The Canadian government will introduce legislation to amend the Criminal Code to make it more difficult for offenders who are found not criminally responsible to gain their freedom.
The proposed changes were announced yesterday in Montreal by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Senator Pierre-Huges Boisvenu. Boisvenu's daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered 10 years ago.
The government plans to make it harder for those offenders who have been found not criminally responsible (NCR) to be released back into the community.
Nicholson said the government is listening to victims of crime. He said, "We are committed to ensuring that our laws are strong and clear enough to protect Canadians in situations where high risk accused found Not Criminally Responsible on account of mental disorder pose a risk to the public."
Boisvenu said, "Victims deserve to be better informed and be more involved in the process. Our Government is strongly committed to protecting the safety of Canadians and ensuring victims have a greater voice in our justice system."
Under s. 16 of the Criminal Code, every person is presumed to be criminally responsible for their acts. The burden is on the accused to prove on a balance of probabilities that he or she is not responsible for crimes that they would otherwise be found guilty of. A person can be found not criminally responsible if the judge or jury is satisfied the person did not appreciate the nature and quality of their act or omission or if they did not know what they did was wrong.
Persons who are found NCR are confined to psychiatric hospitals, not prisons or penitentiaries. Once a year a mandatory hearing is held before a review board whose members can decide to retain the status quo or allow the person to leave the institution on unescorted or escorted day passes, day parole, or release them back into society.
As CBC reports, many family members of victims strongly object to these yearly reviews. They feel compelled to attend the hearings and end up reliving the killing of their loved ones every year.
As the Winnipeg Free Press reports, there have been many high profile cases where offenders have been found not criminally responsible. One of these was Vince Li who killed and beheaded Tim McLean in 2008 while the two men were travelling on a Greyhound bus. Since then, Li has been granted passes to leave the institution he has been confined in.
Carol de Delley, McLean's mother, has been advocating for a "Tim's Law" that would require persons found NCR to be confined for a specific time. About yesterday's announcement, de Delley said, "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."
But holding killers responsible for their actions would defeat the entire purpose of the not criminally responsible designation.
The government has not offered any details of the specifics of the proposed Criminal Code amendments. It is speculated the new legislation would make the safety of the public paramount to the rehabilitation of the patient and that reviews will not be required to be held on an annual basis.
The government intends to introduce a bill in 2013.