Posted By Sabrina Mach
The adoption of Bill C-14, the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act, has been met with much criticism. Amongst those skeptical about the Act’s effectiveness is the Honorable Mr. Justice Richard D Schneider, Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice and Chair of the Ontario Review Board. During the Standing Senate Committee meeting to consider Bill C-14, Justice Schneider explained his skepticism towards the bill and highlighted that his biggest concern with the reform was the addition of the “high-risk offender” provisions.
Important change brought by Bill C-14
With the new reform, accused persons who are found not criminally responsible (NCR) but who the Court believes will pose a higher risk of committing future acts of violence will be held for up to three years in custody in a hospital, and will not be released by a review board until the high-risk designation is revoked by the court. Prior to the bill, review boards were given more freedom; they could order the NCR individual to remain in the hospital, they could order a conditional or complete discharge, etc.
Given that he sits on the Ontario Review Board, it is not surprising that Justice Schneider would be critical of the reform, since the “high-risk offender” provisions encroach on the review board’s ability to assess NCR individuals. However, the criticisms that Justice Schneider raised during the Senate Committee run much deeper than simple encroachment of power.
Criticisms of the high-risk offender provisions
First, Justice Schneider argues that high-risk offender provisions are not applicable to most accused in Canada. They only address a small group of highly mediatized outliers, such as Vincent Li, Guy Turcotte and Allan Schoenborn.
Second, Justice Schneider asserts that changes should not be made to a system that is not broken. Evidence clearly demonstrates that the previous review board scheme worked extremely well and greatly reduced the probability of recidivism.
Finally, Justice Schneider emphasizes that the Bill C-14 might actually make things worse for the mentally disordered, not better. Given that those classified as NCR high-risk offenders run the chance of being locked up in a secure psychiatric facility for up to three years with no review, some mentally disordered individuals might choose not to raise the defense of NCR. The problem with not raising this defense, however, is that these individuals will end up in prison, which will prevent them from receiving proper treatment or assistance for their disorder, and thus increase their chances of recidivism.
Justice Schneider raises numerous compelling criticisms regarding Bill C-14. One of the main reasons why his arguments are so persuasive is because they are influenced by personal experience. Being the Chair of the Ontario Review Board as well as a former defense lawyer for the mentally ill, Justice Schneider is an expert in his field. It will be very interesting to hear him speak at the MJLH’s Colloquium on Saturday, February 21st, 2015.
For more information on the MJLH Colloquium, and to read up on our other distinguished speakers, click here.