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2 accused in shooting death of OPP Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala await bail hearing

A sketch of Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Stewart-Speary, 30, from their court appearance in Cayuga on Dec. 28. (Sketch by Pam Davies - image credit)
A sketch of Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Stewart-Speary, 30, from their court appearance in Cayuga on Dec. 28. (Sketch by Pam Davies - image credit)

A lawyer for one of the two people charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala says it's "too early" to make the decision over whether they should be granted bail.

The accused — Randall McKenzie, 25, and Brandi Stewart-Speary, 30 — made an online appearance Tuesday afternoon before Ontario Court of Justice Bruce Phillips in Cayuga, Ont.

Pierzchala was shot and killed on Dec. 27 near Hagersville in Haldimand County, some 45 kilometres southwest of Hamilton, near Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation and Six Nations of the Grand River.

It's unclear when the bail hearing for McKenzie and Stewart-Speary will take place, but on Tuesday their next court appearance was set for Feb. 21 in Cayuga.

Kim Edward, who is representing Stewart-Speary, said all bail hearings for homicides can only be granted by a Superior Court of Justice and the current case is still in the very early stages.

"It is too early to make that decision without assessing fuller disclosure," she told CBC Hamilton.

The two appeared in court via zoom from their respective detention centres. McKenzie was wearing an orange jumpsuit and Stewart-Speary was wearing a green shirt. Both were asked to say their name for the record.

OPP previously said on the day Pierzchala died, he was alone when he responded to a black truck in a ditch around 2:30 p.m. and that he was "only on scene for a very short period of time" before he got shot.

"The officer was essentially ambushed and stood absolutely no chance of being able to defend himself," OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique previously said, adding the 28-year-old officer died on the same day he passed his 10-month probation.

Pierzchala was remembered earlier this month at a funeral attended by thousands in his hometown of Barrie, Ont.

Six Nations of the Grand River
Six Nations of the Grand River

While it's unclear who shot the officer, the decision on whether McKenzie and Stewart-Speary will be released on bail has extra significance because McKenzie was out on bail when Pierzchala was killed.

Carrique previously said McKenzie was charged with possessing firearms and assaulting a peace officer in December 2021, but was released on bail with numerous conditions including that he was to stay at home and not possess any firearms.

McKenzie didn't go to court for those charges in September 2022, which prompted police to put a warrant out for his arrest. The warrant was still active at the time of the shooting.

Premiers call for changes to bail system

Pierzchala's death has prompted calls for change to the criminal justice system.

Last week, 13 premiers sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, urging him to consider changes to Canada's bail system.

The Jan. 13 letter states they want bail to be harder to get for people accused of charges involving the possession of a loaded firearm that's prohibited or restricted. They also want a review of other gun charges.

"The public safety of Canadians and our heroic first responders cannot wait. The time for action is now," the premiers said in the letter.

The premiers specifically call for the creation of a "reverse onus" for those charged under Section 95 of the Criminal Code, which includes offences for being in possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm.

This means people charged with those offences would have to show why their detention before a trial isn't justified. In most cases, the prosecutors must show why detention is justified.

Canadians have a right under the Charter "not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause."

That said, some experts argue the push for more strict bail reform shifts energy away from a focus on structural issues.

"Those problems are complex and deep and have very little to do with that moment at the beginning of the period of what could be somebody's incarceration while they wait for a trial or in order to enter a guilty plea," Métis lawyer Patricia Barkaskas, an assistant professor with the University of Victoria's faculty of law, told CBC News in December.