OPINION: Canada's bail system is broken

More than half of the people in provincial and territorial jails are there on remand — meaning they are awaiting trial, and are still legally innocent. Daniel Brown says this is a sign that the bail system in Canada is broken. The criminal defence lawyer joins The 180 to explain.
Daniel Brown is a criminal lawyer in Toronto. (CBC)

More than half the people in Canada's provincial and territorial jails are legally, considered innocent. They're there on remand — meaning they are awaiting trial.

Criminal defence lawyer Daniel Brown says that statistic is just one example of what is wrong with the bail system — a system he says is ruining lives. Brown says small changes could improve the lives of many people, and make our justice system more efficient.

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length. 

What is wrong with our bail system?

It's just not working properly. It's not working efficiently. A lot of people are in jail that just shouldn't be.

How do you go about getting bail, and how are the conditions set?

Sometimes there's a negotiation that takes place before a judge gets involved. A crown attorney and the defence lawyer may sit down and say "this is a reasonable bail plan, I have someone here who's willing to pledge a particular amount of money and offer a particular type of supervision. And if we agree, then we can present this to a judge without having a hearing." What often happens though is the conditions that are imposed are extremely onerous. But an accused person might be inclined to accept them, because they want to make sure they get released that day. If they wait for a bail hearing, that hearing might get delayed for hours or days.

So what's wrong with that process?

Sometimes when a person agrees to these really onerous bail conditions, it kind of sets them up for failure. They may agree to conditions that they're not allowed to see their family or children. These don't just last for days or weeks, it could be months or years that these bail condition attach to a person. And in fact, one of the most common reasons to get re-incarcerated is because someone has violated their bail conditions. Of all of those people, that sixty percent of innocent people waiting in jail, waiting for their trials to be heard, they're there mostly for non-violent offences, and the most common one is simply not complying with one of those onerous bail terms. We really don't want to set someone up to end up back into the prison population because they've agreed to something they really can't abide by.

Click the blue "play" button above to hear the full interview. 


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