New Tory bill would prevent early release of dangerous mentally ill offenders

Mike Clarke, Minister James Moore and Stacey Galt, during a governments address on criminal justice reform “Not Criminally Responsible” designation at a press conference in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Thursday November 22, 2012.



OTTAWA - A new federal bill aims to keep dangerously violent people away from society, even if they're considered not criminally responsible for the crimes of which they've been accused.

"We are giving the courts they powers they need to keep those deemed too dangerous to release where they should be - in custody," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday in Vancouver.

The Conservative government tabled Bill C-54 in Parliament on Friday, proposing a new "high-risk" designation for those who are found not criminally responsible.

So, if someone were designated high-risk, they would no longer be allowed to get unescorted passes to leave their mental institution.

Escorted passes would only be given in narrow circumstances.

Anyone designated "high-risk" could also have to wait three years for a review of that decision.

"Terrible things are going to happen, but we can create a system that is reasonable," said Harper. "We believe profoundly that in the past several decades the criminal justice system became unbalanced in a way that was really inexcusable."

The bill recognizes the right of victims and their families to be told when someone who's not criminally responsible for a crime is let out into the public.

Review boards would also gain the power to order someone who falls under the Criminal Code's mental disorder rules not to communicate with a victim.

Harper confirmed that if the bill were passed into law, its provisions would apply to violent individuals already in mental institutions, such as Alan Schoenborn who killed his three children in Merritt, B.C. in 2008.

Stacy Galt, whose cousin is the mother of the three kids Shoenborn murdered, welcomed the new bill.

"My family and I call upon the entire House of Commons to join together to unanimously pass this legislation," said Galt. "What is being proposed is what we, the families of victims all across Canada, have been asking for."

The bill's provisions could also apply to Vince Li.

Li suffers from schizophrenia and lives in a mental institution after being found not criminally responsible for beheading Tim McLean aboard a bus near Portage la Prairie, Man. in 2008.

However, the case of former doctor Guy Turcotte, who killed his two young children in Montreal in 2009, likely wouldn't be affected.

He was released from a mental hospital last December.

"Obviously, we could not apply (the law) to people who have already been released and have completed the process," said Harper. "That would clearly be unconstitutional."

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