September is World Alzheimer's Month. To mark the occasion, Dementia Justice Canada has released its annual Strategy Tracker monitoring the inclusion of criminal justice in national dementia strategies.
Since last year, Canada has made some progress. In June 2019, the federal government released the country's first national dementia strategy. However, while the strategy refers to inmates in federal custody (in an appendix), the plan does not address the broader population of criminal defendants with dementia who are moving through the system prior to conviction.
As we note in our recent letter to federal party leaders regarding their election campaign commitments, the government's tepid approach to addressing dementia and criminal justice risks overlooking many important considerations impacting this vulnerable population, such as:
Earlier this year, Dementia Justice canvassed these issues in its report, Nowhere to Live: Housing Vulnerability of Criminal Defendants with Dementia. Funded by The Law Foundation of British Columbia's Legal Research Fund, the publication includes 30 recommendations which, if implemented, have a reasonable chance of improving access to justice and housing security for criminal defendants with dementia. The report focuses on the legal and policy framework in British Columbia; however, given that criminal justice and health are shared federal/provincial/territorial responsibilities, it has many pan-Canadian aspects. Key high-level federal recommendations include:
Building on the progress in Manitoba, the report also recommends the provincial development of Crown Counsel guidelines on prosecuting persons with dementia.
While most people with dementia will not come into conflict with the criminal justice system, it is well-recognized that in some cases violence and inappropriate behaviour can be unfortunate by-products of the disease. Indeed, there is a growing awareness and willingness to acknowledge that some of the behavioural symptoms associated with dementia (e.g., aggression, disinhibition, hypersexuality) can bring people into conflict with the law.
As Canada moves toward strategy implementation, Dementia Justice is continuing to urge the inclusion of criminal justice to ensure the country's national plan responds to the needs of people with dementia who enter the justice system due to responsive behaviours.
About Dementia Justice
Founded in 2017, Dementia Justice is dedicated to advancing the rights, needs and dignity of people with dementia who are in conflict with the criminal justice system. We aim to achieve our objectives through public advocacy, awareness-raising, education, and interdisciplinary legal and policy research. The organization transitioned from an incorporated society to an unincorporated association in April 2019.
Heather Campbell Pope, BA (Hons.), LLB, LLM