Edmonton·CBC Investigates

Police could have arrested man on bail breaches days before Edmonton's Chinatown killings, experts say

Justin Bone, accused of murder in the fatal beatings of two men in Edmonton’s Chinatown last month, should have been detained by police and RCMP for repeated breaches of his bail release conditions, legal experts say. 

Justin Bone, accused in 2 homicides, was out of remand on strict bail conditions

Days before Hung Trang and Ban Phuc Hoang were fatally beaten in Edmonton’s Chinatown, Justin Bone – now accused in both homicides – was dropped off in the city by RCMP officers. Bail breaches should have landed Bone back in custody before the killings, experts say. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Editor's note:

On June 16, the Edmonton Police Service issued a correction to a statement it had provided to CBC News on June 9 concerning Justin Bone.

In the June 9 statement, EPS said its officers "interacted with Mr. Bone" on May 15 and that he "was advised to abide by the balance of his ordered conditions, and to discuss any changes with his probation officer."

On June 16, EPS corrected its earlier statement and said Edmonton police received a call from a complainant about Bone, and evaluated the situation based on information provided by RCMP, but "did not interact with Mr. Bone."

At a meeting of the Edmonton Police Commission on June 16, police Chief Dale McFee addressed the correction and said EPS is examining how it made the communications error.

Edmonton city police and RCMP failed in their duties by not apprehending Justin Bone in the days before two men were beaten to death in Chinatown, legal experts say.

Bone, 36, was released from the Edmonton Remand Centre in late April after being charged in a break-and-enter.

Granted bail on a series of strict conditions, he was ordered to attend an addictions treatment program in Edmonton or stay with a family friend at a home in Alberta Beach, 70 kilometres northwest of the city.

A CBC News investigation revealed last week that on May 15, Mounties picked up Bone from Alberta Beach after he allegedly threatened the friend over a demand for money.

The family friend told RCMP Bone was no longer welcome to stay with him.

Officers then drove Bone into west Edmonton, where they dropped him off unsupervised, in contravention of a bail condition barring him from being in the city alone.

Three days later, on May 18, Bone was arrested near the scene of two fatal beatings in Chinatown. He is charged with second-degree murder in the deaths of Hung Trang, 64, and Ban Phuc Hoang, 61.

The case raises questions about how closely people released on bail are monitored, how often RCMP officers drop offenders on Edmonton streets — and about why RCMP and the Edmonton Police Service deviated from the standard legal practice for handling a bail breach.

There was a threshold to lay charges, but they didn't.- Richard Mirasty

Experts say police overlooked multiple breaches of Bone's bail conditions, any one of which should have landed him back behind bars.

"They should have applied the law in this case and arrested him," said Richard Mirasty, a Cree defence lawyer based in Edmonton.

Bone could have been detained for allegedly uttering threats or becoming intoxicated, failing to keep the peace, or for the loss of his court-ordered housing arrangement, Mirasty said.

By bringing him into the city, RCMP officers facilitated an additional breach of Bone's court orders, Mirasty said.

"There was a threshold to lay charges, but they didn't," he said. "They just got rid of the problem and placed it elsewhere."

The RCMP is now conducting a review that will examine officers' decisions, current policies, gaps in support systems and how the force co-ordinates with other agencies.

In a statement to CBC News on Tuesday, Alberta RCMP said there are procedures to guide the transport of offenders but Bone was not deemed to have committed an offence. 

"Our officers concluded that they did not have grounds to make an arrest and sought support services. This will form part of our review and investigation," RCMP said the emailed statement.

"Responding officers have discretion when it comes to laying of charges. A variety of laws, legislation and support services available guide officers in making those discretionary decisions."

Justin Bone, 36, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the May 18 killings. In late April, he had been released on bail under strict conditions. (Justin Bone/Facebook)

In cases where services are deemed necessary, officers are often constrained by access and availability, RCMP said.

"Often when policing in rural environments those services are not in close proximity. This is a very real challenge of rural policing in Alberta and often responding officers must look outside of their immediate area for support services." 

Alleged threats

RCMP first got involved after Bone allegedly threatened the family friend he was ordered to live with while out on bail.

RCMP said officers determined that the May 15 incident in Alberta Beach did not meet the threshold for charges. They then decided the "best course of action" was to take Bone into west Edmonton with the expectation that he would access services in the area, RCMP said.

Edmonton police said they spoke to Bone the same day he was dropped off in the city but did not detain him. In a statement, EPS said officers could not detain Bone because he hadn't committed a crime.

He was "advised to abide by the balance of his ordered conditions" and to discuss any changes with his probation officer, Edmonton police said in a statement.

