Canada’s 13 Provincial and Territorial Premiers Call for Bail Reform

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial premiers demanded bail reform. More specifically, the reform entails a “reverse onus” to apply to individuals accused of a crime involving a loaded prohibited or restricted weapon. This means that a defendant would need to prove why they shouldn’t be held in custody pending a trial, which is not ordinarily the case. This typically involves showing that they have ties to the community, will appear in court when required, and are not a danger to the public.

This call for reform came after Randall McKenzie and Brandi Crystal Lyn Stewart-Perry allegedly murdered OPP Const. Greg Pierzchala only a few months after being released on bail. 

The Parole Board considered McKenzie a relatively high risk to re-offend due to his track record. 

“In December 2021, while on parole for a 2017 armed robbery, McKenzie had been denied bail while facing weapons and assault charges, including against a peace officer. He had stabbed another inmate in prison.

“You have previously assaulted girlfriends. You failed to complete rehabilitative programs ordered by the court and had inconsistent reporting habits on probation,” the board’s decision read.”

Selley, Chris. “Chris Selley: Speedier justice is the bail reform Canada really needs” National Post, January 21, 2023

Chris Selley argues that the solution lies in speedier justice.

What is a ‘speedy trial’ exactly?

Photo credit Towfiqu barbhuiya

In Canada, the right to a “speedy trial” is protected under section 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This means that an accused person has the right to be tried within a reasonable time after being charged with an offense. The purpose of this right is to ensure that the accused person is not subjected to prolonged pre-trial detention and that their case is dealt with in a timely and efficient manner.

Factors that are considered when determining if a trial is taking place in a timely manner include:

  • The complexity of the case
  • Actions of the accused person
  • Actions of the prosecution
  • Availability of witnesses and evidence
  • The overall efficiency of the court system

If an accused person feels that their right to a speedy trial is being violated, they can raise this issue with the court. If the court finds that the accused person’s right to a speedy trial has been violated, it may take steps to remedy the situation, such as ordering a stay of proceedings (dismissing the charges).

The Ethics of Pre-Trial Detention

The proposed reform seeks to hold those accused of violent crimes in custody to protect the public. Holding an individual in custody, while presumed innocent, for a year or more doesn’t sit easily with some. These individuals would have less access to educational and vocational programs than convicts. 

Being held on remand can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. They may lose their job, housing, and other opportunities while they are in custody. Additionally, being held in a correctional facility can be a traumatic experience, and it can negatively impact an individual’s mental and physical health. Furthermore, it may impact the individual’s ability to effectively defend themselves in court. There is also a concern that pre-trial detention could be used as a means of exerting pressure on an individual to plead guilty, or to cooperate with law enforcement in other ways.