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Laws tightened for those found not criminally responsible

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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled a new law to make it easier to keep people found not criminally responsible for their actions in custody, and give their victims more rights.

Harper announced the new law in Burnaby, B.C.

"We can create a system that is reasonable," Harper said. "We believe profoundly that in the past several decades the criminal justice system became unbalanced in a way that was really inexcusable."

He said the rights of offenders are not everything the system should have in mind, and particularly once found guilty "the system should not be focused on their, and only their needs."

The Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act has several features including creating a new category of high-risk offenders who can’t even be considered for release by a provincial review board until a court agrees to revoke the designation. Individuals in this category would not have a review of their status for three years, can’t be given unescorted passes to leave custody, and can only get escorted passes under very narrow circumstances.

The law also makes public safety the main consideration provincial review boards use when considering what to do with offenders deemed not criminally responsible, and ensures victims will be notified when the offender is released. Review boards can order offenders to have no contact with their victims, and victims can even ask to ensure the offender stay away from designated places.

Harper said the new law will ensure victims get more rights and Canadians are safer.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson has been promising the legislation for months but has never revealed any details.

The issue of how those found not criminally responsible are handled has been prominent in recent years after several high profile, and particularly gruesome cases, including the murder of Tim McLean in Manitoba. McLean was 22 when he was killed by Vince Li on a Greyhound bus travelling between Edmonton and Winnipeg on July 30, 2008.

Li was found not criminally responsible and has been in custody at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre where he is being treated for schizophrenia. He has been allowed out on escorted day passes.

McLean’s mother, Carol DeDelley, has campaigned for reforms to laws that would prevent offenders such as Li from ever being released.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

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