Mr. Speaker, I rise before the House for the second time this evening, this time, to speak to Bill C-54.
Bill C-54 is important. It is the latest bill on the Conservative government's crime agenda. Based on the controversial example of Dr. Guy Turcotte in Quebec, the government thinks it is better to impose its ideological measures.
The profound, collective feeling of injustice triggered by the murder of his two children was a completely normal, healthy reaction. Indeed, he made us question the essence of justice and the future of our society and prompted us to ask other important questions of that sort. As parliamentarians, it is our duty to ask whether such a case, which fortunately, is very unusual, requires us to question where the justice system is going.
I would like to quote a senator who was talking about one of her bills dealing with this issue. I think this quotation is quite relevant:
Even though there may be the odd case that concerns us all, Canada has recognized mental health experts and a proven judicial system. Anger and pain should not dictate our courts. Nor should they dictate our laws. It is a mistake to go down this path because instead of building a peaceful society we would create an unstable, harder, less tolerant one. We would fall into a vicious cycle of repression and violence, precisely into which the [Prime Minister's] Conservatives—and Senator Boisvenu—seek to lead us....We are talking about sick people. Punishment will not cure them. Prison does not cure.
That was Senator Hervieux-Payette, and those were her words regarding her own Bill S-214. I am quite certain that she will not mind if I draw a parallel with the current situation.
Is the government outraged that I would dare claim that it is playing politics at the expense of victims? The government is constantly accusing the opposition of siding with pedophiles, murderers and other criminals of that ilk, so I would simply like to try a little experiment.
The government has made several public statements on this bill, as did Senator Boisvenu and the mother of the two murdered children, Isabelle Gaston, whose state of mind I cannot even begin to imagine. The following is an excerpt of the statements of Senator Boisvenu and the Minister of Canadian Heritage at the announcement of Guy Turcotte's release on parole:
We believe that Isabelle Gaston doesn't deserve to live in fear of her children's killer, and neither do other victims...
Such decision is clearly undermining Canadians’ confidence in our justice system.
That's why our Government will shortly introduce legislation to address Canadians’ concerns about high-risk accused persons found Not Criminally Responsible on account of mental disorder who may pose a threat to public safety if released.
Well, if the government is not engaging in petty politics, and if the bill does not apply in any way to Dr. Turcotte's case, why are the Conservatives promoting the bill by using an emotionally charged and high-profile case involving children?
It smacks of demagogy and is very dangerous when the government plays with Canadians’ feelings and keeps them in the dark. The Conservatives know full well that this legislation will give the government an opportunity to capitalize on Canadians’ empathy for Ms. Gaston, while at the same time never clearly pubically admitting that the legislation cannot, and will never, apply to Ms. Gaston even if Mr. Turcotte were to face a second trial. Moreover, when Ms. Gaston was questioned on a Quebec public affairs television program, she admitted to being unaware whether the legislation would even apply in her situation. To quote Ms. Gaston “As far as I am concerned, I do not know, it is perhaps too early to get a sense of whether it will have an impact on my situation—the process is ongoing.”
This proves that all Ms. Gaston really wants is for things to change, and for her children not to have died in vain, which is entirely admirable. However, I seriously doubt that a more rigid position and the criminalization of mental illness will resolve the problem.
I use the word criminalization because, in truth, government members do not really believe in rehabilitation—we realized this when Bill C-10 was adopted. After listening to Senator Boisvenu, the jury is out as to whether he even believes that people genuinely suffer from psychological distress or severe mental illness.
In fact, the senator even wants the government to review the definitions of a number of mental illnesses whereby individuals may be found not criminally responsible.
Why? Simply because Mr. Boisvenu does not think that the incidence of mental illness could have increased so significantly over the past 10 or 15 years.
Why did the number of people found not criminally responsible increase twenty times? I do not think that the incidence of mental illness has increased at such a rate over the past 10 or 15 years. We must find out why there has been such a drastic increase in the number of these cases.
My colleague, the member for Gatineau, our justice critic, explained this during her opening speech. She said:
It is true that the percentage has risen over the years. However, and this is what it does not say, before 1991, if I recall correctly, when the amendment was made to the Criminal Code, the term was changed from “not guilty by reason of insanity” to “not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder”. At that point, summary conviction offences were also added, and this resulted in a lot of cases that had not been covered previously. Obviously that had an impact on the statistics. According to the government's responses, we are talking about a tiny percentage of cases where the individuals were found to be not criminally responsible.
