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Darcie Clark’s cousin Stacy Galt sits with Prime Minister Stephen Harper before he announced the government is providing courts with new powers to lock up people found not criminally responsible for their crimes due to mental problems in Burnaby on Feb. 8, 2013. Darcie Clark’s children Max, Cordon and Kaitlynne were killed by her ex-husband Allan Schoenborn in 2008. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Darcie Clark’s cousin Stacy Galt sits with Prime Minister Stephen Harper before he announced the government is providing courts with new powers to lock up people found not criminally responsible for their crimes due to mental problems in Burnaby on Feb. 8, 2013. Darcie Clark’s children Max, Cordon and Kaitlynne were killed by her ex-husband Allan Schoenborn in 2008. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

JUSTICE

Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act faces criticism Add to ...

It was a horrific crime, so grotesque that Allan Schoenborn, the B.C. father found not criminally responsible for killing his three children, became the poster boy for changing the law to keep mentally ill offenders in detention for longer periods of time.

But Mr. Schoenborn is still entitled to an annual hearing before the B.C. Review Board, a hearing scheduled to take place Friday at the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital he now calls home.

Some wonder whether the amendments announced last week will have the opposite of the desired effect, by discouraging plea bargains when mentally ill offenders opt for treatment.

“You’re going to have a lot more mentally disordered people who have gone to jail for a period of time, have been untreated, and are back on the street untreated. So in that sense it doesn’t really make people much safer,” said Bernd Walter, chairman of the B.C. Review Board.

Policy decisions are the purview of the federal government, but the Not Criminally Responsible Reform Act is “quite unclear in terms of how it will work,” said Mr. Walter, who is also the chairman of the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

He said many of the approximately 260 cases under the jurisdiction of the board were resolved by agreement between the defence and the Crown that the offenders were so mentally ill that they did not understand their actions to be criminal.

Defence lawyers may be less inclined to enter a plea of not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder if the result is a three-year minimum sentence under the new law, he said.

Former Liberal justice minister Irwin Cotler said he’s concerned the changes are based on rare, high-profile cases: Mr. Schoenborn, Vincent Li, who killed Tim McLean aboard a Greyhound bus, and Guy Turcotte, the doctor found not criminally responsible for killing his two children.

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