Justice Minister David Lametti said he will discuss reforming Canada’s bail system when he meets with his provincial counterparts on Friday.
Earlier this year, premiers called on the federal government to establish a “reverse onus” system for firearms offenses that would require the person seeking bail to show why they should not stay behind bars.
Lametti told a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday that he was ready to make changes to the Criminal Code and that he had already discussed the issue with some provincial counterparts.
“Do we need to add a little more rigidity, if you will, to make it harder in some cases to get bail? We have to look at that,” he said in an interview after appearing before the House of Commons justice committee.
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But he says bail is a fundamental right and any law making it more difficult to access risks violating the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He said there is a “tipping point” where the Supreme Court would argue that bail is not accessible enough.
Lametti said there is a risk of introducing laws that restrict access to bail and that fall outside the parameters of the Charter, but changing bail conditions for armed repeat offenders is a step that could be taken without going against the Charter.
Lametti wouldn’t say when the Liberal government plans to act, but says it’s a priority.
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He said he expects the provinces to come up with their own suggestions on how to improve bail. Some conversations, notably with British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario, have already begun.
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While all provinces have endorsed the call for a “reverse onus” for gun crimes, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have already said they want people who commit crimes violent with knives and modified pepper spray also face harsher conditions when seeking bail.
Federal Conservatives have urged the government to strengthen access to bail for repeat offenders, particularly in cases involving firearms.
Tory MP Frank Caputo is pushing Lametti to back his private member’s bill, which would create tougher bail rules for repeat offenders.
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At committee, Lametti said he was committed to working with opposition MPs to improve the criminal justice system.
Federal Conservatives and other critics are also calling on the federal government to strike down a 2019 law that updated Criminal Code provisions.
It codified a “principle of restraint” that had been affirmed in a 2017 Supreme Court case emphasizing the release of detainees “as soon as possible” and “on the least onerous terms”, depending on the circumstances. of the case.
Police also gained more power to impose conditions on defendants to streamline the bail process and reduce the number of court appearances.
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It also required that judges take into account the situation of indigenous people or people from vulnerable populations.
The policy has been criticized as one that allows “catch and release” offenders.
Lametti told committee members that the law makes the criminal justice system more efficient and that it takes longer for its benefits to be fully felt.
“That’s not to say it can’t be improved and that’s why we’re here now, but fundamentally it’s a good bill and it has made it harder to get bail and n ‘changed any of the basic underlying premises for bail in the Supreme Court of Canada,’ he said.
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