As Conservatives push government on bail reform, Lametti warns there are no easy fixes
Conservatives presented a motion in the House of Commons to toughen bail conditions
Justice Minister David Lametti says the government is considering legislative changes to deal with repeat, violent offenders — but he insists there are no easy solutions as the Conservatives push the federal government to toughen bail conditions in certain cases.
Lametti announced in the House of Commons on Thursday that he'll be reaching out to his provincial and territorial counterparts to convene an "urgent" meeting on bail.
"We will be acting at the federal level," he said. "I hope my provincial counterparts will do the same."
The meeting comes less than a month after the 13 premiers wrote to the prime minister calling for a change that would make bail harder to obtain for those facing charges related to possession of a loaded, prohibited or restricted firearm.
The premiers specifically call for the creation of a "reverse onus" for those charged under Section 95 of the Criminal Code, which includes offences for being in possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm.
"I am giving this serious consideration and the work is well underway," said Lametti, adding that work is also being done to "develop legislative and non-legislative options to address the particular challenges of repeat, violent offenders."
WATCH | Conservative MP calls Canada's bail system 'too weak'
The country's bail system is under heightened scrutiny following the death of an OPP officer late last year.
Randall McKenzie, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala on Dec. 27, was out on bail and under a lifetime order banning him from owning a firearm. Pierzchala was killed west of Hagersville, Ont.
Conservative MPs used their opposition day motion Thursday to press the Liberals to toughen the country's bail system and demand the government reform the justice system through Bill C-75. Passed into law back in 2019, that bill aimed to modernize the bail system and reduce the overrepresentation of racialized people in prison.
"They went too far and they made the bail system too weak and now police officers are dying," said Raquel Dancho, the Conservatives' public safety critic, during a news conference on Thursday morning.
The Conservatives are also demanding the government aim existing laws "so that those who are prohibited from possessing firearms and who are then accused of serious firearms offences do not easily get bail."
"Bill C-75 brought in, in essence, a default position that courts and police would facilitate bail," said Dancho.
"That's the default position now for violent criminals and we don't believe that's the way it should be. When it comes to repeat violent offenders, it should be more difficult for them to get bail."
Lametti pushed back on the claim that Bill C-75 created a too-lenient bail system in Canada.
"I'm disappointed that the Official Opposition is using tragedies to try to score political points," he said.
"Canadians know that these are serious and complicated issues and that there are no quick or easy solutions."
Bail policy under scrutiny
Earlier this year, Canadian Police Association president Tom Stamatakis called for reforms to address serial offenders.
"We recognize that the majority of offenders don't re-offend," he said. "There are a small number of prolific and violent offenders who continue to present a danger to society when released, and we need to find common-sense reforms that will address those cases."
Critics argue stricter rules on bail would jam up Canada's prison systems with people who have not yet been found guilty, and could violate Canadians' rights.
WATCH | Justice minister calls for urgent meeting on bail with provincial and territorial counterparts
A person accused of a crime is presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. Granting them bail means they can remain out of jail, often with conditions, while their case moves through the justice system — a process that can take many months.
Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, accused people in Canada have the right to bail unless there is a very compelling reason to keep them in custody.
It's up to police and prosecutors to make the case against granting bail, although certain offences like murder have a "reverse onus," meaning the accused has to convince the court to release them.
Katharina Maier, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, said bail reform is just one facet of a complex problem.
"I don't think that reforming the bail system, which is one aspect of a very large and complex criminal justice system, would lead to an effective and long-lasting response to this very important and complex issue," she said.
"It also demands we look beyond the criminal justice system, at the range of factors that research shows can drive violent crime. This includes issues such as poverty, addiction, marginalization. So focusing on one aspect of the criminal justice system will not very likely lead to the desired results."
WATCH | MPs discuss bail reform
In the House of Commons Thursday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre argued his party's motion would target the "most violent, dangerous offenders."
"We do not believe that someone who is suffering from a drug addiction should go to prison, we believe they should go to treatment, something that is not happening today. We believe those who prey upon drug addicts should pay the real penalties and not the addicts themselves," he said.
Both the NDP and Bloc Quebecois said Thursday they would not support the Conservatives' motion, although their MPs agreed recent examples of violence are alarming.
Canada has seen an increase in violent crime, according to Statistics Canada's latest figures. The federal agency tracks what it calls a violent crime severity index, which takes into account both the volume and the seriousness of violent crime.
The index rose in 2021, largely due to more police-reported sexual assaults, sexual violations against children, homicide, extortion, harassing and threatening behaviours, and violent firearm violations, said Statistics Canada.
With files from Laura McQuillan and the Canadian Press