Trudeau government studies options to fix ‘broken bail’ system

About half the people in Canada's provincial jails on any given night have not been convicted of anything — a number that has ballooned over the years due to growing fear of letting people out on bail, says a federally commissioned study.

OTTAWA — About half the people in Canada’s provincial jails on any given night have not been convicted of anything — a number that has ballooned over the years due to growing fear of letting people out on bail, says a federally commissioned study.

In the realm of criminal justice, the role of the state has become one of limiting — to the greatest extent possible — the risks to public safety that offenders represent, says the study done for the Justice Department by University of Ottawa criminologist Cheryl Webster.

“Not surprisingly, this risk-averse mentality has permeated the bail process and translates into vigorous attempts to avoid releasing accused persons who might subsequently commit crimes while on bail.”

As a result, the justice system has effectively abandoned the primary grounds for detention — ensuring the accused’s attendance in court, the study says.

Among the recommendations for reform: a new legislative framework that presumes innocence and does not detain anyone unless the Crown demonstrates a need to do so.

“While the sheer number and the seriousness of the current problems with bail in Canada are daunting, the time is ripe for action,” the study concludes.

“Broken Bail” in Canada: How We Might Go About Fixing It was completed in June and recently released by Justice under the Access to Information Act.

In her mandate letter from the prime minister, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was directed to reform the bail regime.

The initiative continues to be a priority, said Justice Department spokesman Ian McLeod. “Bail is clearly a very important element in the justice system — from the perspective of protecting the public, fairness to the accused and justice systems efficiencies.”

Webster’s study found the problem includes both the procedure for determining whether someone gets bail as well as remand — the detention of accused people in provincial and territorial jails awaiting a bail decision or, having forgone or been denied bail, the resolution of their court case.

While the sentenced population in Canada has steadily declined over time, the remand population has grown more than threefold over the last 35 years, the study says. At about 40 for every 100,000 residents, Canada’s remand rate is higher than that of most Western European nations, Australia and New Zealand.

By 2012-13, 54.5 per cent of all adults in Canada’s provincial or territorial facilities on an average night were on remand.

For the system, the consequences include higher costs and the “administrative nightmare” of day-to-day management.

For the accused who has yet to face justice, detention can make it harder to hire and communicate with a lawyer, or find evidence or witnesses to show his or her innocence. It can also mean losing a job, bearing the stigma of being locked up and the challenges that come with often overcrowded jails.

While Webster suggests a number of “targeted” changes to the bail regime, she stresses that tinkering will not be enough.

The study says new legislation would not only instill expectations of change, but could be accompanied by requirements that no one be detained unless:

— There is clear evidence an accused would not show up for court, not merely a presumption

— The accused would be likely to commit crimes that cause “serious harms” to society, in which case there would be detailed explanations and justifications for them remaining behind bars.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Innisfail RCMP were dispatched to a report of a break and enter in progress on Sunday. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer woman among two arrested by Didsbury RCMP

Two people are facing drug-related charges after RCMP searched a home in… Continue reading

Satnam Singh Sandhu, 42, was sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter on Friday in Red Deer Court of Queens Bench. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Sylvan Lake man sentenced to six years for choking his wife

Satnam Singh Sandhu pleaded guilty to manslaughter

Some workers are terrified at the prospect of returning to work at Olymel, where hundreds were infected with COVID, says a worker.
Advocate file photo
Second death linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak, Alberta Health confirms

A second death has been linked to the Olymel COVID-19 outbreak, Alberta… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
New vaccine brings optimism amid rising threat of variants, high case counts

Canada’s vaccine rollout received a boost Friday with the approval of a… Continue reading

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

This image released by Briarcliff Entertainment shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, with journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a scene from the documentary “The Dissident.” (Briarcliff Entertainment via AP)
US implicates Saudi crown prince in journalist’s killing

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia’s crown prince likely approved the killing of U.S.-based… Continue reading

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US strike, first under Biden, kills Iran-backed militiaman

BAGHDAD — A U.S. airstrike in Syria targeted facilities belonging to a… Continue reading

Conservative member of Parliament Michael Cooper holds a press conference as he is joined virtually by fellow members of Parliament, Canadian geriatricians, mental health professionals and Indigenous leaders in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, regarding the Senate amendments to Bill C-7, an Act to amend the Criminal Code (medical assistance in dying). THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Address anti-Indigenous racism in health care before expanding MAID: advocates, MP

OTTAWA — The federal government should not expand access to medical assistance… Continue reading

Emily Keeping of Wetaskiwin, Alta., was last seen at 4:20 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin. Supplied/ Wetaskiwin RCMP.
UPDATE: Wetaskiwin RCMP seek assistance in locating missing 11-year-old

Emily Keeping was last seen on Feb. 25, 2021 at the FasGas on 49 St and 50 Ave in Wetaskiwin.

FILE - Cameron Forte (right) and his Fraser Valley Bandits are 2-0 at the Canadian Elite Basketball League Summer Series after being the Saskatchewan Rattlers. (CEBL photo)
CEBL releases 14-game 2021 schedule, hopes to see fans attend games in person

Season will kick off with the Edmonton Stingers and the Fraser Valley Bandits

FILE - Keegan Messing performs during the Men’s Short program at the 2020 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. If the world figure skating championships do go ahead in a bubble in March in Sweden, there is a good chance Canada won’t be there. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Messing leads Canadian figure skating team at world championships

Messing was the only Canadian to compete on the Grand Prix circuit this season

Nurses episode, titled “Achilles Heel,” was first aired on Global in February 2020. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Global pulls ‘Nurses’ episode after scene with Orthodox Jews deemed anti-Semitic

TORONTO — Global TV says it has pulled an episode of Toronto-set… Continue reading

Lady Gaga is offering a $500,000 reward for the return of her two French bulldogs. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Lady Gaga’s dog walker shot, French bulldogs stolen in LA

Dog walker expected to survive injuries

Most Read