“High risk” label a step in the right direction

Julian Wolfe
February 9th, 2013

Canada’s justice system has allowed criminals to use mental illness as a way to dodge justice. The Conservative government introduced a new “high risk” label for people found not criminally responsible for a crime they’ve committed. While this modification to the Criminal Code is a step in the right direction, it would also be beneficial to enact and focus on crime prevention before these people enter the system.

“If you do the crime, prepare to do the time” has been the Conservative mantra on crime for years and while it brings some sense of justice to victims, it doesn’t prevent future cases and victimization from happening. Albeit, under Canada’s laws, some criminals have managed to use the mentally-ill card to try to dodge justice.

In one case, a former Quebec cardiologist was let back onto the streets after being detained for 18 months for being found not criminally responsible for killing his two children in 2009 because his wife left him. Nothing can bring back the lives of those innocent young children, why should he be rewarded with his freedom? Furthermore, what guarantee does society have that this man isn’t going to kill another person for another reason and then be tried as “not criminally responsible.”

Another such example of a case that defies logic is the beheading of Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba in July 2008. The Manitoba review board ruled that Vince Li would be allowed to make supervised visits to the community last May. After beheading and cannibalizing an innocent man, why should Li be allowed back into society? What message does this send to McLean’s family? That the justice system values Li’s freedom more than the fact that he took their beloved’s life?

McLean’s mother Carol de Delley is pleased with the legislation, stating she was skeptical things were ever going to change.

“I’m very pleased that this has come about as quickly as it has,” de Delley said.

“I’ve honestly felt, like everybody else, with government it’s going to take forever and a day for anything to change.”

The new legislation is set to give the courts the power to lock up people who are found not criminally responsible for their crimes if they are deemed to be a “high risk” threat.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the new legislation would enable authorities to put public safety first.

“This will ensure that ‘not-criminally-responsible’ accused people found to be too dangerous to be released are no longer a threat to their victims or Canadian communities.”

People found “not criminally responsible” and “high risk” would get evaluated every 3 years rather than every year to determine if they are fit for release. The person’s release would require a court to agree and the government said they “could only obtain an escorted pass in narrow circumstances,” but otherwise would never receive an unescorted pass. If the court grants release, the victim’s family will be notified of the release.

“We’ve heard from Canadians loud and clear, something here is very wrong,” Harper said Friday.

The current system has a board that assesses such cases and creates a plan “that both protects the public and attempts to provide opportunities to treat the underlying mental disorder.”

The new system, Harper said, “would explicitly make public safety the paramount consideration in the court and the review board decision-making process.” This is a step in the right direction for the victims who have lost parts of their lives because of these crimes and prevents future crimes from taking place by keeping “high risk” candidates off the streets.

The plan will also redefine what a security threat is to actions that are “criminal in nature but not necessarily violent in order for restrictions to be imposed on an accused.”

The existing definition of treatment said that the courts would choose “the least onerous and least restrictive” conditions for the accused.

In essence, what the Conservatives are doing is taking a system that is based on finding an equilibrium between public safety and the rights of the accused and tilting it more towards public safety. In a system where a man is able to come out of a mental ward 18 months after being committed for killing his two children, there is no doubt that the “balanced approach” is either broken or simply ineffective.

While the tilt towards public safety will prevent repeat offenses, there is nothing in this legislation towards improving services geared toward treating the mentally ill before they enter the criminal system. By investing in programs and clinics that give the mentally ill the treatment they need, the government can save the justice system the burdens down the road and potentially prevent future victims from facing the crimes that lead up to this state. Nonetheless, these preventative actions can be presented in future Bills or as amendments so as the legislation stands, in principle, it is a step in the right direction.

What do you think of the new legislation? Do you think it is a step in the right direction?

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   Categories: Crime, Public Safety


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