Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-375, introduced by the hon. member for Richmond Hill, an act to amend the Criminal Code. More specifically, Bill C-375 seeks to amend section 721 of the Criminal Code. Section 721 deals with pre-sentence reports. What Bill C-375 would do is amend section 721 to require that probation officers consistently, in every pre-sentence report, always report on any mental health disorder of an offender, as well as report on programs and services related to mental health that are available to the offender.
There is no question that mental health is a serious issue in Canada's criminal justice system. We know that the percentage of individuals in prison who have mental health or addiction issues is very large. Indeed, according to the latest report from the correctional investigator of Canada, more than half of the female prison population has some mental health issue and 26% of the male population has a mental health issue. Therefore, when we are talking about the criminal justice system, prisons, and issues of mental health, we are talking about a very significant percentage of the prison population.
There is no doubt that a lot of attention has been placed on issues around mental health in prisons as a result of some recent highly publicized incidents involving prisoners with mental health issues and how they were treated. There is no question that there is plenty of work to do to ensure that the health and safety of prisoners with mental health issues are protected. To that end, Parliament has a responsibility and a duty to act to ensure that those issues are addressed and to deal with shortcomings of the federal prison system in dealing with persons with mental health issues.
With that said, Bill C-375 specifically deals with pre-sentence reports. By way of background, each and every year in Canada thousands of pre-sentence reports are prepared. Pre-sentence reports are not mandatory. They are prepared at the request of a judge who may need the report or who may look forward to the report to obtain additional information and background about the offender in order to craft an appropriate sentence for that offender.
Section 721 of the Criminal Code provides that certain information must always be included in pre-sentence reports. Additionally, subsection 721(2) of the Criminal Code provides that provinces may, by regulation, require that additional information be included in pre-sentence reports in their respective jurisdictions. Additionally, judges have the discretion to request that certain issues or certain matters be addressed in a pre-sentence report when the judge deems it appropriate, having regard for the unique circumstances of each individual offender. Taken together, the reality today is that when we are talking about the mental health issues that may concern an offender, and issues concerning programs and services related to mental health in respect of offenders, the fact is that today such information and those issues can be addressed, investigated, and put forward in a pre-sentence report.
Indeed, it is not uncommon, again depending upon the specific circumstances of each individual case and offender, for judges to make that request and to take those matters into consideration. While I appreciate that Bill C-375 is a well-intentioned bill and I know that the hon. member for Richmond Hill has been a strong and passionate advocate on issues concerning mental health, vulnerable persons, and Canadian society, I believe the bill is unnecessary.
Moreover, in addition to being unnecessary, I believe that Bill C-375 has the potential to create confusion and result in unfairness and inconsistencies in the administration of justice. To that end, there is a considerable variance in the behaviours and conditions falling under the umbrella of mental illness. The fact is that not all mental illnesses and disorders are the same. Even within some disorders, the degree of impact can vary considerably. In addition to that, there is a real potential for Bill C-375 to cause delay and further backlogs in our criminal justice system.
Further, Bill C-375 would significantly increase the amount of work a probation officer undertakes in preparing a pre-sentence report. That additional work may be necessary in many cases. Again, that is already done in those cases, because by the time a verdict is rendered and a judge gets to the sentencing part of a specific case, issues concerning the mental health of an offender almost certainly have been brought to the attention of the trial judge.
Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach that can create inconsistencies, lead to confusion, result in backlogs or slow down the administration of justice, I would submit that the best approach is to do what is taking place, which is to leave it to the discretion of trial judges.