KAWARTHA LAKES-The Ontario government is calling on the Feds to make drastic changes to Canada’s bail system.
“The report released today by the Standing Committee on Justice Policy clearly outlines that immediate action by the federal government must be taken on bail reform. As law enforcement experts have put it, the justice system is no longer just a revolving door for repeat violent offenders – the door is now wide open.” said PC MPP Trevor Jones, Member of the Standing Committee on Justice Policy.
The report titled “Modernization of the Bail System:Strengthening Public Safety was released today. It stems from the murder of OPP Constable Grzegorz Pierzchala on December 27,2022 while responding to what appeared to be a vehicle in the ditch near Hagersville, ON.
Earlier that day, the 28-year-old found out that he had passed his 10-month probationary period with the police service according to the OPP.
He was the fourth Ontario officer to be killed in the line of duty during the closing months of 2022.
One of the two individuals arrested and charged with Constable Pierzchala’s murder has a significant history with the criminal justice system, and of violent behaviour generally according to publicly available court records.
“Testimony heard by the committee from experts and front-line heroes in policing from across the province had a consistent and concerning theme: serious violent offenders, offenders previously convicted for intimate partner violence, repeat violent criminals, and offenders caught with illegal guns are being released back onto the streets due to the dysfunction of Canada’s bail system.” said MPP Jones.
OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique described Constable Pierzchala’s murder as “preventable,” and said that he was “outraged” at the fact that someone with the suspect’s history had been able to make bail. The Commissioner also said that “something has to change.”
Commissioner Carrique who testified at the Committee asked the Public Safety Minister to consider the known facts relating to one of the suspects arrested for Constable Pierzchala’s murder. He said these facts include:
- the suspect has a violent past, with criminal convictions for armed robbery using a firearm, assault with a weapon, possession of a weapon and assault;
- the suspect had been subjected to a five-year weapons prohibition in 2015, a 10-year weapons prohibition in 2016, and another 10-year weapons and lifetime firearm prohibition in 2018;
- at the time of Constable Pierzchala’s death, the suspect was under bail conditions prohibiting him from possessing a weapon and ammunition;
- these conditions stemmed from a 2021 incident that included allegedly assaulting three victims, one of them a peace officer; possession of a prohibited weapon while prohibited from doing so; unauthorized possession of a firearm; carrying a concealed weapon; possession of a firearm with an altered serial number; careless use, carry, transport or storage of a firearm; and mischief and assault charges;
- the suspect had a record of five previous convictions for failing to comply with a court order; and
- the GPS ankle monitoring device he had been ordered to wear while under the supervision of a surety had been discarded.
“Despite all of this,” the Commissioner said, the suspect was released following a bail review and was out on bail at the time of the shooting.
Since then two more officers have been killed in the line of duty. Constable Travis Jordan, 35, and Brett Ryan, 30 worked with the Edmonton Police Service. Jordan had been with the force for more than eight years, while Ryan was a five-year veteran. The suspect in the fatal shooting is a 16-year-old male, police in the city of Edmonton have said.
The premiers of the 10 provinces and three territories wrote a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau on January 13, urging the federal government to take immediate action to strengthen Canada’s bail system. They wanted a “general review of firearms offences to determine which ones should be designated as “reverse-onus” offences for bail purposes, the premiers proposed a specific amendment to the Criminal Code that would establish a reverse-onus on persons charged with the offence of possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm when seeking bail”.
On January 18, 2023, the Standing Committee on Justice Policy in Ontario passed a motion to “conduct a study on the reform of Canada’s bail system as it relates to the provincial administration of justice with regard to persons accused of violent offences or offences associated with firearms or other weapons”.
The report from that committee was released today and s based on the testimony received during two days of public hearings held in Toronto on January 31 and February 1, 2023, as well as written submissions received as of the Committee’s deadline including the Commissioner of the OPP, chiefs of police, police associations, police services boards, civil liberties and correctional reform groups, organizations representing the criminal defence bar, academics, and Indigenous groups.
The Committee is making two sets of recommendations:
- Recommendations directed at the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to strengthen the bail system as it applies to those charged with violent offences or offences in which firearms or other weapons are involved.
- Recommendations directed at the provincial government to make changes to the administration of justice system that will improve the functioning of the bail system in Ontario.
The Committee made 7 recommendations for the Federal Government including:
- Immediately implement a reverse-onus on bail for the offence of possession of a loaded prohibited or restricted firearm in section 95 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
- Immediately expand the use of reverse-onus on bail for offenders who pose substantial risk to public safety, including but not limited to
- repeat violent offenders;
- serious violent offenders; and
- firearm offences including specific consideration for firearm possession offences.
- Immediately implement the following amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada formally endorsed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police since 2008:
- a definition of “chronic offender,” based on a threshold number of offences committed over a set period of time;
- a presumption that chronic offenders satisfy the secondary and tertiary criteria for pre-trial detention set out in section 515(10)(b) and (c) of the Code (i.e., that detention is necessary for the protection or safety of the public, and to maintain confidence in the administration of justice);
- placing the onus on “chronic offenders” to show cause why they should be granted bail; and
- eliminating the sentencing principle that requires judges to consider alternatives to incarceration in cases involving chronic offenders, and providing for enhanced sentences of incarceration for chronic offenders for the purpose of decreasing victimization.
For the Provincial government, they made five recommendations:
- Consider strengthening bail releases involving sureties.
- Consider provincial amendments to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s policies, guidelines, and directives on bail, including the continuation or expansion of the pilot programs in Ottawa and Toronto where bail hearings were heard by a judge of the Provincial Court.
- Consider providing more resources for Crown Prosecutors to conduct bail hearings in a timely fashion in circumstances where public safety demands it.
- Consider providing more resources aimed at training Justices of the Peace to ensure a comprehensive understanding of bail provisions, including considerations of public safety.
- Consider establishing a group of specialized Crown Prosecutors for violent offences associated with firearms or other weapons, similar to the current “guns and gangs” bail team.
“Without drastic and immediate reform to the Criminal Code of Canada, the danger facing our communities will continue to grow out of control. For the safety of the people of Ontario and for the people whose job it is to keep them safe, we need action now. It is our hope that the federal government listens to the recommendations outlined in this report and moves on them quickly.” continued MPP Jones.
It is unclear if the provincial government will implement the recommendations made. We have reached out for clarification but have not yet heard back.