Feds introduce bill for 'high-risk' mentally-ill convicts

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in an economic consultation, with a group of business...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in an economic consultation, with a group of business executives in Mississauga, on Saturday, January 19, 2013. (QMI AgencyVERONICA HENRI)

Daniel Proussalidis, Parliamentary Bureau

, Last Updated: 5:33 PM ET

OTTAWA — A new federal bill aims to keep dangerously violent people away from society, even if they're considered not criminally responsible for the crimes of which they've been accused.

"We are giving the courts they powers they need to keep those deemed too dangerous to release where they should be - in custody," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Friday in Vancouver.

The Conservative government tabled Bill C-54 in Parliament on Friday, proposing a new "high-risk" designation for those who are found not criminally responsible.

If someone were designated high-risk, they would no longer be allowed to get unescorted passes to leave their mental institution.

Escorted passes would only be given in narrow circumstances.

Anyone designated "high-risk" could also have to wait three years for a review of that decision.

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

The bill recognizes the right of victims and their families to know when someone who's not criminally responsible for a crime is let out into the public.

Review boards would also gain the power to order someone who falls under the Criminal Code's mental disorder rules not to communicate with a victim.

Harper confirmed that if the bill became law, its provisions would apply to individuals already in mental institutions, such as Vince Li who was found criminally responsible for beheading Tim McLean aboard a bus near Portage la Prairie, Man. in 2008.

The provisions could also apply Alan Schoenborn who killed his three children in Merritt, B.C. in 2008.

Stacy Galt, whose cousin is the mother of the three kids Shoenborn murdered, welcomed the new bill.

"My family and I call upon the entire House of Commons to join together to unanimously pass this legislation," said Galt. "What is being proposed is what we, the families of victims all across Canada, have been asking for."

However, the case of former doctor Guy Turcotte, who killed his two children in Montreal in 2009, likely wouldn't be affected.

He was released from a mental hospital last December.

"Obviously, we could not apply (the law) to people who have already been released and have completed the process," said Harper. "That would clearly be unconstitutional."

The NDP gives the bill its provisional support.

"I'll probably recommend that we support the bill to at least send (it) to justice committee and really do a big study," said justice critic Françoise Boivin.


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