CAMIMH is concerned that the introduction of Bill C-54: Not criminally responsible reform act has created additional stigma for people with mental illness and perpetuates the myth that people with mental illnesses are violent.
(February 25, 2013)
The Honourable Robert Nicholson
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON KlA OH8
Dear Minister Nicholson,
The Canadian Alliance on Mental illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) is an alliance of twenty mental health organizations comprised of health providers and organizations representing persons with mental illness and their families and caregivers. CAMIMH is concerned that the introduction of Bill C-54: Not criminally responsible reform act has created additional stigma for people with mental illness and perpetuates the myth that people with mental illnesses are violent.
Lack of understanding and misinformation is often the basis of the public’s fear of those Canadians living with a mental disorder. As a group, people with mental health issues are not more violent than any other group in our society. The majority of crimes are not committed by people with psychiatric illness, and multiple studies have proven that there is very little relationship between most of these diseases and violence. The real issue is the fact that people with mental illness are two and a half to four times more likely to be the victims of violence than any other group in our society.
While the system for managing people found Not Criminally Responsible (NCR) is effective, improved public safety and increased sensitivity toward victims and their families, the stated intent of the reform, are laudable goals. But we must remain vigilant to ensure a balance between community safety, victim needs and the recovery of those with mental illness involved with the law so they may productively re-enter the community.
In Canada’s most populated province, Ontario, only .001% of individuals charged with Criminal Code violations were adjudicated NCR. Recidivism rates for NCR individuals range from 2.5 to 7.5%. These numbers are far lower than that of federal offenders in the regular justice system, at a rate of 41 to 44%. The seriousness of the crime committed does not equate to the likelihood for the offender to reoffend or even his/her ability to improve his/her mental health state and live a normal, healthy life.
People who are found not criminally responsible stay, on average, far longer in hospital than convicted offenders do in prison. Treatment and rehabilitation is monitored closely by clinical teams and the Review Board system. Members of the review board teams take their role very seriously, and have the knowledge and expertise to address each situation. Review Boards are not likely to give an absolute discharge to someone who endangers the life or safety of another person.
Research indicates that lack of access to timely and appropriate mental health services before and after people come into conflict with the law is a fundamental part of the problem. Although the Federal Government has made a significant investment to enhance the publics understanding of mental health and mental illness, notably through the creation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, more needs to be done. it is now time for all levels of government to work collaboratively to implement Canada’s mental health strategy so that all Canadians can access the services and supports that they need.
Dr. John Higenbottam CAMIMH , Co-Chair
Dave Gallson CAMIMH, Co-Chair
Cc: Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health