Justice minister expected to introduce bail reforms this week

Justice Minister David Lametti and the federal government are expected to bring forward legislation to enact bail reform as early as Tuesday.

The government has given notice to the House of Commons that it intends to introduce a bill to amend the Criminal Code.

Lametti has said he will make “targeted reforms” to the Criminal Code after the provinces and territories publicly raised concerns about repeat offenders.

The federal government said the changes will aim to deal with repeat violent offenders and offences involving firearms and other dangerous weapons.

The premiers asked the government to create a “reverse onus” system for some offences, which would require a person seeking bail to prove that they should not stay behind bars.

They were optimistic the federal government would do just that following meetings in March with Lametti and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

Bronwyn Eyre, Saskatchewan’s justice minister, said at the time there was a constructive attitude at the meetings and ministers from most provinces indicated they felt their proposals were well accepted by the federal government.

Lametti did not say whether more “reverse onus” provisions would be introduced at the time. After what he called good and productive meetings with his provincial and territorial counterparts, he said there was “broad consensus on a path forward.”

Lametti told reporters at the time that reforms will aim to address the challenges posed by repeat violent offenders and those facing firearms or other weapons charges.

Keeping repeat offenders in custody

The provinces and territories called for a reverse onus for some offenders which would require them to show the court why they should be released on bail, rather than requiring the prosecution to show why an individual should not be released.

Lametti has maintained that bail is a constitutional right and has said he’s aware that experts have warned against knee-jerk reactions to high-profile tragedies.

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, who chairs the Council of the Federation, said a key focus of meetings last month with the association representing Canada’s chiefs of police was on reforms to protect communities by keeping repeat violent offenders in custody.

The pressure is on the federal government to take action following several recent high-profile crimes — including the shooting death of an Ontario Provincial Police officer in February by a man police said had been released on bail.

The federal Conservatives have also put pressure on the Liberals to make bail more restrictive and a parliamentary committee has studied the issue.

Danny Smith, the Winnipeg police chief and president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said he was encouraged by signs that the federal government may act before the summer.

“It would demonstrate an understanding of the urgency for legislative change,” he said in a written statement.

“It would also be a recognition that our proposed amendments are not calling for a complete overhaul of Canada’s bail system, but rather changes that specifically deal with the violent and repeat offenders who pose the greatest threat to public and officer safety.”