Last month, Dr. Ruby Dhand appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada as part of a legal team on behalf of the Empowerment Council, presenting a Charter challenge in mental health law — a challenge she described as equivalent to the “legal Superbowl.”
The Associate Professor in TRU’s Faculty of Law is an expert in mental health law and has long advocated for a mental health court in Kamloops, but last week she stood before the Supreme Court of Canada as part of the legal team led by Anita Szigeti, one of Canada’s leading experts in mental health law.
The team challenged the unilateral application of Christopher’s Law— otherwise known as Ontario’s Sex Offender Registry in Ontario (AG) v G — as it applies to those who have been found not criminally responsible for a crime involving a sexual offence. The Empowerment Council are systemic advocates, who are also people with mental health and addictions histories, and the legal team highlighted for the court how Christopher’s Law discriminates and harms members of this vulnerable community.
Currently, all those who commit a sexual offence must be included on the sex offender registry, which also applies to those who are found not criminally responsible.
“However, individuals who are convicted have an opportunity to be removed from the registry, but those same types of exit ramps are not available to people with mental health and addictions found not criminally responsible,” explained Dhand. Without this chance, people with mental health and addictions issues experience discrimination according to Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“There should be an option of escaping that label, because when you are really working on your road to recovery, wearing this label impedes your ability to do so.”
Not Criminally Responsible
Being found not criminally responsible legally means that you have been cleared from committing a crime, and by definition means that in the commission of an offence, the offender had no idea what they were doing, or that what they were doing was wrong.
“The law has built this special stream of ‘not criminally responsible’, for these clients to get well and to get back into society,” explained Dhand, who added that many of these clients undergo years of treatment, during which time their risk to the public is reassessed on an ongoing basis.
Once an expert tribunal has determined that they can be reintegrated, and that they no longer pose a threat to the public, they should be free. But carrying the sex offender label ensures that the stigma remains.
“What is the point of working toward absolute discharge and working toward recovery when they still carry this label,” Dhand asked.
Presenting this challenge under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms at the Supreme Court of Canada was “life-changing,” says Dhand.
“We are very hopeful this case will result in systemic and transformative change for people with mental health issues and addictions.”
Dr. Ruby Dhand, Associate Professor