Mr. Speaker, I would like to say first of all that although I support the objectives of Bill C-240, I strongly object to its approach, since it has a number of deficiencies and is a contradiction of the terms of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The present government is committed to making public safety one of its priorities, and an important part of this commitment consists in taking steps to respond to the concerns raised by high risk violent offenders.
The bill would allow post-sentence detention of such criminals, based on current provisions in the Criminal Code for dangerous offenders serving the last year of their sentence.
Some of you may recall that the provisions of Bill C-240 on post-sentence detention were among the proposals tabled by the previous government in this House in May 1993. The proposals were given thorough consideration by a wide range of groups and individuals and were carefully examined by a federal-provincial-territorial task force, created specifically to find ways
to improve the protection of the public against high-risk violent offenders.
Consultations were conducted in August and September 1993 and ministry officials met with more than 200 groups in 44 separate consultative sessions. Included in those sessions were representatives of the judiciary, defence counsel, crown prosecutors, provincial and territorial corrections and justice officials, police, victims, voluntary agencies, municipal agencies, women's groups, aboriginal groups, inmate committees, mental health professionals and academics.
While there was a general consensus on the need to do something about a small group of dangerous offenders, there was no agreement that the post-sentence proposal would right some things. There was significant support for an examination of the current dangerous offender provisions, strengthening their applicability and ensuring appropriate use of these provisions at the time of sentencing.
The vast majority of those consulted, including members of the task force on high risk violent offenders, had serious concerns about the charter implications and potential ineffectiveness of the post-sentence detention proposals.
The main concern with these proposals, Mr. Speaker, can be summarized. The proposals permit what amounts to a re-sentencing of someone who has already served his or her sentence, contrary to section 11(8) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That section states:
If finally acquitted of the offence, not to be tried for it again, and if finally found guilty and punished for the offence not to be tried or punished for it again.
There is concern that a prediction of future dangerousness would result in a violation of a person's charter rights.
There remains doubt that the proposed scheme would capture the target group of federal offenders who are identified as posing a significant risk upon release.
The requirement for new evidence of dangerousness is thought likely to have a negative impact on treatment participation. Since offenders' disclosures to treatment professionals could be used to substantiate a dangerous offender application under the post-detention sentence scheme, offenders may be reluctant to participate in treatment programs.
The expense of such proceedings is of concern to the provinces, particularly because of the requirement to link the application to the original offence, which may have occurred many years ago.
As you can see, Mr. Speaker, the concept of post-sentence detention has raised numerous concerns. The government recognizes that controlling high risk violent offenders is a complex problem. This requires us to look not for a single solution that will address all cases but to take a broader view of all aspects of the criminal justice process and the links between the criminal justice and mental health systems.
Mr. Speaker, as you know, the federal government and the provinces share responsibility for Canada's criminal justice system, while mental health comes under provincial jurisdiction. Since the problems caused by high-risk violent offenders are a shared responsibility, it was decided to establish the federal-provincial-territorial task force on high-risk violent offenders, which I mentioned earlier.
The task force is looking into a range of legal solutions and policies for treating, managing and supervising high-risk violent offenders. We admit there is no single solution to the complex and difficult problem of violent repeat offenders and that there must be co-operation between the federal government and the provinces, especially between our criminal justice and mental health systems. That is why the task force has looked into a number of measures that would protect the public more adequately against repeat offenders who commit acts of violence and sexual assault.
I agree with the task force that even if the proposed legislation were found to be constitutional, something I do not expect because of the problems raised by dual punishment and other measures in terms of the charter, these proposals create a problem that is even worse: they would apply to a relatively limited number of the repeat offenders in question. In order to treat high risk violent offenders as effectively as possible, we must reinforce our present system for treating dangerous offenders.
It is a fact that the provinces are increasingly using the provisions of the Criminal Code concerning dangerous offenders, hence the increase in indeterminate sentencing. The provisions regarding dangerous offenders allow a judge to sentence, for an indeterminate period, an offender believed to be likely to commit other violent offences. At a March meeting of federal-provincial justice ministers, it was agreed to continue to make every effort so that such requests be presented whenever appropriate.
Moreover, the provinces are in the process of establishing a system to identify high risk violent offenders and monitor them. This information will be made available to crown prosecutors, even if offenders move to another province; this will ensure that repeat offenders do not fall through the cracks and that they will be prosecuted as dangerous offenders.
We believe that, instead of detaining offenders at the end of their sentence, as proposed in this bill, when an offender has finished serving a sentence of determinate imprisonment and is believed to be still dangerous when released, he might be committed under provincial mental health legislation. Even if the situation varies widely between provinces, they all permit mandatory confinement of persons considered a threat to themselves or others, because of mental illness.
The mental health of prisoners who are detained until the end of their sentence because the National Parole Board believes that they are too dangerous to be released, is carefully assessed to determine whether they should be committed to a psychiatric institution. If they meet the criteria, they are transferred to a provincial psychiatric hospital.
The federal-provincial task force on high risk violent offenders is looking to see if changes to provincial mental health legislation could be recommended to improve the system's ability to commit and hold mentally disordered dangerous people.
In addition it is studying the extent to which other factors such as the lack of appropriate secure facilities play a role in preventing mentally disordered dangerous people from being civilly committed. I would like to mention another initiative in this area. A federal-provincial joint action committee on corrections and mental health is reviewing operational issues related to the management of mentally disordered and sex offenders.
The mandate of the action committee is to examine alternative methods to manage, treat, and supervise offenders with a disorder be it mental, sexual or behavioural. The aim is to find solutions that bridge the correctional and mental health fields and aid in the co-ordination of effort.
In conclusion, the post sentence detention provision of Bill C-240 does not present a realistic option for our federal structure. Detaining offenders in penitentiaries after they have served their court imposed sentences raises serious charter concerns. Solutions to this problem lie with the link between the criminal justice and mental health systems.
In Canada, mental health legislation is the constitutional responsibility of the provinces and therefore the federal government cannot act alone in this area. That is why the government is committed to working closely with the provinces to find real solutions. In order to bring about meaningful, effective reform in protecting the public from the threat of high risk violent offenders, the federal and provincial governments are working together to advance solutions that tackle the problem in a comprehensive fashion.
This government is committed to the work currently under way which brings the federal and provincial governments and the criminal justice and mental health systems together to ensure the best protection for all Canadians.