In September 2011, the Government of Canada introduced the Safe Streets and Communities Act (Bill C-10). According to a press release by the Department of Justice Canada, this Bill proposes various amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada, including provisions to “increase the mandatory minimum penalties for nine existing offences to better reflect the serious nature of these offences, as well as to bring greater consistency in sentencing in these cases.” This Bill passed the House of Commons on December 5th, and had the First Reading in the Senate on December 6th.
The Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee (HSJCC) has responded to Bill C-10 raising concerns that the proposed changes in legislation will have a negative impact on individuals with mental health disabilities. Specifically, the Provincial HSJCC is concerned about the provisions under Bill C-10 that propose mandatory minimum sentences for offenders. The Provincial HSJCC believes that, when determining penalties, persons with mental health disabilities should be assessed individually and their life circumstances be taken into consideration.
The letter notes the mental health diversion programs currently in effect in Ontario that provide specialized court support services to individuals with mental health disabilities, to ensure that these individuals are receiving the one-on-one support they require to navigate through the complex criminal justice process. The Provincial HSJCC believes that the mandatory minimum sentences for offenders would undermine the efforts underway to direct individuals with mental health disabilities into appropriate care within the community.
As a result, the Provincial HSJCC recommends that Bill C-10 be amended so that the individual circumstances of persons with mental health disabilities and other human service needs, including those with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities, acquired brain injuries, drug and alcohol addictions, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, are taken into consideration when determining penalties. In addition, the Provincial HSJCC recommends that the Government of Canada increase investments and resources into the community mental health and addictions sector to meet the needs of Canadians with mental health disabilities.
For more information about Bill C-10, see backgrounder “Safe Streets and Communities Act,” Department of Justice Canada, September 2011 at www.justice.gc.ca.
To access the Provincial HSJCC letter regarding Bill C-10, visit www.hsjcc.on.ca.