It’s been 16 years since Lori Triano-Antidormi of Grimsby, Ont., held her little boy.
Sixteen years since her beautiful blond-haired Zachary was stabbed 12 times while playing outside his Hamilton home.
Sixteen years since the 2½-year-old was brutally killed by a neighbour who thought her own dead son’s spirit lived inside of Zachary.
Time has helped heal her emotional wounds but the pain is still there. And it was evident when Triano-Antidormi spoke to politicians in Ottawa recently about amendments to a new crime bill.
Triano-Antidormi was part of a group speaking out against Bill C-54, which the government has said will improve public safety by placing tighter restrictions on some offenders.
'Why target the individual after the crime is committed rather than protecting people before it happens?'—Lori Triano-Antidormi, mother of slain toddler
The bill specifically targets offenders who have been deemed not criminally responsible (NCR) as "high risk."
This is personal to Triano-Antidormi because the neighbour who killed her son, Lucia Piovesan, was deemed NCR and sent to a psychiatric facility where she remains today.
But rather than being in favour of tighter restrictions, as some other victims of violence are, Triano-Antidormi believes it will unfairly stigmatize people who have a mental illness.
"This would not have prevented Zachary from being murdered," said Triano-Antidormi. The main problem, and what the bill does not address, she said, are the gaps in the mental health system.
Earlier this month, Triano-Antidormi told members of the House of Commons justice committee, which is reviewing the bill, that the proposed changes to law are "ill informed" and that the government should instead be addressing the long wait times and lack of services in the mental health system.
"Why target the individual after the crime is committed, rather than protecting people before it happens?" she said in an interview with CBC News in Hamilton.
Triano-Antidormi is speaking out not only as a victim but as a professional, having worked as a psychologist for many years and seeing problems within the system. She said that under the new bill, some mentally ill offenders who are deemed NCR could not be assessed by a provincial review board unless a court decides to revoke the designation.
The problem with that wording, said Triano-Antidormi, is that it wasn’t the review board that let her down.
"They did their job," she said.
"It was the mental health system because Piovesan never received the help she needed."
Triano-Antidormi believes her son would still be alive today if gaps in mental health care had been addressed. While the bill would make those NCR offenders ineligible for unescorted passes into the community, Triano-Antidormi said the overall impact would be minimal because NCR offenders already have an extremely low recidivism rate.
Bill focuses on wrong area
"Why put so much effort into something that’s working when they should be working on fixing the flaws in the mental health system?" said Triano-Antidormi.
Other victims of violence who appeared before the committee didn't agree with Triano-Antidormi, including the mother of Tim McLean who was killed by Vince Li on a Greyhound bus in 2008. Carol deDelley has been pushing for changes to the NCR system.
After Triano-Antidormi and representatives from the various groups expressed their concerns, the bill was debated then passed at third reading. It is now moving on to the Senate. It must be passed by the Senate before it can become law.
Triano-Antidormi hopes it doesn’t become law because she believes the bill will do more harm than good.
"The bill is very stigmatizing and punitive and doesn’t reflect a good understanding of mental illness," she said, adding it perpetuates the myth that people who are mentally ill are more prone to be violent.