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Federal Government Willing to Consider Tougher Bail Rules Pushed by Provinces

February 16, 2023 4:50 PM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Kelvin Goertzen

Kelvin Goertzen speaks to the media at the Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Sept.1, 2021. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski)

WINNIPEG — Plans are in the works for a meeting of Canada’s justice ministers on March 10 in Ottawa to discuss tougher rules for people seeking bail.

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said the date was contained in an email Thursday from the office of federal Justice Minister David Lametti.

The premiers have called on the federal government to establish a “reverse onus” system for specific firearm offences that would require the person seeking bail to demonstrate why they should not remain behind bars.

Lametti said earlier this month he would give the idea serious consideration and that it would be discussed at a meeting with provincial and territorial ministers.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan want bail reform to go further.

They want people who commit violent offences with knives and modified bear spray to also face more stringent conditions when they apply for bail.

“Those are specific concerns that are happening in Winnipeg and Manitoba, where we’re seeing significant violent offences with edged weapons and modified bear spray,” Goertzen said Thursday.

Critics have been pushing the federal government to change a law it passed in 2019 that updated bail provisions in the Criminal Code.

Known as Bill C-75, it codified a “principle of restraint” that was affirmed in a 2017 Supreme Court of Canada case that emphasized the release of detainees at the earliest reasonable opportunity and on the least onerous conditions, based on the circumstances of each case.

Police were also granted more power to place conditions on accused individuals to streamline the bail process and reduce the number of needed court appearances.

Goertzen said the law has made it far too easy for people to get bail.

“Our prosecutors are saying it’s almost impossible to speak against and argue against bail.”

Lametti reiterated Thursday his willingness to look at tighter rules.

“Work is already underway to develop legislative and non-legislative options to address the particular challenges of repeat violent offenders,” Lametti’s office wrote in a prepared statement.

“The minister is looking at the suggestions provided by premiers closely, including the possibility of establishing a reverse onus for additional offences.”

Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Thomas Carrique told a Commons committee Wednesday that bail changes are needed to prevent violence.

He pointed to the death of Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala, who was fatally shot in December as he responded to a call for a vehicle in a ditch west of Hagersville, Ont.

Two people have been charged with first-degree murder.

Court documents show one of them, Randall McKenzie, had been denied bail in an unrelated case involving several assault and weapons charges months before the shooting but was released after a review.

A warrant was issued for his arrest when he failed to show up for a court date in August.

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