On June 14, 2017, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs released its final report on court delays in the criminal justice system. The comprehensive report, entitled Delaying Justice is Denying Justice: An Urgent Need to Address Lengthy Court Delays in Canada, makes 50 recommendations aimed at addressing the delay crisis.
The important suggestions have the potential to make a substantial and lasting impact on Canada’s criminal justice system. In particular, its recommendations in relation to persons with mental illness deserve careful consideration, and if acted upon, they may help the system better meet this population’s needs.
However, the Dementia Justice Society of Canada expresses concern that the report does not specifically address the unique challenges of accused persons and offenders with dementia. While many of the mental health-based recommendations are applicable to this group, they overlook the particular considerations of people with dementia, such as the need for specialized care for those who may exhibit responsive behaviours, including aggression.
Criminally accused and convicted people with dementia continue to fall through the cracks. The challenges facing these individuals straddle both health and justice, yet neither side has robustly tackled the issue. For example, as Dementia Justice has previously lamented, Bill C-233, the proposed national dementia strategy legislation, restricts the advisory board’s role to “any matter related to the health care” of persons with dementia, and the list of potential members does not include representatives from the justice community.
Nevertheless, Dementia Justice remains hopeful that the development of Canada’s national dementia strategy will provide an opportunity for health and justice stakeholders to come together and address the complex needs of people with dementia who are on the wrong side of the law. Delaying Justice is Denying Justice provides important insights, and its recommendations can be an important building block for addressing dementia in the criminal justice system.
Brief Summary of Report’s Mental Health Recommendations
Delaying Justice is Denying Justice covers a wide-range of criminal justice issues, including the fact that too many people in Canada's courts, remand centres and prisons have mental health concerns. The Senate committee identified this challenge as a great concern that must be addressed on an urgent basis, and it observed that our criminal justice system is not equipped to deal with the needs of persons with mental illness.
The Senators recommended that the federal government coordinate an evidence-based strategy with clear targets to ensure that adequate health services are available for Canadians with mental health issues, and that funding be provided for programs aimed at crime prevention, as well as treatment of persons with mental illness in detention.
Regarding mental health programs that are offered in conjunction with the criminal justice system, the committee expressed concern about the lack of resources and lack of sharing of research, best practices and scientific evidence across Canada. It was also noted that there is no consistent mental health screening at courts, leading to variability throughout the country. The committee recommended that the Ministers of Justice and Health gather consistent data on how courts are undertaking mental health screening. It also made recommendations aimed at improving pre- and post-charge diversion programs, as well as therapeutic courts, such as drug treatment and mental health courts.
Delaying Justice is Denying Justice: An Urgent Need to Address Lengthy Court Delays in Canada, Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs (June 2017).
About Dementia Justice
Dementia Justice is a federally incorporated non-profit society dedicated to advancing the rights, needs and dignity of people with dementia who are, or are at risk of becoming, involved with the criminal justice system. It strives to achieve its objectives through public advocacy, awareness-raising, education and research.