The federal government has passed long-awaited reforms that will make it harder for some violent and repeat offenders to be released on bail.
Bill C-48 passed by unanimous consent in the House of Commons on the first day members of Parliament returned to Ottawa for the fall legislative session. The bill still needs to be passed in the Senate before receiving Royal assent.
The Liberals’ legislation includes a “reverse onus” for some repeat violent offenders that puts the onus on an accused person seeking bail to prove why they shouldn’t stay behind bars. This standard will exist for those accused of certain firearms offences, repeat offenders who use weapons and for those repeatedly accused of intimate partner violence.
Justices will also be required to keep public safety at the forefront of their decision-making and state on the record how they’ve considered public safety when making the bail order.
B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma told Postmedia News on Monday that she’s glad to see her federal counterpart, Arif Virani, and the federal government fulfil their promise to help keep repeat violent offenders off the street.
“The justice system needs better tools when it comes to repeat violent offenders,” Sharma said. “Our advocacy was that if somebody has committed repeated acts of violence and they are a threat to public safety, then the onus should be on holding them unless they can show there’s a reason for release.”
The reforms follow pressure from Canadian premiers, including B.C. Premier David Eby, for Ottawa to address the “unintended consequences” of Canada’s bail laws.
Bill C-75, passed in June 2019, updated the bail provisions in Canada’s Criminal Code and instructed police and judges to use a “principle of restraint” when it comes to setting bail conditions. The Supreme Court of Canada has also ruled that people accused of crimes be released with the least onerous bail conditions.
“It’s important to note that these are good changes but it only addresses certain types of crime,” said Elenore Sturko, the B.C. United party’s mental-health and addiction critic and a former RCMP officer. “Because it only targets a very narrow swath of violent crime that involve firearms or other weapons, there’s still a lot more to be done, particularly in British Columbia, to address a lot of other repeat offences.”
Sturko said while Eby’s government waited for the federal reforms to pass, it has done nothing to address the root causes of crime, which include addressing complex and overlapping mental-health and addictions crises.
B.C. United MLAs have spent the last year blaming Eby for overseeing a failed “catch-and-release” justice system following several high-profile random violent attacks in B.C. cities.
Last year, 13 urban mayors wrote Eby begging for action on prolific offenders, some of whom are released on bail despite dozens of violent offences.
Eby had said only the federal government had the power to reform the country’s bail system and in June expressed frustration that the promised changes didn’t pass in the House of Commons before the summer recess.