More than half of the suspects arrested last month in a major Ottawa police operation aimed at getting guns off the city's streets have been released on bail.
The arrests in December followed a six-month sting operation dubbed Project Sabotage. It targeted Ottawa's illicit weapons trade as part of a larger police strategy to reverse the growing trend of gun violence in the city.
'Most of them are back out in the community, plying their trade.' - Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau
"This is the best opportunity for us to start seizing some of the guns off the street," said Insp. Mark Patterson of the Ottawa police guns and gangs unit at the time of the arrests.
But on Tuesday Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning that few of those arrested in December remain behind bars.
"Most of them are back out on in the community, plying their trade," Bordeleau said.
The Ottawa Police Service wouldn't comment further on the issue Tuesday, but CBC News has confirmed nine of the 14 suspects arrested at the end of Project Sabotage have been granted bail, while others have bail hearings scheduled in the coming weeks.
Known to police
Among those released on bail were Dominik Montigiraud amd Nima Saberi of Ottawa, who are facing 24 and 23 firearms charges respectively.
The list of those released on bail includes individuals known to Ottawa police, such as Abdulaziz Al-Enzi and his brother Adel Al-Enzi, who was the victim of a shooting on Boxing Day 2014 at the Tanger Outlets mall.
Ozair Rehman, the brother of Mutiur Rehman, who pleaded guilty to the 2013 killing of Andre Boisclair, was also released.
So was Miles Kempffer-Hossack, who's facing 29 firearm possession charges in Ontario. Among the weapons Kempffer-Hossack is accused of having in his possession are semi-automatic handguns, 12-gauge shotguns, rifles, ammunition and a high-capacity magazine.
The Crown contested his release at a bail hearing on Jan. 11, but the judge ordered him released under strict conditions including house arrest.
In the end it didn't matter: Kempffer-Hossack was led from the Ottawa courthouse in handcuffs to face more weapons charges in Gatineau, and will remain in custody until his bail hearing there later this month.
Defence lawyers object
Several lawyers objected to Bordeleau's comments questioning the bail decisions.
Anne-Marie McElroy of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa said she was surprised by the chief's remarks, adding they reflect neither the presumption of innocence nor the right to reasonable bail.
Defence lawyer Lawrence Greenspon said judges presiding over a bail hearing take into account a number of factors including protection of the public and the seriousness of the charges.
They also must consider the likelihood that the accused will reoffend, as well as prior criminal records.
"If the judge determines after hearing from both the Crown and the defence that that person should be given bail, and the Crown hasn't proved the grounds to hold them, then they have to be released," Greenspon said.
New bail guidelines
The releases come as the Ontario government grapples with the question of how to reform the bail system to address the province's overburdened detention facilities, and in response to several recent Charter decisions.
Crown attorneys have been issued new guidelines for when to press for continuing custody, and when not to.
"I think the directives have gone out to the Crown attorneys across the province to have a closer look before they say they want a particular individual held in custody," Greenspon said.
"Is that translating into an easier release in the court? I don't think so. But certainly the intention is good."
Hello from Ottawa police headquarters, where police will be talking about the 6 months they spent going after guns and drugs and the people who use them. Codename: Project Sabotage. pic.twitter.com/MASBofcoVO— @amkfoote