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Justice minister open to amending bail laws, OPP commissioner says change ‘needed now’

Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti says he is open to amending bail laws, which have come under increased scrutiny following the shooting death of an Ontario Provincial Police officer in December.

“We’ll look at Criminal Code amendments to the bail regime,” Lametti told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday. “The provinces have asked us to do it, the justice ministers have asked us to do it, and we have been doing that work.”

OPP Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala was killed on Dec. 27 while responding to a report of a vehicle stuck in a ditch. The suspected shooter was already wanted by police for missing an August court date while out on bail for charges that included assaulting another officer and illegally possessing a handgun.

The case has led to strong criticism from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who has called on the government to “reverse its catch-and-release bail policy.” In January, premiers from all 13 provinces also signed a letter urging the federal Liberals to take “immediate action” to reform the country’s bail system. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded that his government is looking “carefully” and “quickly” at the matter, while Lametti recently accused Conservative lawmakers of “using tragedies to try to score political points” on a complicated issue.

“But it also underlines that it’s not simply federal Criminal Code amendments, it’s provincial administration,” Lametti said of the case. “He had breached his bail conditions and he was supposed to have been arrested and he wasn’t.”

Critics point to Criminal Code changes the Liberals introduced with Bill C-75, which became law in 2019 and was designed in part to “modernize and streamline” bail procedures.

“I would point out though, too, with respect to Bill C-75, that on the one hand it incorporated a number of Supreme Court of Canada decisions,” Lametti said of the legislation. “Remember too, and this is important, we strengthened the bail regime with respect to intimate partner violence: we made it more difficult to get bail for people who had a record of intimate partner violence.”

B.C.’s former attorney general sounded an alarm in October, claiming that an “unintended consequence” of Bill C-75 was that more repeat offenders were ending up on the streets.

“Bail is the rule; remand and custody is the exception,” Murray Rankin said of the changes caused by Bill C-75. “It’s very hard, unless there are public safety issues, for our Crown counsel to put people away when there’s a good reason to believe they should be in custody to protect the community.”

OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique has also been critical of the country’s bail rules.

“There needs to be changes made to legislation, there needs to be changes made to policy, and we need to see decisions being made that put the proper weight on public safety,” Carrique told CTV’s Question Period. “I think we’ve got the momentum that is necessary to bring about responsible and meaningful change that will truly have a positive impact on public safety.”

In the interview, airing Sunday, Carrique proposed several concrete amendments.

“The changes should include more weight being given when an offender is a repeat violent offender with a pattern of non-compliance for interim release conditions, and has shown a propensity towards using firearms and violent offences,” Carrique said. “We as police chiefs, right across this country, are asking for a narrow, very narrow scope that deals with the most dangerous of offenders and will ensure the safety and security of police officers and citizens alike.”

According to data from Statistics Canada, the country saw a five per cent increase in violent crime in 2021, which was largely driven by an 18 per cent rise in sexual assault. Homicides were also up in 2021 to 788, which is 29 more than the previous year.

“Change is needed now; meaningful, responsible change is needed now,” Carrique said. “This can’t go on. We need leadership. We need meaningful change, and we need to take responsibility for our communities.”

Justice Minister Lametti now says the government will work “in good faith” to fix “what we feel we can fix.”

“Canadians have a Charter right to bail,” Lametti said. “It’s a pre-Charter right. It’s a longstanding common law right, because you’re innocent until proven guilty.”

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