RCMP could have detained Bone, said Ritesh Narayan, a criminologist with Mount Royal University. Edmonton police also had the power to make an arrest, he said.

"Edmonton police were saying that no offence was committed. Well, there was," Narayan said. 

"The fact that this individual was in Edmonton, that's a breach. That's a separate criminal offence right there, so there was plenty to detain the individual and take him into custody." 

Narayan said the case highlights a concerning lack of co-ordination within the justice system. 

Both policing forces should have ensured Bone was provided immediate intervention, he said.

He said officers need improved training and improved resources to help offenders in crisis — and bail conditions need to take into account the complex needs of each offender.

"This was just another example as to how out of sync our criminal justice system is," he said.

Hung Trang, 64, was found fatally injured inside the Chinatown autobody shop where had worked for more than 30 years. (Submitted by Christina Trang)

The Criminal Code sets out that disobeying a court order is an indictable offence and that a conviction can result in a sentence of just under two years. 

Typically, offenders found breaking bail conditions will be arrested and criminally charged with failing to comply, or a breach of bail conditions.

If arrested, they will be held in custody for another bail hearing. At that hearing, they will have to show the court why they should be released while the case is before the courts.

Police also have the power to issue an arrest warrant if they have reasonable grounds to believe a person out on bail did not follow conditions.

The offender can also be arrested and detained if their surety — the person who promises to supervise an accused while they are out on bail — has decided they no longer want to act in that role.

Bone was no longer welcome in the home of the family friend who had agreed to supervise him. The Alberta Beach homeowner said Bone was intoxicated, aggressive and volatile — and, he believed, a threat to public safety.

Mirasty said officers are given some discretion over whether charges are warranted for bail breaches. But routinely, people are detained "on a single breach," he said.

Mirasty said he empathizes with the complex challenges facing police but said the officers interacting with Bone appear to have missed the warning signs.

"It's a difficult job, but they need to be discerning about situations like this where there's clear information that this guy is on the edge."

Sometimes the easiest way to deal with people, sadly, is to make them disappear.- Ritesh Narayan

Mirasty said Bone's transfer mimics the practice of starlight tours, a widely condemned police practice, which came to light in Saskatchewan years ago, in which officers picked up Indigenous people and dropped them off in remote rural areas,

RCMP executed "a reverse starlight tour" with Bone, Mirasty said. Narayan agreed.

"Sometimes the easiest way to deal with people, sadly, is to make them disappear," he said. 

Community advocates — and Edmonton's mayor — have decried the actions of law enforcement in the case and suggested the practice of drop off is common in Edmonton's inner city.

On Friday, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said offenders are too often released into the city with nowhere to go — and no plan to monitor them.

"This situation was not a one-off, or a mistake," Sohi said. "People are being dropped off into our community next to social services without any plan or accountability."

Sohi said Bone "was instructed to attend a treatment facility in Edmonton that was already full and not accepting new patients."

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has disputed that claim. In a statement Monday, Shandro said Sohi "incorrectly claimed" that Bone was released from remand without a plan for treatment, housing and addiction services.

Shandro said Bone was released from the remand centre on April 29 and that "an alternative addiction treatment facility without a wait-list was made available."

The ministry would not reveal which facility it was, citing privacy concerns. The province has not responded to questions about whether Bone was admitted to the alternate rehab placement.

Ban Phuc Hoang, 61, was fatally beaten on May 18 inside his store in Edmonton's Chinatown district. (Submitted by Hoang family)

Shandro said he has instructed his deputy minister to monitor RCMP and EPS reviews of the case and then recommend next steps.

In a statement to CBC, the Edmonton Police Commission said it will work with EPS to examine the case.

"We will assess options for moving forward but it is still too soon to know what process will produce the most meaningful results," commission chair John McDougall said.

A 'systemic issue'

Saskatoon lawyer Donald Worme, who helped bring several high-profile starlight ride cases to light in Saskatchewan years ago, said he is dismayed by the actions of officers in the case.

He described Bone's loss of his court-approved housing as the first in a series of red flags that should have resulted in the offender being detained and his bail conditions reassessed. 

The actions of officers undermined the power of the courts, and public safety, Worme said. 

"Is it the individual or is this a systemic issue? I would suggest it's a systemic issue because it keeps happening."

He said many officers lack the necessary training or resources to deal with the complex needs of people released on bail and often become frustrated with repeat offenders, an attitude that encourages officers to take "legal shortcuts."

"I find it astonishing that history continues to almost repeat itself and the loser in all of this is the community," he said.  "It's simply unacceptable."


Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.