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Bail system in Canada: Provinces welcome reform promise

Some state justice ministers say the federal government’s commitment this week to change parts of the Criminal Code “brings back into balance” some of the “unintended consequences” of the 2019 bail reform.

On Friday, after a long-awaited meeting with his provincial counterparts, federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti committed to “targeted reforms” to the Criminal Code and Canada’s bail system.

“We have a broad consensus on a path forward based on common principles and clear goals,” Lamety said Friday. “That starts with a commitment from our government, the federal government, to move quickly on targeted reforms to the Criminal Code.”

But Lametti would not say whether he promised the provinces that the reforms would include reverse duties at bail hearings for certain firearms charges, as the premiers have called for. The reverse duty would mean that those seeking bail would have to show why they should be released, as opposed to the Crown having to show why they should be detained.

“I can’t come out in front of my parliamentary colleagues, and I can’t come out in front of my cabinet colleagues,” Lametti said when pressed on whether the reforms would include reverse duty.

Meanwhile, the attorneys general of Manitoba and British Columbia told CTV’s Question Period host Vasi Kapelos in an interview that aired Sunday, making it harder for some repeat offenders to get bail, which is needed to address the “increase in random attacks and violence” in Canada.

“What came out of the meetings was a clear commitment to legislative changes to the Criminal Code that would add tougher provisions for repeat offenders and certain firearms offences,” said BC Attorney General Nikki Sharma. “So we know that with those changes, people who commit those crimes have a responsibility to stay in custody unless there’s a good reason to release them.”

Critics of reverse onus say it removes the right to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but Sharma said in this case, and in circumstances where provinces seek it, the goal is not to change the fundamentals of the justice system.

“Everything is balanced when it comes to bail,” said Manitoba Justice Minister and Attorney General Kelvin Goertzen, adding that bail hearings take into account many factors, such as whether a person will appear in court and whether they pose a risk. to public safety.

“We’re talking about the balance we need to have in our justice systems to protect the most vulnerable, making sure that if it’s a repeat violent offender who’s harming communities, we have more tools in the toolbox to make sure our communities. are safe,” said Sharma.

The federal government enacted other bail reforms in 2019 to address overcrowding in Canada’s prisons, as well as the overrepresentation of minorities in those prisons.

But Goertzen said the “targeted reforms” the states discussed with Lametti this week are unlikely to reverse the positive effects of those 2019 changes.

“We’re not talking about everyone charged with a violent crime, we’re talking about repeat offenders, which is a narrower range,” he also said. “So I understand the concerns, but we still ultimately have a responsibility as justice ministers to ensure that people are safe in the community.”

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