The federal government is making it more difficult for mentally ill offenders found not criminally responsible for their crimes to be released from custody.
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code on Thursday, the latest in a series of tough-on-crime initiatives by the Conservative government that come after lobbying by victims.
The Tories plan to introduce a new bill in the House of Commons early next year that would make the safety of the public the paramount factor for review boards that determine an offender's release.
Nicholson offered few details of the mechanics of the new system, saying they would be unveiled when the new bill is tabled in Parliament.
"We are listening to victims, as well as the provinces and territories, who are telling us that the safety of the public should be the paramount consideration in the decision-making process involving mentally disordered accused persons," Nicholson said.
The law exempts someone from being criminally responsible for an offence they committed if they were suffering from a mental disorder that rendered them incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of their action.
The minister was joined in Montreal for his announcement by Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, whose daughter was raped and murdered 10 years ago.
"Many groups of victims of crime feel that the present legal system is very complicated. The families of victims want to have an opportunity to be better informed ... and be included in our justice system," said Boisvenu.
Various groups have long sought changes to limit the ability of such people to go before a board to gain their freedom.
Three recent Canadian cases — in British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec — brought the issue to national prominence.
In most cases, those declared not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder return to society after they have received treatment and a provincial review board has deemed them stable enough.
The vast majority of the offenders resume their normal lives without any supervision at all.
That riles the families of many victims, including the mother of a man brutally killed aboard a bus in Manitoba.
Carol de Delley’s son, Tim McLean, was beheaded by Vince Li aboard a Greyhound bus in 2008. She has advocated for Tim's Law, which would prevent those found not criminally responsible of a crime from being released into the community without serving a minimum amount of time.
"Unless the government intends to change the Criminal Code to hold mentally ill killers responsible for a crime, I don't see it making much of a difference, except in the frequency of review board hearings," she said in an email Thursday before the announcement.
"Just as a drunk driver who kills, didn't mean to do it, an individual who is medication dependant and chooses not to take those meds should be held responsible for their subsequent behaviour and crimes," she said.
Li has been allowed greater freedoms, and recently was allowed escorted visits to nearby Selkirk, Man. His yearly review is scheduled for next spring.
The case of former cardiologist Guy Turcotte has created considerable anger in Quebec.
Turcotte was found not criminally responsible of killing his two children in a controversial verdict rendered by a jury in July 2010. His wife had been having an affair and was planning to leave him and, Turcotte said, he was so distraught he experienced blackouts and couldn't remember repeatedly stabbing his children.
The controversy reignited one year later, when Turcotte fought before a mental health review board to determine whether he could regain his freedom.
A ruling from that tribunal last June gave Turcotte limited freedom and the ability to leave the facility for short periods, but ordered him to otherwise remain at a Montreal psychiatric hospital.
Turcotte is scheduled to return before the tribunal before the end of this year to see whether he can convince the review board to grant him further freedoms.
Turcotte's ex-wife, Isabelle Gaston, tearfully expressed her anger over the process. Quebec's Court of Appeal has yet to hear arguments from the Crown aimed at sending the case back to trial and it isn't expected to until sometime next year.
In British Columbia, Allan Schoenborn, a father from Merritt, B.C., killed his three children in April 2008 but was also found not criminally responsible in 2010.
He asked for, and got, a delay in his latest psychiatric review until next year because he didn't think it was right to have a hearing close to the fourth anniversary of his children's murders.
Schoenborn was found not criminally responsible for the murders and is confined to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in Port Coquitlam, but is allowed an annual review of his case to determine whether he should be given any liberties.
The B.C. government has been pushing for changes to the Criminal Code to scrap the mandatory yearly review.
Before Thursday's announcement, the federal Justice Department had commissioned a national survey that found that nearly 90 per cent of Canadians polled believe offenders found either unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible should remain under supervision indefinitely for public safety reasons.
