Harper Getting Tough on the Mentally Ill

Canadian prime minister and conservative party leader Stephen Harper is getting tough on crime: by going after the mentally ill. He’s introduced the “Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act,” a step backwards in crime reform, to the days when the mentally ill had no protection or access to services whatsoever, and were treated as deviants, criminals, or the dregs of society.

Today, when you can still most frequently find the mentally ill (often undiagnosed and certainly untreated) living on the streets in any North American city, Harper’s move still stands to make things worse. He wants to go after a system that is designed to treat the ill instead of letting them be victims of a more dangerous type of criminal.

The gist of the current system is to divert those who are possibly not criminally responsible for an action by reason of a mental disorder, to a tribunal including both mental health and legal professionals, where a decision is made on the mental health status of the individual.

Depending on a number of factors, “the need to protect the public from dangerous persons, the mental condition of accused, the reintegration of the accused into society and other needs of the accused,” this person might be placed in a mental care facility for a set period of time, or indefinitely. Their status is reviewed on a yearly basis, and since public safety is first on the list, a person found not criminally responsible might, regardless, be “put away” for much longer than an individual who goes through an ordinary criminal trial.

Harper is spewing a lot of rhetoric about this, framing it as an issue of “victims’ rights.” He makes it sound like this act will only affect rampaging psychotics who have murdered 11 people and keep being re-released because they’re “not criminally responsible.” Harper thinks he’s living in Gotham City, where the Joker keeps breaking out of Arkham Asylum every month and attacking stadiums of people with nerve gas.

It also appears the incumbent PM has created a new federal position (in 2007, in fact, though I hadn’t heard of it before today): an Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, which, at least in this case, is parroting Harper’s Reform Act propaganda.

But leaving aside revenge, and yes, I realize that’s a huge thing to leave aside, especially since it can be so easily used by politicos like Harper to stir up his electorate, what are the rights of victims? I think the biggest right is one shared by all citizens, those who have been touched by a serious crime and those who haven’t (at least not yet): the knowledge that the justice system will do everything it can to to minimize the risk of it happening again. From that perspective, Harper is not standing up for victims’ rights.

The Numbers Back Up Treatment Over Jail Time

I’ll draw on the numbers Peter McKnight provides in his excellent analysis at the Vancouver Sun: recidivism rates for mentally ill persons sent to jail (where they’re taken advantage of by professional criminals and receive little to no mental health treatment) are over 50 percent; redicivism for those found not criminally responsible and sent to proper treatment facilities is, astonishingly, less than ten percent, with some studies suggesting the number could be as low as three percent.

That’s an astoundingly successful program. That’s a rare glimmer of hope in an overtaxed, ill-equipped justice system that is largely dealing with symptoms of a societal sickness they are unable to tackle directly. True, restorative justice lacks that little boost to our reptilian hind brain that comes from vengeance achieved, but with our prisons overloaded already, satisfying the darkest desires of our personalities has become a luxury we cannot afford.

Harper’s proposed reforms will discourage accused mentally ill people from seeking such an outcome. By switching annual reviews (the equivalent of a parole hearing) to a once-in-three-years event, Harper hopes to increase the length of time a rehabilitated patient will languish, making this option less attractive, and sending more of them to prison for shorter fixed sentences. More of our mentally ill will thus be undiagnosed, untreated, unmedicated and recruited into the ranks of violent gangs and criminals.

This will only lead to a bad end for those unfortunate individuals, and, something Harper disingenuously claims to care about, will lead to more victims as well. The upside? “Victims first” is a nice, simple slogan to mindlessly chant at re-election time.

Related stories:

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After Completely Ignoring Them, Harper Agrees to Meet with First Nations Activists

Canada’s Federal Budget Trashes Jobs, Environment, CBC

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Craig Bovia
Craig Bovia4 years ago

Someone should lock up your oil loving, Koch-loving, lying whore, Harper. I remember when Canada had great leadership. Now they are being led by an evil piece of feces. Amerika's, Koch-kreated, Red Plague of Insanity and Ignorance has obviously crossed the border.

Geral S.
.4 years ago

Government must create criminals:


The truly mentally ill are in the most unlikely positions: in government & law enforcement.


Age of madness:


committed to healing, a fraud:


outlaws are better men:


Fear as a form of torture:


No presumption of accused's innocence here where the police can lawfull kill him:


Governor Perry intentionally allows the state to murder an innocent man:


Police crimes against me!


louise m.
louise m4 years ago

dr hare...i have ptsd, due to multiple trauma's in a short period of time. people have taken advantage of me for money, have hurt me emotionally to the point, i dont think i will ever find a mate, live a normal life, nor feel the happiness i once thought i had. have been to shrinks, that tell me my life events r tragic, and then want to load me up with drugs for the pain. i guess there isnt much else they can do. it is a personal journey, where your mind, body, and soul tell u what they need, cause u dont initially know, until u feel your way thru every day. and everyday is a challenge!!! just thought i would comment, as im having a bad day today. thankx for reading...ive had enough of the internet for today. :(

Wendy J.
Wendy J4 years ago


Andreya B.
Andreya B4 years ago

Come on Canada, we NEED to STOP voting for this guy year after year. He is absolutely disgusting in so many ways and for so many reasons. Time to get him out of here. Cold bastard.

Dorothy N.
Dorothy N4 years ago

Harper consistently reveals his psychopathic tendencies.

Screening for such disastrous mental health issues should be instituted and conducted prior to anyone's running for or taking any public office so that such people can be kept out of governance and public policy.

We have the technology.


Psychopathy Scales

Dr. Hare has spent over 35 years researching psychopathy and is the developer of the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), and a co-author of its derivatives, the Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL:SV), the P-Scan, the Psychopathy Checklist: Youth Version (PCL:YV), and the Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD). He is also a co-author of the Guidelines for a Psychopathy Treatment Program. The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, with demonstrated reliability and validity, is rapidly being adopted worldwide as the standard instrument for researchers and clinicians. ... In 2005, the Buros Mental Measurements Yearbook review listed the PCL-R as "a reliable and effective instrument for the measurement of psychopathy and is considered the 'gold standard' for measurement of psychopathy.

France Bergevin
France Bergevin4 years ago

tanks for the post

Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K4 years ago

This decision by the prime minister is like all the rest they are a call to the people to wake up and start telling their politicians what they want instead of letting others do their thinking for them.
We have responsibility to ourselves and its time we started practicing it instead of playing the victim or martyr game.

Elle B.
Elle B4 years ago

Thank-you for writing this article Joel...

Who is really insane here? Mental Illness is a convenient "catch-all" and "blame-all." Just what those already suffering inner turmoil and distraction in discriminatory minimally funded societal constructs need...is to be identified as the main cause of heinous criminal acts on earth because others in human bio-forms do not have an inclination nor clue about what they could or should do? We certainly wouldn't want to invest time and anything even resembling intellect into humane, intelligent, viable solutions. Wanton laziness and greed prevail once more. . .call...write...share...let the fools know they are fools. . .

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. ” ―Jiddu Krishnamurti

“The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” ― Erich Fromm, The Sane Society

"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." —Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1841

“I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.” ― Isaac Newton

Michael H.
Mike H4 years ago

What a mess