OTTAWA – New legislation designed to keep mentally ill murderers like Greyhound bus passenger beheader Vince Li and child killer Allan Schoenborn off the streets for longer periods, if not indefinitely, is raising concerns this is little more than a knee-jerk reaction to a few sensational, albeit rare, cases.
Bill C-54, the “Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act” will create a “high risk” designation for those deemed not criminally responsible for committing a particularly brutal offence or one that resulted in a serious personal injury that raises the likelihood of further violence.
Those given the high-risk designation will be barred from obtaining a conditional or absolute discharge that would allow them to live freely in the community, and the designation can only be revoked by the courts on the recommendation of a provincial or territorial mental health review board.
“We are giving the courts the powers they need to keep those deemed too dangerous to be released where they should be — in custody,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said at a news conference Friday in British Columbia, shortly after the bill was tabled in the House of Commons.
The bill will not change the Criminal Code criteria used to exempt an individual of criminal responsibility because of a mental disorder, nor will it affect someone’s access to treatment, he said.
The provisions will, however, be retroactive – which means if passed, they could apply to people such as Li, who decapitated fellow passenger Tim McLean on a Greyhound bus in Manitoba in 2008, and Schoenborn, who killed his three children in Merritt, B.C., the same year. Both were found not criminally responsible due to mental health problems and Crown prosecutors may be able to make a case to apply the new rules to them as long as both remain institutionalized.