On February 8, 2013, the Federal Justice Minister Robert Nicholson tabled a new bill, Bill C-54: An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the National Defence Act (mental disorder); the short-title of the bill is the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act. In a press release, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated that this proposed legislation is a part of the Federal Government’s plan for safe streets and communities. “Our Government is committed to making Canadian streets and communities safer. The new legislation introduced today focuses on victims and places public safety at the forefront of decision-making. This will ensure that not criminally responsible accused people found to be too dangerous to release are no longer a threat to their victims or Canadian communities.”
This proposed legislation affects individuals with mental health disabilities who come into contact with the justice system who are found not criminally responsible. A backgrounder released by the Prime Minister’s Office states: “Under Canadian criminal law, if an accused person cannot understand the nature of the trial, or its consequences, and cannot communicate with their lawyer on account of a mental disorder, the court will find that the person is “unfit to stand trial”. Once an accused becomes fit to stand trial, they will then be tried for the offence with which they were initially charged. If a person is found to have committed the act that constitutes an offence, but lacked the capacity to appreciate what they did or know that it was wrong due to a mental disorder at the time, the court makes a special verdict of ‘Not Criminally Responsible on Account of Mental Disorder’ (NCR). They are neither convicted, nor acquitted.”
The backgrounder goes on to say that, “A person found either unfit to stand trial or NCR is referred to a provincial or territorial Review Board, who decides on a course of action. Under the current law, a Review Board can make one of three possible decisions:
- If the person does not pose a significant threat to public safety, an absolute discharge (only available for a person found NCR);
- A conditional discharge; or,
- Detention in custody in a hospital.”
The NCR Reform Act will affect individuals found NCR or unfit to stand trial, and has three main components:
- Putting Public Safety First: the legislation would explicitly set out that public safety is the paramount consideration in the decision-making process relating to accused persons found to be NCR.
- Creating a High-Risk Designation: the legislation would create a new designation to protect the public from high-risk NCR accused. Upon being designated by a court as high-risk, an NCR accused must be held in custody and cannot be considered for release by a review board until their designation is revoked by a court. The other consequences of being designated as a high-risk NCR accused include: their review periods could be extended to up to three years; such individuals would not be entitled to unescorted passes and could only obtain an escorted pass in narrow circumstances and subject to sufficient conditions to protect public safety.
- Enhancing Victims’ Involvement: the legislation will enhance the safety of victims by ensuring that they are specifically considered when decisions are being made about accused persons found NCR; ensuring they are notified when an NCR accused is discharged; and allowing non-communications orders between an NCR accused and the victim.
The press releases states that “access to treatment for any NCR accused person would not be affected by the proposed reforms.”
You can read the press release, “Government of Canada introduces theNot Criminally Responsible Reform Act” and the corresponding backgrounder on the website for the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper.