‘Common sense’: Winnipeg advocate reflects on Ottawa’s push for bail reform

Midst nationwide pressure, the federal government has introduced a new bail reform legislation. And a Winnipeg advocate is condoning it as a commonsense approach.

The bill was brought forward to Parliament on April 16, introducing measures such as reversing the onus on bail conditions for people charged with serious, repeated violent crimes involving a weapon. The purpose of Bill C-48, as stated by the government, is to “promote community safety and reinforce public confidence in the administration of justice.”

Where initially the onus, or burden of proof, is on the prosecution in matters of whether someone should be granted bail, the new bill would reverse that onus onto the accused for certain offenses. The accused would then effectively be required to show why they should not be denied bail.

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Kent Dueck, executive director and founder of Winnipeg’s Inner City Youth Alive, said such measures should have been implemented months ago.

“If you understand the context in which a lot of the crime happens, a lot of its lateral and a lot of it is with multiple witnesses,” said Dueck. “Our community has wisdom around individuals that are propagating a lot of the crime.”

Dueck said he believes the government’s move would take individuals caught up in such violence off the streets. He also noted that it is important to tackle the root causes behind why a “handful of individuals” commit repeated offenses, namely addictions and mental health.

Click to play video: 'Proposed bail reform changes target repeat offenders'

Proposed bail reform changes target repeat offenders

“What I find amazing these days is how many people feel silenced about this. I end up talking with police officers, paramedics … they’re feeling panicked about the level of unpredictability,” said Dueck. “I guess we’re (now) postured in a position to be able to make a huge difference.”

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As part of Bill C-48, reverse-onus provisions would target repeat violent offenders that use weapons, certain firearm offences and repeat offenders of intimate partner violence.

A clause is also included in the bill requiring parliamentary review five years after the bill receives royal assent, to assess the effectiveness of the measures.

Calling it a step in the right direction, Manitoba’s justice minister Kelvin Goertzen said more can still be done.

“It’s a little bit more narrow that I think we would have liked to see … it could have probably been opened up a little and (been) not as restrictive on the timeframes, but it’s still better than where we are right now,” said Goertzen.

Goertzen emphasized the issue of reverse onus being applied for repeat offenders who commit offences within a five-year timeframe. Regardless of the timeframe, he said, the onus should still apply.

The minister also noted that while violent offenders should be removed from society, the province is still committed to addressing the root causes that lead people to engage in crime.

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– With files from Global’s Marney Blunt

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