Prime Minister Stephen Harper descended on Burnaby Friday to announce reforms affecting convicts who are found not criminally responsible due to a mental disorder.
At the Delta Burnaby Hotel, Harper said the Conservative government introduced the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act in the House of Commons, as an attempt to address concerns raised by victims of crime when the perpetrator has been found not criminally responsible.
“While it is true that the arm of the state cannot be everywhere at all times, nor would we want it to be, nevertheless when atrocious events do occur and the state fails to act, it fails to do all it can do to defend innocent civilians,” Harper said.
There are three main areas the act focuses on: public safety, creating a high-risk designation and enhancing victims’ involvement in decisions made regarding the accused.
One major change would allow courts to designate people as “high risk” so that they are held in custody and can’t be considered for release until that designation is revoked by a court. That change would override a provincial review board’s ability to grant day passes for offenders deemed high risk.
Harper took issue with how some people in prison are given unescorted day passes despite still being a significant threat to public safety.
“We’ve heard from Canadians loud and clear that something here is very wrong,” he said.
The changes, once passed, will apply to people who are currently in prison.
Harper said the rights of the accused and the convicted are important, but that the system should not be focus on “theirs and only theirs.”
Harper made the announcement in the company of Tri Cities politicians and crime victims, including Stacy Galt, cousin of Darcie Clarke, whose three children were killed by their father and her estranged ex-husband, Allan Schoenborn, who was found not criminally responsible. Galt welcomed the changes.
“This announcement is just wonderful. It’s an announcement that reminds the courts and the provincial review board that victims matter,” she said at the press conference. “In fact, it’s more than a reminder that victims matter. It will hopefully soon be the law.”
After the announcement, the Harper spoke about Patrick Brazeau while fielding questions from reporters. Brazeau, a Conservative senator, was kicked out of caucus Friday and now sits as an independent after he was charged with assault and sexual assault.
“As you know I’ve removed him from caucus,” Harper said.
“When Mr. Brazeau was appointed to senate, he was national chief of one of the country’s largest … aboriginal organizations. … The events we are speaking about here are very recent in nature.”
A group of roughly 10 people from the Idle No More movement also gathered outside the hotel, singing, drumming and calling on the Conservative government to reverse legislation they say will negatively impact First Nations in Canada.