Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act (Bill C-54)

Elizabeth May : Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Mount Royal for his presentation, and of course, for his particular expertise, since he was the Minister of Justice who first brought in the not criminally responsible regime eight years ago.

Of course, it is difficult to imagine the hypothetical of having the evidence we need to look at the situation. However, it seems to me, and this is somewhat intuitive, that if we had the evidence we need, we would find that the larger part of the problem is our failure to deal with mental health issues in a comprehensive way, through society, to ensure the prevention of violent acts by the very small minority of people with mental illness issues who find themselves then committing violent crimes. We recognize that this is a tiny proportion of all those with mental health issues, but when it occurs, of course it is devastating.

Would it not, on the evidence, make more sense to address our attention to preventing these rare occurrences from ever happening rather than to trying to keep those few people in jail indefinitely and finding fault with a system that we have no evidence is failing?

Irwin Cotler: Mr. Speaker, I would agree. The whole approach of this legislation regrettably fits a pattern whereby one addresses the issue through the lens of punishment rather than through the lens of prevention. Since we are dealing, in particular, with the issue of the mentally disordered, this becomes crucial in terms of approaches with regard to prevention.

Again, I regret that when I submitted amendments on Bill C-10 that would have addressed the approach to the mentally ill through treatment rather than incarceration and through prevention rather than punishment, they were rejected by the government, although they were designed for the sole purpose of simply improving that which the government was ostensibly concerned with in Bill C-10, and that was the promotion and protection of public safety.

Through prevention we would, in fact, end up protecting public safety, ensuring that there are fewer victims, better treating offenders with respect to their reintegration into society, and treating those, particularly in the NCR regime, who are not regarded as offenders and have not been deemed criminally responsible with the appropriate approach.