Also on HuffPost:
15 Things Critics Fear In The Tory Crime Bill
Opposition parties, professionals working within the corrections and justice systems, the Canadian Bar Association and various other interest groups have raised wide-ranging concerns about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">omnibus crime bill</a>. Here is an overview of some of their objections. (CP/Alamy)
15. Harsher Sentences For Young Offenders
Changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will impose tougher sentences for violent and repeat young offenders, make it easier to keep such offenders in custody prior to trial and expand the definition of what is considered a "violent offence" to include "creating a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm" rather than just causing, attempting to cause or threatening to cause bodily harm. The new legislation will also require the Crown to consider adult sentences for offenders convicted of "serious violent offences" and require judges to consider lifting the publication ban on names of offenders convicted of "violent offences" even when they have been given youth sentences. Some of the concerns around these provisions raised by some of the professionals who work with young offenders include: (Alamy)
14. Young Offenders - Naming Names
The publication of names of some young offenders will unjustly stigmatize them for life. Quebec has asked that provinces be allowed to opt out of this provision. (Getty)
13. Young Offenders - Stiffer Sentences
Stiffer, longer sentences will turn young offenders into hardened criminals and undermine any potential for rehabilitation. (Alamy)
12. Young Offenders - Minorities Take The Brunt
As with other parts of the crime bill, critics says harsher sentencing rules and increased emphasis on incarceration will <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/20/bill-c-10-omnibus-crime_n_1289536.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">disproportionately affect aboriginal</a> and black Canadians, who are already over-represented in the criminal justice system. (Alamy)
11. Young Offenders - Forget Rehabilitation
The changes shift the emphasis of the Act from rehabilitation to "protection of society," which critics say will put the focus on punishing young offenders rather than steering them away from a life of crime. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/22/crime-bill-quebec-canada_n_1107717.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Quebec, in particular, which prides itself on the success of the rehabilitative aspects of its youth justice system, has argued for stronger language prioritizing rehabilitation</a>. (Alamy)
10. Fewer Conditional Sentences
The legislation will eliminate conditional sentences, those served in the community or under house arrest, for a range of crimes, including sexual assault, manslaughter, arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping and fraud or theft over $5,000. It will also eliminate double credit for time already served. Critics say these changes will: (Getty)
9. Fewer Conditional Sentences - Spike Costs
Cost the federal and provincial justice and corrections systems millions of additional dollars a year. The parliamentary budget officer, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/28/omnibus-crime-bill-costs-conditional-sentences_n_1306528.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Kevin Page, has estimated that the average cost per offender will rise from approximately $2,600 to $41,000</a> as a consequence of the elimination of conditional sentences. (Alamy)
8. Fewer Conditional Sentences - More Trials And Hearings
- Lead to more trials as those accused of crimes will be less likely to plead guilty if they know there is no chance they will get a conditional sentence and will be more likely to take their chances on a trial. Some have predicted this will lead to greater backlogs in an already backlogged court system. - Result in more parole hearings. Page's analysis predicted that with the increase in the number of incarcerations, there will be more offenders coming up for parole, which will increase costs for federal and provincial parole review boards. A single review by the Parole Board of Canada costs an estimated $4,289, Page estimated. (Alamy)
7. Mandatory Minimums
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/22/bill-c-10-drugs-mandatory-minimums-omnibus_n_1292894.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">By far the most criticized aspect of the bill is the introduction of mandatory jail sentences for certain crimes, including drug trafficking, sex crimes, child exploitation and some violent offences</a>. Opponents of the measures have argued that this type of sentencing has been tried in other jurisdictions, most notably in the U.S., and has created more problems than it has solved. Critics say that coupled with other changes in the bill, such as increases in the maximum sentences handed down to some drug offenders and sexual predators and elimination of conditional sentences in some cases, mandatory minimums will burden Canada's prison and court systems in ways that are unfeasible, untenable and have little benefit. In particular, they argue that mandatory minimum sentences will: (Jupiter Images)
6. Mandatory Minimums - Higher Costs
Increase the costs of prosecuting and incarcerating offenders and leave fewer funds for rehabilitation programs. (Alamy)
5. Mandatory Minimums - Overcrowding
Lead to overcrowding in prisons. (Alamy)
4. Mandatory Minimums - Make Judges Less Powerful
- Remove judges' discretion to tailor sentences to the specifics of a particular case and offender and force them to apply blanket, one-size-fits-all sentences regardless of circumstances - Limit the use of alternate sentencing measures of the type currently applied to aboriginal offenders. (Alamy)
3. Mandatory Minimums - Over-Punish Drug Offenders
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/02/omnibus-crime-bill-pierre-claude-nolin_n_1316481.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill" target="_hplink">Disproportionately punish small-time drug offenders and have limited effect on the drug producers, organized crime bosses and serious drug traffickers</a> the government says it wants to target. (Alamy)
