Federal justice minister plans to talk bail reform with provincial counterparts
OTTAWA — Justice Minister David Lametti says he will discuss reforming Canada's bail system when he meets with his provincial counterparts this Friday.
Earlier this year, the premiers called on the feds to establish a "reverse onus" system for firearm offences that would require the person seeking bail to show why they should not stay behind bars.
Lametti told a parliamentary committee meeting Monday he is prepared to make changes to the Criminal Code and has already talked with some provincial counterparts about the issue.
"Do we need to add a bit more stickiness, if you will, to make it more difficult in certain cases for people to get bail? We have to look at that," he said in an interview after appearing before the House of Commons justice committee.
But he says bail is a fundamental right and any law making it harder to access runs the risk of being contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He said there is a "tipping point" where the Supreme Court would argue bail is not accessible enough.
Lametti said there is a risk of introducing laws that restrict bail access and run outside the parameters of the Charter, but changing bail conditions for repeat offenders with weapons is a measure that could be taken without running contrary to the Charter.
Lametti wouldn't say when the Liberal government plans to act but says it is a priority.
He said he is expecting the provinces to come forward with suggestions of their own on how to improve bail. Some conversations, including with B.C., Manitoba and Ontario, have already begun.
While all the provinces signed on to the call for more "reverse onus" for firearm crimes, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have previously said they want people who commit violent offences with knives and modified bear spray to also face tougher conditions when applying for bail.
Federal Conservatives have been pressing the government to toughen up access to bail for repeat offenders, particularly in cases involving firearms.
Conservative MP Frank Caputo is pushing Lametti to support his private member's bill, which would create stricter bail rules for repeat gun offenders.
At committee, Lametti said he is committed to working with opposition MPs on improving the criminal justice system.
Federal Conservatives and other critics are also calling on the federal government to reverse a 2019 law that updated provisions in the Criminal Code.
It codified a "principle of restraint" that had been affirmed in a 2017 Supreme Court case emphasizing release of people from detention at the "earliest reasonable opportunity" and "on the least onerous conditions," based on the circumstances of the case.
Police were also granted more power to place conditions on accused individuals to streamline the bail process and reduce the number of court appearances.
It also required judges to consider the circumstances of people who are Indigenous or from vulnerable populations.
The policy has been criticized as being one that allows for "catch and release" of offenders.
Lametti told committee members the law made the criminal justice system more efficient and that more time is needed for its benefits to be fully felt.
"That doesn't mean it can't be improved and that's why we're here now but fundamentally, it is a good piece of legislation and it made it harder to get bail and didn't change any of the fundamental underlying premises for bail at the Supreme Court of Canada," he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2023.
David Fraser, The Canadian Press