Stiffer new Canadian bail conditions are a “significant step” towards improving public safety, but more work is required say some B.C. police, women’s advocates and municipal leaders.
Amendments to the Criminal Code under Bill C-48 are now in effect, which require certain accused criminals to prove why they should be granted bail, rather than the reverse on the part of prosecutors.
The changes expand cases covered by the “reverse onus” to cover more firearms and weapons offences, and more circumstances where a person is accused of intimate partner violence.
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“It’s going to make it much more difficult for a certain class of offenders to achieve bail, but it is not going to apply to every bail hearing, and I think that’s important to emphasize here,” Vancouver criminal lawyer Sarah Leamon explained.
“Those are people who are accused of having committed serious, violent offences, often involving the use of a weapon or involving intimate partner relationships. It’s not going to apply to, say, the prolific shoplifter for example.”
Vancouver Deputy Police Chief Howard Chow says it’s a “step in the right direction” towards keeping violent offenders off the street by bringing the accused’s criminal history into play.
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Chow said he believes the move would “dramatically improve” public safety by keeping some accused offenders behind bars,.
“We think there should be more work done on lower level crimes, crimes that do impact public safety, but overall in terms of the urgency with which legislative changes took place, we are very pleased with that,” he said.
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Chow pointed to stranger assaults and violent shoplifting — two offences that have made repeated headlines in Vancouver — as classes of offences he’d like to see included in bail considerations.
Angela Marie MacDougal, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, said she was pleased to see intimate partner violence recognized in the new bail measures.
But ultimately, she said, the change will affect only a fraction of such cases.
“We know that most cases of intimate partner violence are never reported to the police, so never have the opportunity to (go to) the criminal legal system,” MacDougall said.
“This reform will actually impact a very, very small portion of victims and offenders.”
MacDougall said that if the province is serious about reducing rates of partner violence, it needs to look outside the criminal legal system, and prioritize both funding and service provision for prevention and victims.
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, whose city has seen public safety become a major hot button issue, also welcomed the changes.
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He argued, however, the province needs to go further than the federal government and implement secure, involuntary care for offenders dealing with addiction, brain injury, mental health issues and trauma.
“They really aren’t criminal cases — they are committing criminal acts that are frightening to the public, but what they really need is long-term care and treatment, that’s the only real long-term solution to some of the very chronic offenders,” he argued.
“Others, frankly, need stiff jail sentences. There’s a point at which society has a right to say if you are going to continue to commit crimes, even of a minor nature, that you are going to spend more time in jail.”
B.C. Attorney General Niki Sharma, who advocated for the federal changes, said the new measures will give judges another tool to keep violent offenders off the street.
“It’s not the only tool our system has in terms of judges weighing the impact to the community or the risk of that offender causing harm before decisions are made whether they will be detained or not,” she said.
Sharma said reforms will supplement provincial initiatives aimed at public safety, including more funding for police and mental health services, along with B.C.’s Repeat Violent Offender initiative rolled out last year.
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