Judges granted bail in more than half the cases involving violent crime where Crown prosecutors had recommended detention, according to preliminary data released Monday by the B.C. Prosecution Service.
The data, collected from bail hearings over seven weeks in late 2022 and early 2023, shows the Crown opposed bail in roughly half of the bail hearings they conducted for crimes of violence with an accused who was already on bail on other outstanding matters.
But judges ordered detention in only one-quarter of all bail hearings involving crimes of violence with an accused who was out on bail on other matters, says a statement from the prosecution service.
In November, in response to reports of random, repeat violent offences, the Attorney General’s Ministry issued a directive requiring Crown prosecutors to seek the detention of an accused in cases where public safety was deemed to be at risk. The prosecution service implemented a revised bail policy on Nov. 22.
It’s too early to tell if the directive and the policy changes are having “a measurable impact on the bail process or the outcomes of bail hearings,” says the statement, adding: “It would be unreasonable to assume that a [B.C. Prosecution Service] policy change alone could produce any particular outcome at a bail hearing.”
Dan McLaughlin, communications counsel for the prosecution service, said the data was collected to provide some preliminary insights into how Crown prosecutors were handling bail matters in the period immediately before and after the implementation of the revised bail policy. A number of media had requested the information and it is being released at the same time as a freedom of information request, he said.
Bail provisions under the Criminal Code are the responsibility of the federal Department of Justice. In June 2019, Bill C-75 updated the bail provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code for the first time since 1972. The bill directed police and judges to follow a “principle of restraint,” releasing accused people at the earliest opportunity and on the least onerous conditions.
On Monday, the prosecution service emphasized that changes to the provincial bail policy do not change the governing federal law. Judges must apply the federal law in their decisions and are not bound by the B.C. Prosecution Service bail policy, it said. Crown prosecutors are also bound by the governing federal law under the Criminal Code and do not have the legal authority to release or detain an accused person.
B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma said in a statement that late last year she directed the B.C. Prosecution Service to do “everything possible” under federal law to address the risk of repeat violent offending in B.C., which she said has led to the strictest bail policy of any province in Canada.
“We’ve always been clear that bail law reform is needed at the federal level, to fix this national issue. As a result of our advocacy, we recently secured a clear commitment from Ottawa to implement targeted reforms to the Criminal Code, as early as this spring,” said Sharma, who shared the prosecution preliminary data with federal counterparts to further reiterate the need for urgent federal changes.
“[We] will continue to push for the changes we need to hold people who commit repeat, violent offences to account.”
A spokeswoman for federal Attorney General David Lametti said he looks forward to studying the information from the B.C. Prosecution Service.
“Minister Lametti is moving forward expeditiously on targeted reforms to the Criminal Code on the law of bail. He is at the table and is doing everything he can within his jurisdiction to keep Canadians safe,” said Diana Ebadi,
Canada’s premiers and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police met virtually on Friday to talk about countrywide concerns over recent crime and violence.
B.C. Premier David Eby said after the meeting the federal government needs to act on its promise to amend bail laws to address the national risk to public safety that is showing up in every province and territory.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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