Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act
The Government of Canada is committed to standing up for victims of crime and making streets and communities safer for Canadians. The Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act will ensure that public safety comes first in the decision-making process with respect to accused persons found Not Criminally Responsible on Account of Mental Disorder (NCR). It would enhance the safety of victims and promote greater victim involvement in the Criminal Code mental disorder regime.
Brief Overview of the Criminal Code Mental Disorder Regime
The Criminal Code mental disorder regime applies to a very small percentage of accused persons. Under Canadian criminal law, if an accused person cannot understand the nature of the trial or its consequences, and cannot communicate with their lawyer on account of a mental disorder, the court will find that the person is “unfit to stand trial.” Once an accused becomes fit to stand trial, they will then be tried for the offence with which they were initially charged.
If a person is found to have committed the act that constitutes an offence while lacking the capacity to appreciate what they did or know that it was wrong due to a mental disorder at the time, the court makes a special verdict of “Not Criminally Responsible on Account of Mental Disorder” (NCR). The person is neither convicted, nor acquitted.
An accused person found either unfit to stand trial or NCR is referred to a provincial or territorial review board, which decides on which type of order to make, which, depending on the circumstances, could be custody in a hospital, a conditional or absolute discharge.
Proposed Amendments to the Mental Disorder Regime
Public Safety is Paramount
The Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act includes several changes to the mental disorder regime of the Criminal Code. It explicitly makes public safety the paramount consideration in the court and the review board decision-making process relating to accused persons found to be NCR or unfit to stand trial, consistent with decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada, most recently R. v. Conway.
In addition, the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act codifies the meaning of the phrase “significant threat to the safety of the public,” which is used in the Criminal Code as the test to determine whether the review board can maintain jurisdiction and continue to supervise an accused person found to be NCR or unfit to stand trial. The Act states that, consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada’s interpretation, the phrase means “a risk of physical or psychological harm to members of the public – including any victim of or witness to the offence, or any person under the age of 18 years – resulting from conduct that is criminal in nature but not necessarily violent”. The codification will ensure more consistency in the application of this test.
Creating a High-Risk Designation
The legislation amends the Criminal Code to create a process for the designation of NCR accused persons as “high-risk” where the accused person has been found NCR for a serious personal injury offence and there is a substantial likelihood of further violence that would endanger the public. A high-risk designation could also be made in cases in which the acts were of such a brutal nature as to indicate a risk of grave harm to the public. Those designated as high-risk NCR accused persons cannot be granted a conditional or absolute discharge, and the designation can only be revoked by a court following a recommendation of the review board. This designation will apply only to those found NCR and not to persons found unfit to stand trial.
The legislation makes it clear that a high-risk NCR accused person will not be allowed to go into the community unescorted and that escorted passes would only be allowed for medical reasons or treatment purposes and only if a structured plan is in place to address any undue risk to public safety. Also, the review board may decide to extend the review period to up to three years for those designated high-risk, instead of annually. The high-risk NCR designation would not affect access to treatment by the accused.
Enhancing Victims’ Involvement
The legislation will enhance the safety of victims and provide them with opportunities for greater involvement in the Criminal Code mental disorder regime by:
- ensuring they are notified, upon request, when the accused is discharged and providing them with information regarding the accused’s intended place of residence;
- allowing for non-communications orders between the accused and the victim; and
- ensuring that their safety is considered when decisions are being made about the accused person.
The Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act aims to ensure consistent interpretation and application of the law across the country. The reforms do not change the existing Criminal Code eligibility criteria for the exemption from criminal responsibility on account of mental disorder. The Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act also amends the National Defence Act to ensure consistency in the mental disorder regime in the military justice system. Those amendments will come into force at a future date to be fixed by Order in Council.