Ever since I was first elected to serve as an MP, I knew I wanted to use my position to help those suffering from mental health and addiction problems.
While federal legislation can only address federal jurisdiction, I was looking for opportunities to help those struggling with mental health and addiction issues, as well as issues involving with what some people frequently refer to as the "revolving door" in our criminal justice system.
While it took some time and research, I'm proud that this week the House of Commons debated my first Private Member's Bill, Bill C-283, the End the Revolving Door Act. It is scheduled to come up for debate again in December.
A 2015 study by Correctional Service Canada showed at admission to federal custody, 70% of men and 77% of women offenders had a substance use issue. Similarly, a review of the National Parole Board files revealed about 73% of the offenders who were returned to custody abused substances while on release and substance use contributed to the termination of their release.
The effects of the revolving door in our justice system for those with mental health and addiction issues are felt in communities across Canada.
In Kelowna-Lake Country, desperate people suffering from severe addictions and mental health issues are entering and exiting our justice system without the proper treatment they need. As a result, they return to our community, only to repeat the same cycle of behaviour that, for many, will see them re-entering the justice system and those same penitentiaries again and again and again.
The effects of this spread widely. Crime numbers show law enforcement spend a lot of its time focusing resources on those with mental health and addiction. Courts are backlogged with re-offender cases. Small businesses have to foot the bill for damages. People are injured. Families are torn apart. Lives are tragically lost.
There’s no single piece of legislation that will solve all the challenges facing those with mental health and/or addiction issues who enter the criminal justice system. However, experts who work to help those with addiction and work within the criminal justice system believe my legislation can offer an important tool to help reduce recidivism, address our mental health and addiction crisis, and improve public safety in our communities.
In that effort, if made law, the act would first empower the commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada to designate all, or a part, of a facility as an addiction treatment facility. Such a facility could help focus the work of addiction professionals already hard at work within our federal prisons.
Second, this legislation would amend the Criminal Code of Canada to support a two-stream sentencing process. While both would have the same sentence time, for certain convicted individuals who demonstrate a pattern of problematic substance use, at the time of sentencing a judge could offer the choice to be sentenced directly to participate in a mental health assessment and addictions treatment inside a federal prison while they serve their sentence.
Through this sentencing process, offenders would still receive meaningful consequences for their actions while also receiving curative treatment, leading to a path of reducing the risk of reoffending, in other words, ending the revolving door.
I'm thrilled to have the support from so many, locally and across the country who are in favour of seeing this bill go forward. Convincing my colleagues across party lines in Parliament to support it will be the next challenge.
With a vote likely to be held in December, I'll continue to reach out to my Liberal, Bloc, NDP and Green colleagues to support this vital legislation, which could help improve Canada's complex mental health and addiction crisis, as well as help address crime in our communities.
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This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.