To what point are mentally ill offenders dangerous?
This question was at the heart of an extensive study the Canadian government's Department of Public Safety conducted at the end of the 1990s. It recorded and analyzed more than 60 studies on this subject to properly identify the problems.
These studies looked at more than 15,000 offenders who had been released from prison or specialized hospitals and who were followed in their communities for a period of four to five-and-a-half years, on average. What were the findings?
When compared to offenders who do not have major psychological or psychiatric disorders, mentally disordered offenders are less likely to recidivate violently.
Second, mentally disordered offenders are not always actively psychotic. They may be in remission or their symptoms are being managed by medication.
The study also evaluated the relative importance of different risk factors. Many mental health professionals place considerable emphasis on “clinical” variables. Examples are length of hospitalization and type of mental disorder (e.g., schizophrenia, manic-depression). The meta-analysis found that these variables demonstrate very weak associations with violent re-offending. Much more potent predictors of violent recidivism are the factors typically found to predict violence among non-disordered offenders. Examples of these risk factors are criminal history, unemployment and family problems.
When the Minister of Justice said in his opening speech on second reading that the objective of the proposed reforms was not to impose criminal penalties on individuals found by a court to be not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, that was only half true, in fact.
In reality, Bill C-54 will divide the clientele into two types of cases: those who meet the criteria in Bill C-54 and those who do not meet those criteria, even though they have all been found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder. This means that accused persons whose cases meet the criteria and who are found to be high-risk accused could be held in custody with no possibility of release by the review board as long as the court has not revoked the finding.
Why place people who are not criminally responsible outside the jurisdiction of the review boards that deal with mental disorders, quasi-judicial tribunals that are composed of psychiatrists, not judges? Only a court could find an accused to be “high-risk” and then revoke that finding, at present. Before revoking it, the court would seek the recommendation of the mental disorder review board, but the final decision would no longer be the board’s.
In Quebec, the mental disorder review board makes decisions concerning individuals who have been found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder.
As long as the accused is not discharged unconditionally or found fit to stand trial, a review must be held each year. With Bill C-54, that time will be extended to three years, and this could cause a number of problems, according to the experts with the Canadian Forensic Mental Health Network. It would prompt defence counsel to stop pleading not criminally responsible and opt for custodial prison sentences in the traditional prison system. In addition, individuals found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder would not receive proper care, but they would still present a danger when they were released.
The study I referred to earlier also found that the similarities between risk factors for offenders with mental disorders and other offenders suggest that there is a point at which health care services and the criminal justice system could integrate their approaches in order to effectively manage offenders with mental disorders.
There are two specific areas where co-operation between the two systems is possible: risk assessment and rehabilitation of offenders. I am not citing that study to embarrass anyone, but simply to try to make the government members understand the consequences of deinstitutionalization, poverty and the criminalization of mental health problems. Prison does not cure people.
This bill, like so many others, was drafted without much thought to the consequences and without consultation, in order to make the public, and particularly the Conservative base, believe that this government is tough on crime. In reality, this bill would probably not apply to the case of Guy Turcotte.
Clause 12 of Bill C-54 adds a new section to the Criminal Code, section 672.64, which lists the conditions that must be met in order for a person to be considered high-risk:
672.64 (1) On application made by the prosecutor before any disposition to discharge an accused absolutely, the court may, at the conclusion of a hearing, find the accused to be a high-risk accused if the accused has been found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder for a serious personal injury offence, as defined in subsection 672.81(1.3), the accused was 18 years of age or more at the time of the commission of the offence and
(a) the court is satisfied that there is a substantial likelihood that the accused will use violence that could endanger the life or safety of another person; or
(b) the court is of the opinion that the acts that constitute the offence were of such a brutal nature as to indicate a risk of grave physical or psychological harm to another person.
For Guy Turcotte to be declared an assumed high-risk accused, the judge has to be convinced, beyond a doubt, that he would likely seriously harm another person or could endanger the life of another person. Everyone agrees that the murders were both brutal and grotesque. I, too, have children. However, that is not what justice must decide. Rather, it should focus on whether or not there is a chance the accused will reoffend.