2. Mandatory Minimums - What's The Point?
Have little rehabilitative effect on offenders and rather leave them more, not less, likely to re-offend. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/27/tough-on-crime-conservatives-doubt-tough-sentences_n_1115012.html?ref=omnibus-crime-bill">Critics point to numerous studies showing harsher incarceration laws do not have a deterrent effect on criminals or lower crime rates</a>. (Alamy)
1. Mandatory Minimums - What Charter?
Violate provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and open up the government to legal challenges on grounds that the sentencing rules violate certain rights that offenders have under the Charter, such as the right to liberty, the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. (Alamy)
10. Belém, Brazil
Pilgrims pay promises walking on knees behind the image of Our Lady of Nazareth (not in frame), during the 'Cirio de Nazare' (Nazareth Candle) celebrations, in Belem, northern Brazil, on October 09, 2011. Almost two million pilgrims participated in Brazil's biggest Catholic procession. (LUCIVALDO SENA/AFP/Getty Images)
9. Durango, Mexico
Picture taken on May 16, 2011 at the cemetery in Durango where the bodies found in several mass graves across the city will be properly buried. Durango, the capital of the Mexican state of the same name, has about 580,000 people and until recently, had not been one of the areas hardest hit by Mexico's epidemic of organized crime. But since April 11, 2011, bodies have been found in six mass graves, and the Army is continuing its search. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)
8. Chihuahua, Mexico
A Mexican Army soldier escorts Noel Salgueiro Nevarez, aka 'El Flaco Salgueiro,' alleged member of the drug cartel The Pacific of Joaquin Guzman Loera, during his presentation at the headquarters of the Secretary of National Defense in Mexico City, on October 5, 2011. Nevarez was arrested during an operation of the special forces of Mexican Army in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, and according to a statement he is the responsible of the drug operations and violence in Chihuahua state. (YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
7. Torreón, Mexico
Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (R) of the Revolution Democratic Party (PRD) delivers a speech to supporters during a political rally in the northern Mexican city of Torreon, in Coahuila State, 15 June 2006. (ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
6. Caracas, Venezuela
Two men sit in front of giant portraits of women whose children were killed in Caracas, on November 19, 2011, exhibited to raise people's conciuosness on victims of violence in Venezuela. Some 52 five-meter high photographies were pasted on facades of poor and commercial areas as part of a project called 'Esperanza' (Hope), in the framework of French artist and activist JR's world project 'Inside Out', which aims to show unknown stories through the exposition of giant portraits. (LEO RAMIREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
5. Distrito Central, Honduras
A security guard closes a gate installed in a street of Tres Caminos neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, on December 19, 2011. Honduras has become one of the world's most dangerous countries and is likely to have the highest murder rate in the world -- 86 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Violence Observatory in Tegucigalpa, a UN-backed monitor. On average there were 20 violent deaths a day in 2011, 85 percent of them caused by shootings. (ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
4. Acapulco, Mexico
A Mexican Army soldier burns about 945 kilograms of marijuana at the headquarters of IX Militar Region in Acapulco, Guererro state, on December 8, 2011. The drug was seized to alleged members of drugs cartels who operate in the touristic port city of Acapulco. (Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
3. Maceió, Brazil
MACEIO, BRAZIL: Military policemen look at Colombian footballers during a closed-doors training session at the Corinthians de Alagoas stadium, 50 Km from Maceio in northern Brazil, 12 October 2004. (ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images)
2. Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
Mexican police agent looks at a man's corpse on a street in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on September 9, 2010. Twenty-four people were reported slain in a wave of multiple killings that shook Juárez over a three-hour period Thursday night, officials said. (Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images)
1. San Pedro Sula, Honduras
A mother cries over her son's dead body, one of nine convicts killed in a battle between convicts at the Penal Center in Pedro Sula, 240 kms north of Tegucigalpa, October 14, 2011. Honduras stands to break world records with its murder rate -- estimated at 86 per 100,000 inhabitants -- putting it ahead of war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, a study said October 13, 2010. The study by the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras said the murder rate was 43.7 per 100,000 inhabitants during the first semester of 2011, up from 36.6 for the same period last year. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)