Mr. Speaker, I am rising in the House today to speak to Bill C-375, which would amend the Criminal Code in order to introduce information about mental health issues and disorders in pre-sentence reports.
The NDP is committed to building a criminal justice system that works for everyone. We want compassion and rehabilitation to be central to our policy. That is why my NDP colleagues and I will support this bill, which we believe is necessary to ensure fair and effective justice for all Canadians.
The NDP believes that this bill is a step in the right direction because it ensures that the judge will have all the information needed to hand down a fair and equitable ruling.
At present, nearly 36% of federal offenders need some form of psychiatric or psychological follow-up. I would remind the House, however, that paragraph 721(3)(a) of the Criminal Code requires only certain information to be included in a pre-sentence report, namely “the offender’s age, maturity, character, behaviour, attitude and willingness to make amends”, but nothing on possible mental health issues.
This is despite the fact that people with mental illness are currently overrepresented in our criminal justice system. It would therefore be a good idea to take them into account by including mental health information in pre-sentence reports so that judges can make fairer and more appropriate decisions. Adding information on offenders' mental health represents a real opportunity to modernize our justice system and adapt it to reflect the current reality.
Bill C-375 is far from perfect, however. My NDP colleagues and I all agree that this bill desperately lacks ambition and does not go far enough. If we really want to bring about change, we need meaningful action on the accessibility of mental health care. Tuesday's budget could have been an excellent opportunity to invest, but no.
The NDP believes that mental health care should be just as readily available and accessible as any other health care service in our communities. It is only logical and only fair that comparable resources be allocated to mental and physical illnesses.
We must continue to focus on compassionate care in order to help Canadians with mental illness rejoin society after incarceration and avoid over-criminalization wherever possible.
That is why I believe that it is high time for the Liberal government to invest in programs that will truly help people with mental illness before or during their time in the criminal justice system. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, over a million children and youth in Canada have a mental illness, yet less than 20% of them are able to get the treatment they need.
That is why, during the last election campaign, the NDP promised to create an innovation fund for youth mental health services, with a particular focus on first nations and rural and remote communities. This innovation fund would be a real way of proactively preventing crimes committed by people with mental illness.
I believe that we need to completely rethink the way we look at things. We need to take care of these people and ensure that they get the treatment they need instead of completely abandoning them as is currently far too often the case.
We must also remember that these people who have serious illnesses often do not have the skills or the ability to adapt to the prison environment. However, with the closure of care facilities for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities, the criminal justice system has become a refuge for people who do not have the resources to cope with life in society.
Solitary confinement and other such measures meant to enhance prison security are never appropriate solutions for people with mental illness. When they leave prison, they end up having untreated or aggravated mental health problems, which may contribute to recidivism.
While the Conservatives want to focus on harsher penalties that will only make matters worse, the NDP prefers to focus on real solutions. This is why the NDP believes in helping convicts who have a mental disorder get access to resources and support so that they can rehabilitate and reintegrate as productive members of society. We believe that we must do everything to reintegrate former inmates into society and to make sure they have the tools to do so.
I want to take a moment to highlight a number of organizations in my riding of Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot that are working very hard to help people with mental illnesses and their families. These organizations include The Lighthouse; Les Ateliers de transition; the Auberge du coeur Le Baluchon; the Centre psychosocial Richelieu-Yamaska; the Centre de femmes L'autonomie en soiE; the Collectif de défense des droits de la Montérégie; the Maison alternative de développement humain, or MADH, as it is known; the Trait d'Union Montérégien; and, of course, our volunteer centres and our health and social services institutions.
Every day, these organizations work to help people in need and contribute to improving life for the entire Saint-Hyacinthe and Acton Vale community. Le Phare is one such organization. Its mission is to bring together and help the loved ones of a person with serious mental health problems and provide them with a wide range of support services in order to help them reintegrate into society more easily.
Saint-Hyacinthe and the surrounding region can also count on the work of the Centre psychosocial Richelieu-Yamaska, which has set out to help people with mental health problems in their quest for a better quality of life with a focus on significant and lasting integration into the community.
It is thanks to local organizations like those that we can change things. That is why I believe that we must help them at a federal level in order to allow them to continue their vital mission.
I want to acknowledge another community organization in my riding in particular, the Trait d'Union Montérégien, a not-for-profit community organization that provides a sponsorship service for the social reintegration of adults who have lived with, continue to live with, or are at risk of living with emotional distress.
Since 1991, more than 300 people were able to meet a friend through this organization. When one understands how much support a good friend can provide, one understands how essential an organization like Trait d'Union Montérégien is for people who do not benefit from such relationships in their usual social circle.
The work that these organizations do is invaluable and a source of hope for thousands of people across Canada who are struggling with mental illness. However, I believe that it is vital that the government take action at the national level because the work that these community organizations do locally is not enough to bring about real change. That is why the NDP committed to working with all community workers, mental health professionals, front line workers such as the RCMP, and the provincial and territorial justice systems to seek better support services for people with mental illnesses. I encourage the government to do the same.
I repeat that the NDP will support this bill. However, my colleagues and I believe that the government needs to do more to deal with the overrepresentation of people with mental illness in the criminal justice system.
In our eyes, amending our Criminal Code to include information about mental health issues and disorders in pre-sentence reports is a good start. In conclusion, however, this move falls well short of what is needed to make a real difference for the thousands of people suffering from mental health issues who need real support from the federal government. It is time for the government to find the courage to release funds for mental health care. That is the kind of ambitious initiative I was expecting from the 2018 federal budget, but sadly, we will have to keep waiting.