Reviewing Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act

The Mentally Ill and Crime

Justice Minister Peter MacKay says that he is prepared to go to court over changes to the way Canada treats its most mentally ill offenders. A Senate committee reviewing the government’s Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, which deals with violent crimes committed by mentally ill offenders, may have some constitutional hurdles to overcome.

The law aims to create a high-risk category that would hold mentally ill offenders, who have committed violent crimes, to remain in custody for longer and make it more difficult for them to get out. The review for their release would be done every three years instead of every year, which some have criticized as being discriminatory. Furthermore, the judge is positioned to be making all the major decisions for the offender without any real decision-making input from health care professionals who are treating the mentally ill offender and cognizant of the particulars, those within the medical field have argued.

Another part of the law which has been deemed to be unconstitutional by many pundits is when victims are notified when an accused is discharged and their place of residence is disclosed. It raises privacy concerns under section 7 of the Charter. MacKay told the Senate committee he believes that the legislation fully complies with the Charter and does a good job balancing the protection of the public and the rights of the accused. Mental health groups have argued that the bill further stigmatizes the mentally ill and punishes them for actions that are often out of their control, all in the name of being tough on crime.

Edward Prutschi, the official legal analyst of NewsTalk1010, discusses this important legal topic with Jerry Agar. On one major point, Mr. Prutschi believes that judges and politicians, in situations that deal with the mentally ill, should heavily consider and factor-in the expertise of doctors and health care professionals when making judgements and decisions. Doctors who are called on to treat patients, in Mr. Prutschi’s experience, will not give clearance or underreport the condition of a patient in their care if it endangers society in any way.

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