Focus on bail reform, not firearms: Tory MPs

As Swan River battles rising rates of property and violent crime, the community’s mayor says it’s time for provincial and federal governments to toughen their approach on issues facing the justice system, including bail guidelines.

Break-ins and theft from businesses are an increasing problem in Swan River, Mayor Lance Jacobson told the Sun. Business owners and workers have even been assaulted in the process, he added.

According to Statistics Canada, crime in Swan River jumped up by 52 per cent from 2015 to 2021. The mayor said the same issues are affecting other communities that also deal with high levels of homelessness, transient populations and substance use.

“As we know, there’s … organized crime with this, and there’s also people that are living on the streets and are coming into the community … and doing whatever they can,” Jacobson said.

He said it’s time for the provincial and federal governments to crack down on crime. This includes taking another look at Bill C-75, which he claims has led to more criminals being released on bail, only to repeat their crimes.

“It all kind of stems with that … and people are tired of it,” he said.

The issue has reached Dan Mazier, the Conservative MP for Dauphin– Swan River–Neepawa, who said there’s a “pile” of crime happening in the community, located 336 kilometres northeast of Brandon.

“They’re at a point now where businesses are actually shutting their doors during business hours, and … almost having a screening process to allow [people] into the store because there’s just so much unrest on the streets,” Mazier said.

Stricter bail guidelines are something Mazier and fellow Tory MP Raquel Dancho discussed at a virtual town hall earlier this week.

Dancho, the public safety critic for the Conservatives, said violent crime in Canada has jumped 32 per cent over the last seven years, with 124,000 more violent crimes committed in 2022 compared to 2015.

She noted the recent death of an Ontario Provincial Police officer as an example. Grzegorz Pierzchala was fatally shot in the line of duty last month and two suspects, Randall McKenzie and Brandi Stewart- Sperry, have since been charged with first-degree murder.

Since 2018, McKenzie has been under a firearms ban and was charged in 2021 with several firearms- related offences and assaulting a police officer. He was released on bail on multiple conditions, including remaining in his residence and not possessing any firearms, but failed to appear in court to answer the charges in September.

Dancho said constituents now want Ottawa to shift its focus toward legislation that would prevent people accused of committing violent crimes, such as McKenzie, from being released on bail.

“When it comes to violent criminals with long rap sheets … I think common sense would say that should not be the case.”

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is looking “carefully” at a letter Canada’s premiers sent him that called for reforms to the country’s bail system.

During Monday’s town hall, Mazier and Dancho also took issue with Bill C-21, which proposes certain long guns, including rifles and shotguns, be added to the list of prohibited firearms in Canada.

According to Mazier, his constituents and other residents in rural Canada do not stand behind Bill C-21.

“We are really, truly frustrated with this, how the Liberals are carrying on with this file,” he said.

Gun violence in Canada stems largely from gangs involved in the drug trade who are illegally smuggling guns into the country from the United States, Dancho said.

Gang-related homicides in Canada’s largest cities have almost doubled since 2013, according to the federal government. Of the 743 homicides in 2020, 20 per cent were linked to organized crime or street gangs.

“We know that that’s where the crime with guns is coming in,” Dancho said.

All levels of government must toughen up their approach to deal with increases in crime, Dancho said, instead of pushing through Bill C-21, which she claimed would only serve to take guns away from hunters and farmers.

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino didn’t respond to a request for comment. In previous statements to the media, Mendicino has said he is also considering other elements of the federal gun-control strategy to combat violent crime, including money to help the Canada Border Services Agency detect gun smuggling, efforts with the United States to break up firearm trafficking networks and community funding to prevent gun crime before it starts.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun