Opposition to bill was a vote for greater public safety

Green Party leader defends decision to oppose "tough on crime" legislation

Letter writer H.J. Rice has asked me to account for my votes in Parliament that he alleges are soft on criminals. Conservative party literature (which incidentally misrepresents Green Party positions in a number of areas) also accuses me of ignoring the interests of victims of crime.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I worked closely with Federal Ombudsman for Victims, former Ottawa Police Chief Sue O’Sullivan, to bring in better programs and laws to protect and assist victims of crime.

Mr. Rice seems to think I voted against bad legislation due to concern for human rights. That is not the case.  On the evidence, it was clear the legislation pushed through by Mr. Harper under the “tough on crime” banner was based on approaches proven not to work in other jurisdictions (such as Texas), would be likely to be ruled unconstitutional in the courts, or would actually create a greater risk to public safety.

As the only member of Parliament to read all proposed legislation, study it and consider the evidence, I am confident that my votes represent sound criminal justice and fiscal policy.   The bill related to new treatment of those deemed “Not Criminally Responsible” (NCR) was opposed by many – including victims’ rights groups.

By increasing the punishment and stigma for those suffering mental illness, many expert witnesses expressed the concern that defence lawyers would be likely to steer their clients into the regular prison population to avoid much longer sentences for those deemed NCR.  Those with mental illness need to be treated for their illness and not released back into society without treatment.  I was not alone in opposing this bill. Experts who opposed it included Howard Sapers, currently Correctional Investigator for Canada, Justice Richard D. Schneider, chair of the Ontario Review Board and Review Boards of Canada, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, and many more.

Through an access to information request just last week, the media obtained a copy of an internal justice department study agreeing with many of my criticisms of the bill. A recently released study says the problem is getting worse as provincial health care systems fail to intervene in mental health crises. As Howard Sapers explained in a recent interview, “Many people are getting their first or most sustained mental-health interventions once they become enmeshed in the criminal justice systems.”

To avoid tragic incidents we need to engage mental health treatments before a criminal event can occur.  And when a crime occurs, we must make sure that people with mental health issues are not encouraged to deny the extent of their problems for a lighter sentence as Bill C-54 will do. My vote was one for greater public safety.

Elizabeth May, leader

Green Party of Canada

 

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