April 29, 2004 (37th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Sue Barnes


Hon. Sue Barnes (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-29, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mental disorder) and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
Bill C-29 proposes a range of reforms to the provisions of the criminal law to govern persons found unfit to stand trial and not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.
Before highlighting the key features of the bill, I would like to provide members of the House some background, or history, of these provisions.
It is a longstanding principle of our criminal law that persons who suffer from mental disorder and do not understand the nature and quality of their acts or know that they are wrong should not be held criminally responsible. In 1991 Parliament made significant reforms to modernize the law that governed persons found not guilty by reason of insanity. The 1991 reforms reflected the need to balance the rights of the mentally ill and also to balance this with the protection of public safety.
The reforms included in Bill C-29 share the same goals as the 1991 reforms, to further modernize the law and to effectively balance the rights of the mentally ill who come into conflict with the law with the public's right to safety.
It is also worth noting that the 1991 amendments called for a parliamentary review of the legislation five years after proclamation. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights conducted a comprehensive review of the legislation in the spring 2002. The committee received submissions and heard testimony from over 30 stakeholders, including members of the Bar, crown attorneys, psychiatric hospital administrators, review board chairpersons, service providers and mental health advocates.
It is fair to say that, in general, witnesses appearing before the committee agreed that the legislation was working very well. However, they noted that further refinements would ensure that the law continued to work very well to govern persons found unfit to stand trial and not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.
In June 2002, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tabled its report and made recommendations calling for both legislative reform and other initiatives. Its report explains why reforms are needed and in some cases proposes a specific amendment.
The standing committee report included 19 recommendations. The key recommendations for Criminal Code reform called for, and this is in no particular order: the repeal of parts of the 1991 regime that were never proclaimed into forced, including the capping provisions that would have set the maximum time limit on the supervision or detention of the accused; streamlining the transfer of accused persons between provinces and territories; new provisions to deal with persons who are permanently unfit to stand trial; and enhanced protections for the victims of crime who attend review board hearings, for example, publication bans on their identity in appropriate circumstances and the opportunity to prepare a victim impact statement.
The committee also made recommendations calling for more indepth research and consultation on emerging issues, such as the appropriate standard to determine fitness to stand trial and whether professionals, other than psychiatrists, should conduct assessments.
The need to consult with provincial and territorial ministers of health was also recommended to review the resources available to meet the needs of the mentally disordered accused, and the availability of facilities for youth. This is very serious.
The standing committee should be commended for its thorough review of the mental disorder provisions. Bill C-29 reflects the advice and guidance provided by the committee and all of those who appeared before the committee.
Bill C-29 includes reforms that respond to the issues raised by the committee. In some cases the amendment is not exactly as the committee proposed. I am sure the committee will agree, following its consideration of Bill C-29, that its key recommendations have been addressed.
Bill C-29 also includes reforms that the committee did not specifically recommend, but that complement the committee's recommendations and also reflect issues raised in the case law, and also through very important consultations conducted by the Department of Justice with key stakeholders over the past 10 years.
The key features of Bill C-29 provide new powers for review boards that have been established in each province and territory to make key decisions governing mentally disordered and unfit accused. For example, review boards would be able to order an assessment of the mental condition of the accused to assist them in making the appropriate disposition. Victim impact statements could be read aloud by victims at review board hearings. The bill would be streamline transfer provisions to permit the safe and efficient transfer of a person found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder or unfit from one province or territory to another. Courts would have new authority to determine whether a judicial stay of proceedings should be ordered for a permanently unfit accused who did not pose a significant threat to the safety of the public.
More options are in the bill for police to enforce disposition and assessment orders that take into account the need for the accused person's treatment to continue. The provisions of the 1991 law that were never proclaimed will be repealed; capping and the related dangerous mentally disordered accused provisions and the hospital orders provision. Also, there are a range of clarifying and procedural amendments to ensure the effective application of the goals of the law.
This bill is not a whole scale reform of the law. Rather, the bill is the next step in ensuring that our laws are effective, efficient and fair in governing mentally disordered accused.
This is a very complex area of the law. However, make no mistake, these reforms are necessary. The provisions of the code have remained the same since 1991, but the case law has evolved, as has the application of the code. The Supreme Court of Canada has stated in several recent cases, including Winko and Tulikorpi, that the code regime has two goals: protection of the rights of the mentally disordered accused and protection of public safety. Punishment is not one of the goals. As I indicated earlier, our law does not hold the mentally disordered accused criminally responsible.
I look forward to the prompt consideration of this bill by a committee of the House. It is my hope that the committee will support these amendments and see their hard work reflected in the bill. Very good work has been done by the committee before. The ultimate goal is the speedy passage of any of these bills by the House. I hope all members will support the amendments.
I thank the House for the opportunity to start the discussion. I know we will have important discussion on the bill. While this gets ready to go to committee, we can have more indepth discussion at committee. I thank all the members of the House for their consideration.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Criminal Code
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