Ontario announces $112M for bail compliance amid debate over reform
The province of Ontario will spend $112 million on bail compliance programs, which will include teams of police officers dedicated to pursuing people who aren't following their bail conditions, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.
Over three years, $48 million will be available to the Ontario Provincial Police's repeat offenders and parole enforcement squad, which will provide the OPP with about 50 additional people for those units, said Solicitor General Michael Kerzner at the announcement. That $48 million will create a dedicated bail compliance unit within the squad, according to a news release.
There will also be $24 million available in grants for police services across the province, including the OPP, municipal forces and First Nations police, to help them beef up or create their parole enforcement units, Kerzner added.
Ford said the spending announced Thursday ill improve public safety, though critics say the money could be better spent on creating a more equitable justice system.
"These investments will help ensure that the most high-risk offenders remain in jail, and those accused of crimes and out on bail follow the rules," he said.
Thursday's announcement comes after Ford — along with Canada's other premiers — called on the federal government earlier this year to reform the country's bail system.
In a Jan. 13 letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the 13 premiers said they wanted to see a specific change that would make bail harder for those accused of a charge related to the offence of possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm.
Critics say bail reform could result in more deaths than saved lives. Between 2018 and 2022, a person who became incarcerated in Ontario was about 15 times more likely to die in custody than a police officer was to be killed on duty, members of the the University of Ottawa's Prison Law Practicum have written. Recent police deaths in Canada do not constitute a trend, while the opposite has been true for the deaths of inmates, the group has argued.
Funds should be put creating fairer system, say some
Toronto-based lawyer Daniel Brown, president of the national Criminal Lawyers' Association, said the provincial funding for bail enforcement could be better spent on ensuring unrepresented accused can access government-funded legal representation.
Serious criminal cases are being delayed, and sometimes tossed, because of the issue, he said.
"If our government is inclined to create a fairer justice system, they must direct resources to ensuring serious cases are successfully prosecuted rather than unnecessarily focusing on detaining legally innocent people on the front-end of a prosecution," he said.
Danardo Jones, an assistant professor at the University of Windsor's faculty of law, said there may be other solutions to curbing crime.
"We have to ask ourselves, should we be using the criminal law to deal with this problem? Or are there other ways to deal with this issue?" he said. "Is there something wrong with our social infrastructure? Is that where the problem lies?"
He said there is no evidence to prove that there is an epidemic of people on bail committing murders and violent crimes.
Spending also includes money for courts system
The spending also includes $26 million to create "intensive serious violent crime bail teams" within the province's court systems, the release said. This spending will ensure there are subject matter experts and dedicated prosecutors to prepare for and conduct bail hearings, according to the province.
"And we're investing in new technology to better monitor people out on bail," Ford said.
The province will be rolling out a new bail compliance dashboard, per the release, that will "allow police services to monitor high-risk offenders with the most accurate data possible." The dashboard has already been piloted by Toronto and Durham police, Kerzner said.
"We'll be able to keep a very fine-tuned look on where people who are violating bail are. And we will be able to identify, and to communicate with local police services in the different jurisdictions where they are, so we can get them before they cause crime," Kerzner said when asked how the new bail compliance technology will help.