This bill will save lives. Why are the Liberals against it?
Bill S-217 will ensure that a court hears an accused person's criminal history before granting bail
Constable David Wynn died on duty, but it didn't have to be that way.
It happened in January 2015, when Wynn and Auxiliary Constable Derek Bond were at a casino in St. Albert, Alta., confronting a suspect about a stolen vehicle. The suspect, Shawn Rehn, shot both officers and fled the scene, later committing suicide. Bond survived his injuries; Wynn did not.
Rehn never should have been at the casino that night, much less out on the streets. Months earlier, he was released on bail despite facing 29 outstanding Criminal Code charges. Rehn was a poster boy for the "revolving door" criminal, with a record spanning 20 years and 206 charges. Yet the court consented to his release on a cash bail and a number of conditions, which he subsequently broke. We know how that ended: with a widow, three children without a father and a family changed forever.
Risk assessment 101
The problem was that the court never heard Rehn's criminal history during his bail hearing — an oversight that makes entirely no sense. Indeed, risk assessment 101 dictates that past negative behaviour is the best predictor of similar future behaviour. But courts can't make proper assessments unless they actually hear about a bail applicant's past criminal activity.
That's where Bill S-217 comes in. Proposed by Conservative Senator Bob Runciman, the bill proposes a simple amendment to the Criminal Code that would change the word "may" to "shall." That move would require the prosecutor or police representing the Crown to put an accused's criminal record, recent charges and/or "breach of trust" offences before the court. The judge still maintains absolute independence, and the decision to release or detain remains his or hers alone.
Yet for some unconscionable reason, the Liberals seem determined to kill the bill.
In June of 2016, I testified before the Senate in support of the legislation, the same day as Constable Wynn's widow, Shelley MacInnis-Wynn. Her presentation was thoughtful, heartfelt and emotional. Her courage was inspiring. The bill received majority, non-partisan passage in the Senate and is now before the House of Commons.
The Liberals have made it clear they will not support the bill. During second reading, Liberal MP Sean Casey, parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, launched into a monologue, describing the bill's supposed problems, including possible court delays, resource issues and even constitutional concerns.
But court delays, if they occur, would be measured in minutes, maybe hours — not days or months. A criminal record is a computer keystroke or phone call away.
As for resource issues, every police station and all courthouses have access to electronic police records. Extra equipment is not required.
And what about those constitutional concerns? Well, this bill does not compromise judicial independence. Criminal records are already documented, recorded and accessible. This bill just ensures they will be presented to the court before a person is put back on the streets.
During debate, Alberta Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who introduced the bill in the House, pithily noted the legislation was a "no-brainer." My straw poll of a handful of ordinary Canadians provided a similar response. The only people who don't seem to get it are those in the Liberal government.
So why kill the bill? Is it philosophical? Is public safety not a priority? Could it be partisan politics? Who knows.
For many Canadians, criminal justice reform is more than legalizing cannabis and the desire to undo much of the tough-on-crime agenda of the Harper government. It's about common-sense changes that keep everyone safe. But if the Liberals can't act in a non-partisan manner on such a simple amendment, I see red flags ahead for important future public safety reform — on issues that need attention such as lax sentencing of sex offenders, parole shortcomings, expanding the DNA databank and improvement of high-risk offender release orders.
Had Bill S-217 been in place when Rehn came before the court, there is a good possibility Constable Wynn would still be alive today. And maybe, so too would Rehn.
Second reading of the bill is not yet completed, but without Liberal support, it cannot proceed. Bill S-217 will save lives. The government should do the right thing, and see to its passage.