Given the decision made, the experts were obviously able to convince the judge that this was not the case. I am going to outline the five criteria that the judge must take into consideration—and he must take all of them into consideration—when determining whether the individual is a high-risk accused.
He must consider the nature and circumstances of the offence, any pattern of repetitive behaviour of which the offence forms a part, the accused’s current mental condition, the past and expected course of the accused’s treatment, including the accused’s willingness to follow treatment, and the opinions of experts who have examined the accused. If one must take into consideration all these criteria, the Turcotte case does not at all fit, given the experts' opinions, his mental condition and the treatments and therapies that he is following.
The nature of the offence is the only criterion that might lead a judge to consider him dangerous. However, given his mental condition at the time, and based on what the judge took into consideration, the risk of reoffending is very low. According to the Conservatives' bill, Guy Turcotte would not be a high-risk accused.
The one thing I agree on is that victims should be at the centre of the process. The problem is that the bill says very little on this aspect.
In closing, I want to reiterate that the government must realize the importance of providing real support to victims of crime, including by following up on more than one recommendation of the report by the ombudsman for victims of crime. It must also understand the whole psychosocial structure surrounding prevention, the study of risk factors, research, health care and rehabilitation.
It is difficult because each case is unique, but experts have tools to try to have everyone make progress. Some are probably beyond redemption, but just like with the concept of high-risk accused or mental disorder, it is certainly not up to politicians, or even the legal profession to establish the foundations. It is up to psychiatrists and doctors.
While referring to the former cardiologist's case, the Minister of Canadian Heritage said that such decision obviously undermines Canadians' confidence in our justice system. However, the minister was not able to say how this desire to put victims at the centre of the process would translate into concrete measures.
That is another contradiction in the Conservatives' logic, and it is the reason why we presented a number of amendments in committee. In fact, one of those amendments was accepted, and it is one of the few that the Conservative government has accepted in any committee.
The amendment would inform victims, at their request, of the address of a person already found to be not criminally responsible for a crime so that the victim can avoid the area for his or her own well-being. It is one of the examples that showed that we do care about the victims. We want to improve this bill so that it reflects this concern.
One of the reasons why we will be supporting this bill is that we were able to have the Conservatives accept a second amendment that would require the government—no matter which party is in power in five years, that is in 2018—to have a committee study and re-examine the situation.
There are still many concerns about this bill, and I have pointed out a few of them. I think it is worthwhile examining them. There are other concerns that I did not have the time to address in my speech. They were brought up by experts, or in committee, and had to do with the possibility that this bill may be unconstitutional.
The validity of such measures is obviously based on the victims' rights, but also the rights of those deemed to be not criminally responsible for the acts committed. These laws must also be protected. In that sense, a contradiction could easily lead to interpretation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The committee was informed of concerns by the media. That is why, five years after the bill becomes law, such a study would be pertinent.
In my speech, I made sure that I talked about the danger of politicizing cases like the Guy Turcotte case. I am certain that other members could cite similar cases that have occurred in their riding or region. These cases are very delicate and they affect us.
I already mentioned that I have children. Anyone who has young children will be emotional about a situation like that. It is the reason why such a delicate and sensitive situation must be handled by parliamentarians in the same manner, that is in a delicate and sensitive manner. These types of cases must not be used to promote a political agenda.
The reference made by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Senator Boisvenu to what I just mentioned was the second speech made on the same bill. It was announced twice. The government must be very careful, because this kind of issue is very volatile. Again, the politicization of these cases has muddied the waters for the collective debate we should be holding on this issue. This makes it much more difficult to find our way.
In the future, for law and order bills on crime, I would like the government to be much more sensitive to the reactions it causes and the way they interfere with the debate when similar bills are introduced.
On this side of the House, we showed we were willing to work with the government. We will do so by voting for this bill, among other things. In addition, we demonstrated our co-operation by proposing and expediting the passage of Bill C-2, which allows for the group prosecution of biker gangs.
We will continue to work on this issue, but we need the government's co-operation in order to have a healthy and useful debate for Canadians.