Bill C-54, the “criminally not responsible act,” is proposing a fix to a system that’s not broken, according to a Canadian Bar Association representative who appeared this week before the Commons committee on justice and human rights.
David Parry of the CBA’s national criminal justice section appeared before the committee with the CBA’s response to the bill, which opposes the reintegration of “high-risk” accused persons who are found not criminally responsible for their actions due to their mental illness. The bill proposes instead that such persons are held for up to three years in detention without a review.
The bill’s proponents say it would make public safety the “paramount consideration” when courts deal with those found not criminally responsible. But such consideration is already at the heart of review board assessments, according to the CBA, which says research shows that those found not criminally responsible are in fact held longer in hospital than if they had been found guilty and sent to prison.
“There is a delicate balance that must be struck between public safety and individual liberty when determining how best to handle accused persons who have been found not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder,” says Parry in a press release. “Substantial portions of bill C-54 threaten this critical balance.”
There is no evidence to suggest the added sanctions included in bill C-54 will make the public safer, the CBA said in its submission to the government, suggesting instead those sanctions could jeopardize the accused’s treatment, putting the public in danger.
“The concern we have with this legislation is that it’s unnecessary,” says Dan MacRury, chair of the CBA’s national criminal justice section. “It equates mental illness with violence.”
People found not criminally responsible due to mental illness “are patients, not prisoners.” MacRury tells Legal Feeds, adding there is also a constitutional overbreadth argument to be made on the bill.
“Bill C-54 sends the message that NCR accused who commit serious offences cannot be efficiently treated and should be afforded fewer procedural protections,” the submission reads. “It sends the message that the societal interest of treatment and reintegration of mentally ill offenders is less important than the needs of victims.”