COQUITLAM — Reforms to the Canadian justice system to deal with offenders considered “not criminally responsible” because of a serious mental illness have moved another step closer to law.
In front of the trio of Tri-Cities mayors, various victims of crime and the family of Darcie Clarke — whose three children were killed by their father Allan Schoenborn — Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday announced new legislation has been tabled in the House of Commons.
The Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act is a series of changes to the laws around people found not criminally responsible (NCR) on account of a mental disorder.
“Canadians want a justice system that puts the safety of our communities and families first and that is what these reforms will help us accomplish,” Harper said at a press event in Burnaby.
The prime minister also provided greater details to the legislation than was first announced back in November.
The proposed act creates a high-risk designation for an accused found NCR.
An NCR deemed high risk would not be granted a conditional or absolute discharge and the designation could only be revoked by the court following a recommendation of the Review Board.
The legislation would also prohibit offenders like Schoenborn from going into the community unescorted, and escorted passes would only be allowed in narrow circumstances and subject to conditions.
Review boards have also been given the power to extend the review period to up to three years instead of annually.
Harper noted the laws would be retroactive and apply to those still in detention, not just new cases.
The reforms have been a long time coming for Stacy Galt, the cousin of Clarke.
She has long since advocated for a change in the law after it was learned Schoenborn, who killed his three children in 2008 in Merritt but was ultimately found not guilty of murder by reason of mental disorder, had applied to the B.C Review Board for escorted access to the community to get a coffee and go to a local pool.
Eventually, he withdrew the request for escorted day passes.
Galt said the prime minister’s announcement reminds the courts and review board that victims matter.
“Darcie did nothing wrong, but she’s been held victim by outdated laws,” she said.
Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart also applauded the proposed law.
He said it’s the type of change the community has been requesting for years.
“This is the kind of change that will allow victims to have some sort of control of the situation they find themselves in,” he said.
Other aspects of the legislation will give victims greater involvement in the process, including ensuring they are notified, upon request, when the accused is discharged. The law will allow for non-communications orders between the accused and consider the victim’s safety when decisions are being made about an accused.