NCR Bill C-14, Alas!

The Hon. James Moore (MP, Port Moody — Westwood — Port Coquitlam) recently (2014-04-06), remarked on Twitter:

6 yrs ago today Darcie Clarke’s 3 children murdered by Allan Schoenborn. Bill C14 — which corrects the imbalance in the Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) system — should pass Senate this week if Liberal Senators stop stalling….”

This bill, C-14, was resurrected from former bill C-54, which was stopped in its tracks last fall by Mr. Harper when he prorogued Parliament; otherwise, long ere now, it would have been law of the land. Despite this, Mr. Moore disparages Liberal Senators for “stalling” it. Not exactly a fair characterization.

Mr. Moore’s remarks garnered comments like: “Stop stalling… This a non-partisan issue,” as well as questioning “… the motives and sanity of anyone opposing this bill.”

First, I agree that it is, indeed, a non-partisan issue, and, secondly, the Senators are not, of course, “stalling” — whether for partisan reasons or otherwise — they are but trying to correct deficiencies of serious concern. That is, after all, their job, as it is for all Senators and MPs.

I quote the Hon. Bob Rae, on the original C-54:

This bill “… is ineffective policy that will decrease public safety. It plays on the politics of fear to perpetuate myths and stereotypes about mental illness that will only lead to further stigmatization.”

This is supported by submissions by the Canadian Bar Association, expressing concern about constitutionality and other legal defects of various provisions, as well as by the Canadian Psychiatric Association presentations by Drs Simpson, and Fedoroff as well as a suite of other prominent mental health groups.

It’s one thing to disagree with these, particularly if one has knowledge and experience upon which to do so — and has read them — it’s quite another to sweep everything peremptorily aside as mere partisan foot-dragging. This doesn’t add to the debate and wastes a great opportunity to make things better.

The stonewalling by the Harper government in bulldozing this through — twice — oblivious to any merit in these important interventions, is a disservice to us all; the consequences of failing to heed them will trouble us for years to come.

This is unfortunate and unnecessary, for we all, particularly including federal Liberals, would have preferred actually to improve public safety, and to advance meaningfully the rights of victims.

Click on the following links to read more about NCR and Bill C-54 (C-14, now):

  • Canadian Bar Association

    “… The concept of ‘high-risk accused’ in Bill C-54 treads close to imposing punishment on NCR accused whose conduct, while tragic, is not morally culpable. The name of the designation — ‘high-risk accused’ — will arguably contribute to the stereotype that the mentally ill are dangerous and should be isolated from the community.

    Current Criminal Code Part XX.1 “… in its purpose and effect, ‘reflects the view that NCR accused are entitled to sensitive care, rehabilitation and meaningful attempts to foster their participation in the community, to the maximum extent compatible with the individual’s actual situation.’ … intended to provide a means through which NCR accused can be cured or effectively managed. It is not an opportunity to exact retribution upon mentally ill offenders.

    “Bill C-54 makes no attempt to foster the reintegration of NCR accused back into the community. In fact, it expressly prohibits such conduct for persons designated high-risk. Bill C-54 sends the message that NCR accused who commit serious offences cannot be efficiently treated and should be afforded fewer procedural protections. It sends the message that the societal interest of treatment and reintegration of mentally ill offenders is less important than the needs of victims. Though the suffering and harm to victims is always a relevant consideration, it cannot override the liberty interests of persons who are not criminally or morally responsible for their conduct. The goal must be reintegration, not retribution.”

  • Canadian Psychiatric Association (statement no longer available on-line):

    “The CPA supports the victim notification components of the Bill as these are in line with a criminal justice system that is more responsive to the requests of victims… CPA encourages the government to go further in addressing victim needs by adopting additional victim supports and restorative justice approaches.

    “The CPA recommends against creating a ‘high-risk accused’ category. The Association is not aware of any evidence that demonstrates that the current NCR policies put the public at undue risk. Rather, the available evidence suggests that the recidivism rate of NCR accused is five to six times lower than persons found criminally responsible and managed by the regular corrections system. The implementation of a high-risk category is unlikely to achieve its goal of increased public safety

    “The high-risk category also introduces a quality of punishment or retribution into the NCR system by reinforcing detention and taking away the valuable therapeutic tools such as escorted community passes. This decoupling of therapeutic progress from increased freedoms may disrupt the therapeutic nature of the psychiatrist – patient relationship and cause patients to become frustrated and less engaged in the their therapy, paradoxically, increasing public risk….

    “The CPA cautions that some of the wording changes proposed by Bill C-54 are vulnerable to Charter challenges and expensive litigation. …

    “The combined effect of the ‘high-risk’ category and the changes in wording to the criminal code will make the NCR defence for someone with a mental illness much less attractive, paradoxically leading to decreased public safety. Individuals will be much more likely to plead guilty and keep quiet about their mental heath needs. This means more people with serious mental illness will enter into prison and persons who go to prison instead of hospital will now reoffend at a five to six times higher rate than if they had been made NCR. While it is difficult to predict the effect of policy changes, the evidence supports this as a highly likely outcome.

    “CPA suggests that instead of creating a high-risk category, public safety could be improved by removing summary offences from the NCR regime. …”

  • Joint statement from Canada’s mental health community

    Bill C-54 “… is moving forward with fundamental flaws that will set back progress made in understanding mental health and mental illness…

    “We understand the need to protect Canadians from individuals who commit violent crimes… this bill, as it is currently written, will not do this. What this bill has done is tell Canadians that they should be afraid of people with a mental illness.

    “Too many elements of the bill are simply not evidence based and will not result in the changes that Canadians and victims would like to see from such a bill.

    “The mental health community was not part of the creation of Bill C-54…”

  • Mental Health Commission of Canada: NCR Fact Sheet
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