Canada’s justice minister says the federal government could not have made its recently proposed bail reform much stricter, given constitutional constraints.
In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live broadcast on Sunday, David Lametti said his government has a very narrow margin to work with when it comes to infringing on Canadians’ right to bail under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“My honest answer is that I don’t think you can go any further,” Lametti told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton.
“What we’ve done here is target a very narrow set of offenses: repeat violent offenders with a weapon,” as well as some firearm-related offences,” he said.
“By staying on this very, very narrow path, we feel that we are very much in line with the Charter, but we are also meeting a number of very specific needs.” The Liberal government implemented more comprehensive bail reform earlier in its mandate, in response to decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The new bill, Bill C-48, would change the rules to make it harder for some offenders charged with violent crimes involving a weapon and who have similar prior convictions to get bail. It would do so by implementing a “reverse onus” provision.
In most cases, prosecutors must demonstrate that the defendants represent either a flight risk or a danger to the public, or that detention is necessary to “maintain confidence in the administration of justice” in order to prevent release on bail. Reverse onus transfers the onus to the accused.
The new bill responds to calls from police associations and premiers across the country, who have urged Ottawa to introduce reform, particularly after the killing of several police officers in recent months.
Lametti said the bill was developed in consultations with groups across the country. He added that he was committed to ensuring that changes to bail reform do not negatively impact Black and Indigenous people, and efforts to address the issue of their overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
Greeted by Prime Ministers, Police
After a long period of decline, violent crime has been on the rise in Canada since about 2014, according to Statistics Canada.
The bill met with a range of responses. The union representing RCMP officers called the measure “a good first step”, and it was also welcomed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association said, “We believe that every person in Canada deserves to feel safe in their community, but this bill will not do that. It is possible to protect the right to reasonable bail and ensure public safety. The federal government can and must do better than Bill C-48. »
Karen Kuwica, president of the Nanaimo Area Public Safety Association, told Barton in a separate interview that aired Sunday that the bill was “encouraging, it’s a step in the right direction…but at the community level, I’m not sure that is going to make a significant change.”
Kuwica said more needs to be done, both in the justice system and in social services, to address a “hat trick of social crises” that includes the opioid epidemic, lack of affordable housing and the Mental Health.
The bill has been harshly criticized by the Leader of the Official Opposition, who argues that it does not go far enough and will not address Canadians’ security concerns.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has proposed a tougher approach to bail, in which those convicted of violent offenses who are arrested on a new charge would be denied bail throughout their trial and potential penalty.
“No bail, no early parole. It’s common sense,” he said earlier this week.
“A major overhaul is needed in the catch and release policies that [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and the minister have proposed in recent years. It won’t solve this problem.”
Legal experts, however, question the constitutionality of Poilievre’s proposed approach.
The idea “completely ignores the fundamentals of our criminal justice system,” Nicole Myers, a Queen’s University sociologist who specializes in bail and remand, told The Canadian Press earlier this week.
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