Dr. John Higenbottam and Mr. Dave Gallson
Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health
141 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa ON KIP 5J3
Dear Dr. Higenbottam and Mr. Gallson:
Thank you for your correspondence sent on behalf of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health concerning the criminal justice system and mental illness. I regret the delay in responding.
At the outset, I would like to commend you and your organization for its work in combating mental health problems and in providing important mental health supports and services to Canadians.
I share your concerns with respect to ensuring that persons who suffer from mental disorders are treated fairly and appropriately when they come into contact with the criminal justice system. The mental disorder provisions in the Criminal Code address many aspects of the powers and procedures that must be followed when a mentally ill person is charged with a criminal offence. The goals of ensuring public safety and treating mentally ill accused persons fairly and appropriately underpin the entire mental disorder regime set out in the Criminal Code.
I would like to assure you that the issue of mental health and the justice system is a priority for the Federal, Provincial, and Territorial (FPT) Ministers Responsible for Justice. FPT Ministers and Deputy Ministers Responsible for Justice have acknowledged that mental health issues and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) affect many offenders and victims within the justice system. We are studying this challenging area and are working with FPT officials to develop practical and effective approaches. It is important that we continue to be mindful of the multitude of other factors that need to be considered in such policy discussions. Finding solutions to this issue is particularly challenging given the complex individual variations in cognitive abilities that are found in many of those with FASD who come into conflict with the law.
As you might know, on May 25, 2011, at the “Building Bridges: Mental Health and the Justice System” symposium in Calgary, Alberta, my colleague the Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, and I announced that the Government of Canada is working together with provincial partners to prevent those with mental health issues from coming in conflict with the law and to address the needs of those who do. More information is available on Public Safety Canada’s Web site at http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/media/nr/2011/nr20110525-1-eng.aspx?rss=false.
I would also like to point out that the drug-related provisions of the Safe Streets and Communities Act do not ignore the drug-addicted offender. Under certain circumstances where the accused person is addicted to an illegal substance, this act allows a court to suspend a sentence while the addicted person takes an approved treatment program. Such programs enc<:mrage the accused person to deal with the addiction that motivates the criminal behaviour. If the person successfully completes the program, the court may impose a sentence other than the mandatory minimum sentence, such as a suspended sentence.
Thank you again for writing. Yours truly,
The Honourable Rob Nicholson