Mr. Speaker, before I begin my speech, I want to recognize and express deep gratitude to remarkable leader, a former minister, my predecessor, the Hon. Rona Ambrose, who served the people of Sturgeon River—Parkland with distinction. It is an honour to follow in her footsteps as the representative of Sturgeon River—Parkland.
I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-375, an act to amend the Criminal Code in regard to pre-sentencing reports. I want to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Richmond Hill, for championing the issue of mental health in Canada. The bill would amend the Criminal Code to require a pre-sentencing report that contains information on any mental disorder a offender suffers from.
Canadians expect their justice system to keep them safe from high-risk individuals, and we need a policy that strikes a balance between the need to protect society from those who pose a danger and to treat with compassion those with mental illness and mental disorders. I will not be supporting the bill because I do not believe it would achieve this balance between compassion for victims and their families, and for the offenders who suffer from mental illness.
Currently, section 721 of the Criminal Code enables a probation officer to publish a pre-sentence report after the offender is found guilty. The purpose of the report is to assist the court in imposing a sentence or in determining whether an accused should be discharged. A pre-sentence report must contain the following information: the offender's age, maturity, character, and willingness to make amends. It also contains the history of previous dispositions under the Young Offenders Act and the history of alternative measures used to deal with the offender and the offender's response to those measures.
Bill C-375 proposes to add another requirement to this list: the consideration of any mental health disorder from which the offender suffers, as well as any mental health care programs available to him or her. In practice, this would create some unfairness and inconsistencies in the application of laws and justice. Not all mental health disorders are the same. In fact, even the same mental health disorders can have a great deal of variance in how they impact individuals. It is paramount that compassion for those suffering with mental health disorders be balanced with the need to protect public safety and provide justice for victims and their families.
These changes are also a concern because they could add considerable delays to our court system, which is already overburdened. Increased delays and complexity would not help those in the justice system who have mental health disorders, nor would they be good for victims and their families. I do not think any of my colleagues in this House would want trials to be unnecessarily delayed, or after the fact, and I believe this legislation could add delays to our system.
Our understanding of mental health continues to evolve with more research. It is an incredibly complex issue, as I mentioned. There is a danger when anyone attempts to address mental health too broadly. The requirement of the bill to add pre-sentencing reports for mental disorders is too broad. As I said, not all mental health disorders are the same, and not all of them are equally relevant to our justice system. Currently, judges are able to take into account relevant information to ensure that the mentally ill are not treated poorly, and can do so without this legislation and in a way that is not cumbersome to the system. In the case of Vince Li in Manitoba, I believe that the justice system dealt quite ably with it by showing compassion both to the offender and to the victims and their families. It shows that the system is largely working well, and I believe this legislation could further tip the balance too far in the favour of the accused and against the victims and their families.
Another danger with this proposed change would be that its broad definition could be applied to something very different from the sorts of illnesses considered relevant in past cases. For example, we are increasingly becoming aware that hard-drug addictions can be considered mental illnesses, but do we really want drug addicts using their addictions as an excuse for committing crimes? For the law to maintain the confidence of Canadians, it must be consistently applied. Sentencing exceptions for mental health disorders could create an incentive for the accused persons to claim they have a mental disorder.
Like all Canadians, we hope for the successful rehabilitation of those who have taken up a life of crime. Our first priority, however, must be the safety and security of Canadians and the communities where we work and live.
It is well known that an increasing number of people who have become involved in the criminal justice system have mental health disorders. These individuals pose unique challenges for police, courts, correctional facilities, and social workers.
In closing, any justice bill must balance the right of the public to be adequately protected when those who suffer from mental illness pose a danger to society with the right of those suffering from mental illnesses to be treated appropriately and with compassion.