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Bill to keep mentally ill offenders behind bars

Public's safety paramount

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The federal government wants to make it more difficult for mentally ill offenders found not criminally responsible for their crimes to be released from custody.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code on Thursday, the latest in a series of tough-on-crime initiatives by the Conservative government that come after lobbying by victims.

The Tories plan to introduce a new bill in the House of Commons early next year that would make the safety of the public the paramount factor for review boards that determine an offender's release.

Nicholson offered few details of the mechanics of the new system, saying they would be unveiled when the new bill is tabled in Parliament.

"We are listening to victims, as well as the provinces and territories, who are telling us that the safety of the public should be the paramount consideration in the decision-making process involving mentally disordered accused persons," Nicholson said.

The law exempts someone from being criminally responsible for an offence they committed if they were suffering from a mental disorder that rendered them incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of their action.

The minister was joined in Montreal for his announcement by Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, whose daughter was raped and murdered 10 years ago.

"Many groups of victims of crime feel that the present legal system is very complicated. The families of victims want to have an opportunity to be better informed... and be included in our justice system," said Boisvenu.

Various groups have long sought changes to limit the ability of such people to go before a board to gain their freedom.

Three recent cases -- in British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec -- brought the issue to national prominence.

In most cases, those declared not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder return to society after they have received treatment and a provincial review board has deemed them stable enough.

The vast majority of the offenders resume their normal lives without any supervision at all.

That riles the families of many victims, including the mother of a man killed aboard a bus in Manitoba.

Carol de Delley's son, Tim McLean, was beheaded by Vince Li aboard a Greyhound bus in 2008. She has advocated for Tim's Law, which would prevent those found not criminally responsible of a crime from being released into the community without serving a minimum amount of time.

"Unless the government intends to change the Criminal Code to hold mentally ill killers responsible for a crime, I don't see it making much of a difference, except in the frequency of review board hearings," she said in an email Thursday before the announcement.

"Just as a drunk driver who kills didn't mean to do it, an individual who is medication-dependant and chooses not to take those meds should be held responsible for their subsequent behaviour and crimes," she said.

Li has been allowed greater freedoms, and recently was allowed escorted visits in the community. His yearly review is scheduled for next spring.

The case of former cardiologist Guy Turcotte has created considerable anger in Quebec.

Turcotte was found not criminally responsible of killing his two children in a controversial verdict rendered by a jury in July 2010. His wife had been having an affair and was planning to leave him and, Turcotte said, he was so distraught he experienced blackouts and couldn't remember repeatedly stabbing his children.

In British Columbia, Allan Schoenborn, from Merritt, killed his three children in April 2008 but was also found not criminally responsible in 2010.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2012 A17

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