Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise once again to discuss my private members' bill, Bill C-375. At the outset, I would like to thank all members who have substantially contributed to the substance of this private members' bill. I would like to thank the members today for once again covering the scope and intent of the bill.
For the next four minutes, I limit my remarks to responding to some of the concerns raised earlier as part of the first hour of debate. I listened intently to those members who spoke previously to the bill. While the debate has been spirited, I have been encouraged by its good faith and co-operative nature. In and of itself, this is an of acknowledgement by all parties that there is a need for real change at the intersection between our justice system and mental health. I hope that Bill C-375 can play a role in this change and inform future changes as governments of today and tomorrow navigate that dynamic relationship.
If I could, I would like to take some time to address the contradictions and inaccuracies raised by some of my colleagues across the aisle during the first hour of debate. They raised two concurrent concerns. First is that, in cases where mental health information is relevant, judges already choose to include mental health information in pre-sentence reports. Second is that the process of mandating that this information be provided where relevant would add a new burden to the justice system.
I think the contradiction here is very clear. If judges are already choosing to include this information in the pre-sentence report in all relevant cases, then we are simply codifying an existing practice. There can be no additional burden because this practice is already applied when relevant. As well, if this legislation would add a burden, then we must accept that mental health information is, in fact, not being requested in all relevant cases.
While we are on the topic of additional burdens, it is my understanding that a sentence imposed without reference to relevant, available medical evidence is vulnerable to attack on appeal. Whatever hypothetical burden would be added to the justice system by adding additional information to a pre-sentence report cannot possibly compare to the burden of time and cost that the judiciary is opened to by vulnerable verdicts.
In addition, more than one of my colleagues have suggested that providing mental health information in pre-sentence reports would result in unfairness and inconsistencies in the administration of justice, by which they must mean to say that judges will make considered decisions based on information they would otherwise not have had. This is an intended feature, not a bug. I trust our judiciary. I consider them credible decision-makers and I trust they will not become confused when provided with additional context. However, for our judges to make an informed consideration, they must have all the facts.
Mental health is an ongoing project, a frontier of medical and social science. Even those at the forefront of their field continue to make new discoveries and find new connections and contexts. As such, judges must be provided with all information, whenever possible, so as not to prejudge an offender before they have all the facts. In this constantly changing field, what may or may not be pertinent is in flux, and it is unreasonable to expect every judge to take full account of relevant mental health information in the absence of the facts and context contained in the pre-sentence report.
There have also been colleagues who have suggested this bill would not go far enough. I agree. In drafting legislation, particularly private members' bills, there may be a tendency to err on the side of caution. To narrow the scope, one must consider the end result. I am proud of the bill as it stands, but far be it from me to suggest we cannot broaden its scope or clarify its existing intent. I believe the House stands united in our belief that improvements can and must be made at the intersection of our sentencing process and the lived reality of Canadians who continue to struggle with mental health.