Federal Justice Minister David Lametti has been basking in the glow of some happy provinces over changes proposed to the bail system involving violent criminals.
Ontario’s Solicitor General Michael Kerzner and Attorney General Doug Downey, for example, said too many innocent people have lost their lives due to dangerous criminals not being behind bars.
“If passed, the federal government’s proposed legislation will bring meaningful and much-needed changes to Canada’s bail system,” the statement said.
If only it were true.
Lametti covered only one real demand of the country’s premiers and their top lawmakers, so it was no surprise that the much talked about reverse onus would fall on the accused to convince the court he was fit to be released on ball rather than the prosecutor.
“You are innocent until proven guilty, and this is a critically important part of our legal system,” Lametti said during a news conference.
“But what we’re doing for certain violent offences is changing the default position and making sure that it is only in cases where there isn’t a threat to security.”
Lametti said he hopes the law will pass with unanimous consent from other political parties.
The Conservative Party of Pierre Poilievre may be a tough sell.
Poilievre said that he would go a step further if he was prime minister and waive such offenders’ rights to a bail hearing.
The Conservative leader would bring in laws that would require repeat violent offenders who are newly arrested for violent crimes to remain behind bars throughout their trial.
He went on to say that the proposed laws would not raise the bar to access bail and instead they create a series of lower bars and will continue to allow repeat violent offenders to be released on bail.
“A common sense Conservative government will reverse Trudeau’s catch and release,” he said.
One thing that was missing from Lametti’s proposed legislation was one scenario that front-line police saw as important.
And that was the tightening of rules involving sureties for dangerous offenders, the process by which family or friend put up substantial money or personal property to ensure that the accused lives up to his bail conditions.
As it stands today, the accused can commit a serious crime while out on bail and there is no consequence to the surety provider—no surrendering of the cash or loss of the property promised should the accused break his bail conditions.
It makes sureties next to toothless in keeping an accused safety corralled.
Consider the murder of 28-year-old rookie OPP Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala on Dec. 27.
Following that murder, Lametti committed that the federal government would move forward quickly on “targeted reforms” to the Criminal Code that would update Canada’s bail system.
“We have a broad consensus on a path forward,” Lametti promised, saying reforms will aim to address the challenges posed by repeat violent offenders and those facing firearms or other weapons charges.
“Bail is a constitutional right, but it is not absolute,” he said.
“Our laws are clear that bail can be denied where there is just cause, when it is necessary for the safety of the public or to maintain the public’s confidence in the administration of justice.”
Court documents show one of the two people facing first-degree murder charges in his death, Randall McKenzie, was initially denied bail in a separate case involving assault and weapons charges but was released after a review.
What happened to the surety that was most likely holding his tether?
Was it seized, or simply forgotten?