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Justice minister says federal government giving bail reform ‘serious consideration’

Justice Minister David Lametti says he is giving “serious consideration” to reforming Canada’s bail laws in response to a request from premiers for changes.

Provincial premiers unanimously called on the Liberal government in a letter to take “immediate action” on the bail system earlier this year.

The letter from premiers cites a growing number of calls for changes to prevent accused people who are out on bail from committing further criminal acts.

Premiers called on the federal government to establish a “reverse onus” system for specific firearm offences that would require the person seeking bail to demonstrate why they should not remain behind bars.

WATCH | Conservative MP proposes bail reform for repeat gun offenders:

justice minister says federal government giving bail reform serious consideration

Conservative MP tables private member’s bill on bail reform for repeat gun offenders

2 hours ago

Duration 10:38

Greg Fergus, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, debates MP Frank Caputo, Conservative associate justice critic, on the need for bail reform for repeat gun offenders.

During a speech to the Canadian Bar Association on Thursday, Lametti said the proposed reforms would be discussed at a coming meeting with provincial justice ministers.

He said the provinces’ proposal to introduce a “reverse onus” system for certain firearm offences was getting “serious consideration” from the Liberal government.

“I’m in favour of these good-faith initiatives from every level of the government and every police force,” he said. “We must confront our issues together.”

The federal Conservatives have been pressing the government to toughen up access to bail for repeat offenders, particularly in cases that involve firearms.

Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre argues Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approach to crime has been too soft, allowing individuals who pose a danger to society to be released into the community.

WATCH | Conservatives call on Liberals to fix ‘broken bail system’:

justice minister says federal government giving bail reform serious consideration 1

Conservatives call on Liberals to fix ‘broken bail system’

9 hours ago

Duration 1:16

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre proposes bail reform bill.

Poilievre is pushing the Trudeau government to reverse a law it passed in 2019 that updated bail provisions in the Criminal Code.

Bill C-75 codified a “principle of restraint” that had been affirmed in a 2017 Supreme Court case emphasizing release of detainees 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.

Conservative justice critic Frank Caputo announced Thursday that he intends to introduce a private members’ bill that would create stricter bail rules for repeat gun offenders. But it might be a while before it can be tabled in the House of Commons.

Commons rules only allow for a certain amount of time for private members’ business in each sitting. The order in which MPs can table private members’ bills is determined by a draw, and Caputo sits at 146 on the list.

But Caputo said that if Lametti was serious about bail reform, he could adopt the Conservative bill and move it through the House rather than wait for Caputo’s turn to introduce the legislation.

“[I’m] happy to sit down with Minister Lametti, we have a good relationship. And if he is prepared to bring this into law through government legislation, I will be the first one to help him do that,” Caputo told reporters turning a press conference Thursday.

Lametti cautions against misinformation about bail

In addition to meeting with officials from Canada’s national police union, Lametti said he spoke with his counterparts from British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador this week about bail reform.

“The takeaway from both these meetings was a clear understanding that the best way to address the complicated issues of bail and community safety is by working together,” he said.

Lametti said “misinformation” about bail is being spread. “There are those who choose to stoke fear for political gain, rather than advancing any viable policies that will address the specific and narrow issues we face,” he said.

In an apparent dig at Poilievre’s frequent claim that “everything is broken,” Lametti said Canada remains “the envy of the world.”

“We have our challenges but our criminal justice system is not failing Canadians, any more than our country is somehow irretrievably broken,” he said.

Following Lametti’s speech to the bar association, members voted on resolutions.

Several resolutions were passed, including one that its proponents say would help stop non-disclosure agreements from being inappropriately used in cases involving abuse or harassment.

Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner spoke to members about improving gender diversity on Canadian benches and about how courtrooms will continue to become more accessible and tech-friendly through innovations spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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