Ottawa won’t cover costs of new mentally ill offender law

The federal government has no plans to help provinces with costs associated with its new rules on how to deal with mentally ill offenders.

Last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled legislation that would crack down on people found not criminally responsible due to mental disorders. It would establish a “high risk” classification for those who have committed serious crimes and shift emphasis to victim impact when determining how long someone should stay in custody.

If courts and review boards take this legislation to heart it could mean more offenders in provincial forensic hospitals for a longer period of time.

Ottawa won’t pay for them.

“The decision-makers in this area of the law are the courts and Review Boards which fall under the responsibility of provincial and territorial governments. The proposed legislation does not change that,” Justice Department spokeswoman Carole Saindon said in an e-mail. “Since the criteria for the new ‘high-risk accused’ designation are grave harm to the public and substantial likelihood for violence, ensuring custody in hospital in order to protect the public is a priority for all levels of government.”

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There is scant space in most provincial forensic hospitals. Sandy Simpson, head of forensic psychiatry at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says Ontario’s facilities are hovering around 104 per cent capacity.

The issue of provinces paying for new federal legislation came up last year when the federal Conservatives brought forward an omnibus crime bill – the Safe Streets and Communities Act – expected to put more people in provincial prisons and remand centres. Several provinces, even those supportive of the Act, balked at footing the bill without any assistance from the federal government.

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