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Canada’s justice minister planning to introduce bail reforms this week

‘Targeted’ Criminal Code reforms come after provinces publicly raise concerns about repeat offenders
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Wednesday, April 26, 2023. Lametti and the federal government are expected to introduce bail reform laws to the House of Commons as early as tomorrow. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Justice Minister David Lametti and the federal government are expected to bring forward legislation to enact bail reform as early as Tuesday.

The government has given notice to the House of Commons that it intends to introduce a bill to amend the Criminal Code.

Lametti has said he will make “targeted reforms” to the Criminal Code after the provinces and territories publicly raised concerns about repeat offenders.

The federal government said the changes will aim to deal with repeat violent offenders and offences involving firearms and other dangerous weapons.

The premiers had asked the government to create a “reverse onus” system for some offences. That would require defendants to show the court why they should be released on bail, rather than requiring the prosecution to show why an individual should not be released.

They were optimistic the federal government would do just that following meetings in March with Lametti and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

Bronwyn Eyre, Saskatchewan’s justice minister, said at the time there was a constructive attitude at the meetings and ministers from most provinces indicated they felt their proposals were well accepted by the federal government.

Lametti did not say at the time whether more “reverse onus” provisions would be introduced, but after what he called good and productive meetings with his provincial and territorial counterparts, he said there was “broad consensus on a path forward.”

Pressed by the Conservatives during question period in the House of Commons on Monday, Lametti said he had been working on the issue with stakeholders since October and reforms would be “coming soon.”

“We have heard the call with respect to repeat violent offenders, we’ve heard the call with respect to offences with weapons,” he said. “We’ve promised to act. It’s a complicated problem, but we’re doing it together with the provinces and territories.”

Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees anyone charged with a crime “not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause.”

Lametti has said he is aware of warnings from experts — many of whom argue that too many people are already being held behind bars awaiting trial — to avoid knee-jerk reactions to high-profile tragedies.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, said a key focus of meetings last month with the association representing Canada’s chiefs of police was on reforms to protect communities by keeping repeat violent offenders in custody.

That was the most recent in a string of calls for action after several high-profile crimes, including the shooting death of an Ontario Provincial Police officer in February, which police say was committed by a man who had been released on bail.

The federal Conservatives have also put pressure on the Liberals to make bail more restrictive, and a parliamentary committee has studied the issue.

Danny Smith, the Winnipeg police chief and president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said he was encouraged to see the federal government may act before the summer.

“It would demonstrate an understanding of the urgency for legislative change,” he said in a written statement.

“It would also be a recognition that our proposed amendments are not calling for a complete overhaul of Canada’s bail system, but rather changes that specifically deal with the violent and repeat offenders who pose the greatest threat to public and officer safety.”

—David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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