Justice Minister tables legislation to reform bail system

  • May 16, 2023

From The Globe and Mail

Justice Minister David Lametti introduced new legislation Tuesday morning to reform Canada’s bail system, after months of calls for tougher laws from premiers, police and opposition.

Lametti’s update to the law aims to deal with repeat violent offenders and offences involving firearms and other dangerous weapons.

The bill’s text says the proposed changes will create new reverse-onus bail conditions for people charged with serious violent offences involving a weapon who were convicted in the last five years of a similar offence.

It will also add certain firearms offences to existing reverse-onus provisions, and expand them for offences involving intimate partner violence.

While the burden of proof usually rests on prosecutors to convince judges why offenders should stay behind bars, this means that in some cases, the offender will be the one who has to prove in court why they should be released on bail.

Lametti was scheduled to hold a news conference later in the day with cabinet colleagues, including Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett, to explain the changes.

The proposed changes to the Criminal Code come amid pressure from the provinces and territories to reduce the number of repeat violent offenders who are granted bail. Premiers had unanimously asked the government to expand the reverse-onus provisions.

High-profile cases have recently brought attention to the issue, including the stabbing deaths of a woman and her daughter in Edmonton earlier this month.

The accused killer, whom police did not name but who has been identified in media reports, had reportedly been released on bail for a different crime less than three weeks earlier. The charge in that separate case was reportedly stayed a few days before the stabbings, and the man died in hospital last week.

The federal Conservatives say that’s the result of what they call a “catch-and-release” system, and they have been demanding that the Liberal government come up with stronger laws.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that anyone who is charged with a crime will not be denied reasonable bail without just cause.

Lametti said he would bring in targeted reforms that respect that right.