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NSCL--Does Canada Need a Tougher Bail System?

Following the shooting death of Ontario Provincial Police Constable Grzegorz Pierzchala in December 2022, there have been calls for more stringent bail laws in Canada.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre held a press conference in the days following Pierzchala’s death to demand that the Trudeau government “reverse its catch-and-release bail policy.”

“In this particular case, the accused was out on bail after having … allegedly committed similar violent offences, including offences with firearms and offences against police officers,” he said.

Poilievre said the government must ensure that people who are arrested on violent crimes “stay in jail until their trial is complete” and, if convicted, “stay behind bars until such time as it can be assured to all of us that they are no longer a danger to the public.”

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) issued a press release demanding “legislative reforms, including the bail process involving violent repeat offenders and violent firearm offences.”

On January 13, 2023 the 13 provincial premiers sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau also demanding changes to Canada’s bail system. Specifically the premiers wanted to see a change in the law to make it harder for persons accused of firearms offences to be released on bail. In part the letter reads: “The justice system fundamentally needs to keep anyone who poses a threat to public safety off the streets.”

In response Justice Minister David Lametti has pointed out that, there is a constitutional right not to be denied bail without “just cause.” “It’s enshrined in law that the detention of an accused person is justified if it is “necessary to protect the safety of the public, to maintain the public’s confidence in the justice system, or to make sure the accused person attends court,” Lametti has explained.

When firearms are involved, the bar for bail can be set even higher. A reverse onus is imposed on the accused when they’re charged with some firearms offences. That means they’ll be detained by default — and the onus is on the accused to prove that bail would be justified in their case.

Other legal experts point out that arbitrarily denying bail means the imprisonment of legally innocent people for long periods of time before their trial, disproportionately affects people from lower socioeconomic and racialized groups, and actually increases the rate of recidivism. They caution against heeding impassioned and heated pleas for change. They argue tougher bail laws across the board could actually make the public less safe, as well as forcing more legally innocent people to suffer.

How does Canada’s bail system actually work? When can bail be denied? Is the system too lenient? We consider these and other bail related questions at our next meeting.

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