Published April 21, 2023

Canada's premiers, police chiefs re-up calls on Ottawa to reform bail

Premiers' calls for bail reform ramped up early this year after OPP Const. Greg Pierzchala, who was from Barrie, was killed while on duty in late December

By David Fraser in Ottawa

The association representing Canada's chiefs of police is calling for the extension of a federal guns and gangs strategy and urgent reforms to the country's bail system after a meeting with provincial and territorial premiers Friday. 

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, said a key focus of the meeting was on reforms to protect communities by keeping repeat violent offenders off of the streets. 

Justice Minister David Lametti committed to move forward quickly on "targeted reforms" to the Criminal Code that would update Canada's bail system after meeting with his counterparts from the provinces and territories last month.

That request followed premiers' previous calls for Ottawa to create "reverse onus" measures for certain offences that would require a person seeking bail to prove why they should not stay behind bars.

Stefanson said on Friday that federal action is needed "now more than ever." 

"Reforms should not be delayed further for public protection and safer communities and to support the work and dedication of all of our law enforcement officers that seek to protect Canadians right across our country," she said. 

Lametti is not committing to a specific timeline for introducing reforms to Canada's bail system, but has expressed hope that he can do so before the end of the spring session, which is scheduled to wrap up in late June.

The minister is "moving forward expeditiously on targeted reforms to the Criminal Code on the law of bail," press secretary Diana Ebadi said in a statement.

"The reforms will address the challenges posed by repeat violent offenders, as well as offences committed involving the use of firearms and other dangerous weapons."

Premiers also re-upped their calls for the federal government to renew and enhance its Guns and Gang Violence Action Fund, which supports provincial and territorial public-safety initiatives.

That fund allocated $358.8 million over five years beginning in 2018 to help federal, provincial and territorial governments tackle an increase in gun violence and gang activity. 

Stefanson said the federal government has agreed to extend the funding. 

But she said the province has not seen any evidence that Ottawa is following through on that promise, and called on the federal government to provide a formal commitment to continue the funding. 

"All of our premiers agree on that front that now is the time to continue that fund," said Stefanson. "We're calling on the federal government to ensure that they do that."

Audrey Champoux, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, said his office is looking forward to having more to say "soon" about the Guns and Gang Violence Action Fund.

"We recognize the real risk that police officers face each day," she said in a statement. "That's why we agree with premiers that additional action is needed to support police (as they) continue their important work in fighting, and preventing, crime."

In a statement, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police thanked the premiers for discussing the safety of front-line police officers and said a more "consistent approach is required in all regions of Canada." 

British Columbia Premier David Eby said the meeting with the police chiefs underlined the importance of taking action against crime and violence. 

"Police and prosecutors in B.C. are doing their part within existing laws to keep people safe," his statement said. "The federal government must act on its promise to amend federal bail laws to address this national risk to public safety showing up in every province and territory."

The virtual, urgent meeting with police chiefs was called after a recent string of high-profile attacks in cities across the country. 

Earlier this month, a 17-year-old boy was stabbed and killed while riding a bus in Surrey, B.C. And an ongoing string of mostly random, violent attacks on Toronto's public transit has prompted police to increase patrols. 

Eight on-duty police officers have been killed in the past seven months.

Premiers' calls for bail reform ramped up early this year after Const. Greg Pierzchala of the Ontario Provincial Police was killed while on duty in late December. 

Court documents show that one of the two people facing a first-degree murder charge in his death was initially denied bail in a separate case involving assault and weapons, but was later released.

Documents show a warrant had been issued for Randall McKenzie's arrest after he didn't show up for a court date in August.

Banner image: Chair of the Council of the Federation and Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2023. 

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