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Commentary: Bail reform a matter of public safety

How to strike a new balance between the rights of accused persons and the need to keep the public safe

Recent violence committed by persons out on judicial release, including attacks on police officers in several jurisdictions, has lead to widespread and impassioned calls for reform of Canada’s bail system.

Federal government officials have been meeting with their provincial counterparts in recent months to try and strike a new balance between the rights of accused persons and the need to keep the public safe.

In response at least in part to the public outcry for change, federal Justice Minister David Lametti has introduced Bill C-48, Criminal Code legislation he says will change the bail system for the better, and will include the need for some accused persons to prove to the courts why they should be released on bail.

If passed through Parliament, the new law will create a so-called reverse onus provision for any person charged with a serious offence involving violence and the use of a weapon who has been convicted within the past five years of a serious offence involving violence and the use of a firearm or other weapon.

It will also add certain firearm offences to the existing reverse onus provisions, expand the reverse onus provision for offences involving intimate partner violence, require the court to consider if an accused person has any previous convictions involving violence, and to include in the record a statement that the safety and security of the community was considered.

The criminal justice system in Canada, including the bail system, is a shared responsibility between the federal, provincial and territorial governments. 

As such, residents have the right to expect the bail system will ensure all citizens are protected from persons accused of violent crimes and/or who pose significant threats to public security.

At the same time, qualified accused persons should and must be given a chance for judicial release pending the outcome of their respective cases.

Only time will tell, of course, whether this proposed federal legislation will strike the new balance the justice system so desperately needs.

Dan Singleton is an editor with the Albertan.

Dan Singleton

About the Author: Dan Singleton

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