Leaders of Canadian forensic mental health organizations are drafting letters, expressing their concerns in the Conservative government’s tough stance on mentally ill offenders. The centerpiece of the reforms to the Criminal Code in the Not Criminally Responsible section is the introduction of “high-risk offender.” Offenders labeled “high-risk” will not be discharged until a court lifts their designation. Furthermore, high-risk offenders will not be eligible for unescorted passes into the community. Finally, while non-high-risk offenders will have a periodic review every year, high-risk offenders may only be reviewed once every three years.
Dr. Johann Brink, co-chairman of the Canadian Forensic Mental Health Network and head of the forensic psychiatric program at the University of British Columbia, said members are unanimous in their concerns. “In terms of public safety, we are not convinced that this legislation will necessarily achieve its intended result…It may indeed, perversely, result in an outcome that may increase the risk to the public,” said Brink. Brink and his colleges believe that this new provision will encourage defence lawyers to avoid the not criminally responsible defence, and instead opt for a definitive jail term. According to Brink, a likely consequence may be “increased numbers of mentally ill persons in jails and prisons, with the result that they may be released ultimately, … untreated and still dangerous or perhaps even more dangerous.” Furthermore, it may also overburden hospitals forced to house offenders.
On the other hand, Julie Di Mambro, spokeswoman for the Justice Minister, said the legislation addresses concerns raised by victims and provincial governments. According to Di Mambro, “victims are concerned that their safety is not being specifically taken into consideration by review boards when they make a disposition.” In addition, Di Mambro suggests that even with the introduction of the new provision, very few offenders would be designated “high risk.”
For the full article from The Vancouver Sun: