This bill has just one clause, and its objective is to provide more information on the profile of the accused in the pre-sentencing report used by the judge when determining the most appropriate sentence under the circumstances, or whether the accused should be absolved from serving a sentence.
At first reading, when the member for Richmond Hill introduced his bill, he stated the following:
The bill would mandate that, unless otherwise specified, when a pre-sentencing report is required by a court, in addition to such information as age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude, and willingness to make amends, information outlining any mental health disorders as well as any mental health care programs available for the accused be provided as part of their pre-sentencing report. Such information is vital for the courts to have in order to ensure that those Canadians with histories of mental illness are afforded care and compassion, and that they will receive appropriate treatment throughout the process of their rehabilitation.
Bill C-375 states:
Subsection 721(3) of the Criminal Code is amended by adding the following after paragraph (a): (a.1) any mental disorder from which the offender suffers as well as any mental health care programs available to them;
Pre-sentence reports are given to members with a vested interest in the case: the presiding judge, both counsel for the defence and prosecution, the parole officer, the individual and in some cases the institution where the sentence will be served.
This report serves to help the judge determine the most appropriate sentence for the accused and to inform them of the available services that might be necessary in their rehabilitation.
The NDP is committed to building a criminal justice system that works. We want to ensure that compassion and rehabilitation are at the heart of our policies. Providing information about an individual’s mental health in a pre-sentencing report allows the judge to make a more informed and appropriate sentencing decision and falls directly in line with a justice system based on rehabilitation, as does including information about available mental health programs and services.
To be clear, the objective of this measure is not to disclose the mental health condition of the individual or to perpetuate the stigma or false perception that people with mental health disorders are dangerous.
The objective of the bill is to add information to pre-sentence reports with a view to helping individuals receive appropriate sentences and, with the proposed changes, receive the services they need.
People with mental illnesses are overrepresented in Canada's criminal justice system. Documenting the number of people with mental illnesses who are convicted of certain crimes will help us make the case for alternative programs and solutions. This information can also be used to develop resources and initiatives that prevent people with mental illness from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
Although provisions providing for pre-sentence reports are set out in the Criminal Code, which is a federal legislation, the administration of the courts and law enforcement are the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories.
At present, the provinces and territories include different information in their pre-sentence reports.
Some provinces, like Nova Scotia, already advise that mental health considerations be disclosed, but this is not the case for all jurisdictions. This bill would create a national standard for all jurisdictions to consider mental health during sentencing.
Bill C-375 would also require the report to include information about any mental health care programs that might help with the individual's rehabilitation.
The following is an excerpt from a 2015 John Howard Society of Ontario report:
Since the closure of institutions serving individuals with mental illness and developmental disabilities, the criminal justice system has become a repository for individuals who lack adequate resources to cope with living in the community.
The correctional investigator's 2012 annual report found that 36% of federal offenders were identified at admission as requiring psychiatric or psychological follow-up.
What is more, 45% of male inmates and 69% of female inmates were treated for mental health issues while in prison.
Young adults aged 18 to 34 are overrepresented in correctional facilities since, according to Statistics Canada data from 2015-16, they represent only 28% of the Canadian adult population.
An Ontario study also showed that 80% of young inmates had a mental health issue.
In 2015-16, indigenous adults were also overrepresented in provincial and territorial corrections facilities since they accounted for 26% of admissions but represent only 3% of the Canadian adult population.
The overrepresentation of indigenous adults was more pronounced for women than men. Indigenous women represented 38% of women serving a sentence in a provincial or territorial institution, whereas for indigenous men, that figure was 26%.
In the federal correctional system, indigenous women accounted for 31% of women serving prison sentences, whereas for indigenous men, that figure was 23%.
The fact that people with mental health problems are being sent to prison and not being given the appropriate care is a real problem. Last April, the Toronto Star published the following quote from Justice David Paciocco of the Ontario Court of Appeal. He said:
From arrest to prosecution, conviction, sentencing, use of segregation, all stages of our criminal justice system are now consistently overrepresented by people who are suffering from psychosis, mania, mood disorders, depression, alcoholism and addiction, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders.
The judge continued:
Those suffering from mental health issues who are swallowed up by the criminal justice system do not fare well. The use of segregation or other standard isolation practices are the clearest examples of a system whose practices rooted in punishment and control can exacerbate the challenges facing people with mental health issues. Individuals leaving the system leave with unmanaged or worsened mental health issues, which can contribute to recidivism.
That is exactly what we want to avoid.
The New Democrat Party is committed to working with community workers, mental health professionals, front-line workers like the RCMP, and the provincial and territorial justice systems to demand better support services for people with mental illness. We also want to make sure communities have the resources and services they need to help people with mental illness before and during incarceration.
We need to continue focusing on compassionate care to help people with mental illness rejoin society after incarceration and avoid over-criminalization wherever possible.
If we can improve our ability to assess the needs of those being sentenced, our justice system will be able to direct them to the appropriate rehabilitation resources and so reduce the risk of recidivism—even eliminate recidivism entirely, in an ideal world. That is one of the reasons the New Democrat Party is calling for more detailed pre-sentence reports and will be supporting this bill.
Mental illness can have a tremendous impact on a person's life. Disclosure of mental illness definitely needs to factor into the determination of an appropriate sentence and rehabilitation plan.
Instead of spouting tough-on-crime rhetoric, the New Democratic Party has long been looking for ways to make our justice system work. Our goal is to help people convicted of crimes who have mental health problems get the resources and support they need to be rehabilitated and become fully functioning members of society.
We believe it is important to provide more support services and resources to people with mental illness who are involved in the criminal justice system.