles and their lives with a mental illness. This increased openness has led us to learn more about the scope of mental illness in Canada.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada indicates that in any given year, one in five Canadians experience a mental health or addiction problem. Other statistics indicate that by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, one in two experienced a mental illness. Additionally, we know that our young people are more likely to experience mental health issues than any other group.
It is well known that in the past decades, the number of individuals with mental health issues involved in the criminal justice system has increased. There is no singular reason for this increase, however, a number of causes have been cited as contributing factors. These include gaps in services for marginalized populations, including housing, income, and health services. In this regard I am extremely proud to be part of a government that is making great strides in these areas, for instance, the recently announced national housing strategy.
We also know that individuals with mental health illness are often likely to come to the attention of the police and be arrested and detained. Once detained, accessing appropriate mental health services can be a challenge.
The complexities of this issue cannot all be addressed through a private member's bill, nor can the Criminal Code solve such a profound and complex social problem.
However, I think it is fair to say that the sponsor's intent is to take one meaningful step in addressing the larger problem of the overrepresentation of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system. The bill proposes a narrow and targeted approach to ensure that in situations where a pre-sentence report is ordered, readily available mental health information is to be considered.
The stated goals of the bill are consistent with the mandate given by the Prime Minister to the Minister of Justice, which asks her to address gaps in services to those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system. I think most Canadians would agree that the issue of mental illness could be better managed in the criminal justice system. It is an area where we must continue to work together with our provincial and territorial counterparts as well as community stakeholders to ensure that meaningful progress is made.
I want to be clear that improving the mental health responses of the criminal justice system is not about letting offenders off easy. On the contrary, it is consistent with our government's stated commitment to a criminal justice system that keeps communities safe, respects victims, and holds offenders to account. In particular, addressing mental health is one of the critical ways we can divert offenders from the so-called revolving door of incarceration, improve chances of successful reintegration, and make more efficient use of scarce resources. These outcomes, and not simply punitive measures, should drive our decision-making. As a result, every step we take to improve outcomes for those with mental illness is a step worthy of careful consideration by parliamentarians.
The proposals in the bill are also consistent with our government's other efforts to improve mental health care more generally across the country.
In budget 2017, the government committed $5 billion over the next 10 years to the provinces and territories to improve access to mental health services. In addition, to ensure that federally sentenced offenders with mental health needs receive proper care, budget 2017 proposed to invest $57.8 million over five years starting in 2017-18, and $13.6 million per year thereafter, to expand mental health care for all inmates in federal correctional facilities.
This funding is in addition to the $69 million over three years announced in 2016 for immediate mental health needs, and more than $300 million provided annually to support culturally relevant mental wellness services in indigenous communities. These significant and historic investments in front-line mental health services will benefit all Canadians, not just those who find themselves at odds with the criminal justice system.
I am encouraged by these financial commitments. It reflects the importance of investing in upstream services to ensure that people can receive help when they need it, before they come into contact with the criminal justice system.
I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate on this important private member's bill. Safe and healthy communities are built upon a criminal justice system that treats all Canadians with respect, dignity, and in a manner that always upholds the rights and freedoms afforded to all Canadians by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I would like to thank the sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Richmond Hill, for providing us with an opportunity to debate this important issue facing the criminal justice system.