A visiting judge has raised questions about the practice in Red Deer provincial court of banning some people from having cellphones, pagers and Internet-capable computers while they are on bail or probation.
Prohibiting cellphones puts people in danger and increases the risk that they will violate their release conditions, Judge Judy Shriar said on Tuesday while hearing how a man awaiting trial on fraud charges ended up back in remand after failing to report to his bail review officer.
Defence counsel Andrew Phypers explained to the judge that his client had found a new job and left early in the morning to work out of town.
The had left a voice message with his bail review officer that morning, but could not be reached because he was prohibited from carrying a cellphone as one of his release conditions.
The accused man, who was on four separate recognizances, was consequently taken back to jail on a new charge of breaching his release conditions.
“Why can’t he have a phone? Everybody needs a phone,” Shriar said while accepting the man’s plea of guilty to a single count of breaching bail.
Shriar, who normally works in the Calgary Regional provincial court district, said she noticed while sitting in Red Deer on Tuesday that it is quite common for judges here to include bail or release conditions that prohibit people from using electronic devices including cellphones, pagers and Internet-capable computers.
She stated that the practice appears to be unique to Red Deer.
Such terms may be reasonable where an accused person is awaiting trial on child pornography and similar charges, said Shriar.
However, banning others from owning cellphones sets them up for breaches and can put them in danger, she said.
“I don’t like that condition. It’s going to set these guys up to go to jail again and again and again,” she said.
“I don’t know what he does for a living, but how can he not use a computer?”
Judges sitting in Red Deer have prohibited cellphones and other electronic devices where they were among the tools used in committing offences. In most of those cases, the terms include an exception allowing the devices for work purposes only.
In a separate case brought before Shriar on the same day, a cellphone was among the items seized from a man who pleaded guilty to possessing drugs for trafficking. Police identified the phone as bearing a number that undercover investigators used to set up a drug buy.
Shriar said any fears that cellphones are being misused for criminal purposes could be met by requiring that the phones be limited to the type that include a monthly bill detailing incoming and outgoing calls.
She crafted a new recognizance for the man accused of fraud, including restrictions on the type of phone he can carry and requiring that his computer access be limited to employment and banking purposes.