A BC United MLA said Crown prosecutors should ask for denial of bail in 100 per cent of cases involving violent offenders with a history of breaching conditions.
But the minister responsible said B.C. already has the toughest bail policies in Canada and repeated her demand for changes at the federal level.
“Do I think that BC Prosecution Service should be a little bit more tough? Do I think it might increase the numbers (of detentions) ? You bet I do!” Surrey South MLA Elenore Sturko said during a news conference Monday (April 24).
Sturko, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Addiction, Recovery and Education, made these comments after New Democrats had repeated calls for bail reform last week, claiming preliminary prosecution data shows tougher laws are needed.
“Police and prosecutors in B.C. are doing their part within existing laws to keep people safe,” Premier David Eby said in the statement issued April 21. “The federal government must act on its promise to amend federal bail laws to address this national risk to public safety showing up in every province and territory.”
The statement specifically points to preliminary data showing courts denied more than half of the requests by prosecutors seeking detention.
On Monday, BCPS released more detailed figures that tracked detention orders between Nov. 7 and Dec. 11, 2022, and from Feb. 27 to March 12, 2023. Sturko says they show prosecutors could be doing more when it comes to individuals who commit crimes while out on bail.
“The NDP has come out and they are trying to lay this on the feet of judges, saying that they themselves are only approving half of those cases,” Sturko said. “Well, when you look at the totality of our situation, in 100 per cent of cases, they are asking (for detention) in 50 per cent and then that’s been knocked down 50 per cent, well only a quarter…are kept in custody. So that’s really escalating the risk to the public.”
On Nov. 22, the BCPS revised its bail policy following a directive issued from then attorney-general Murray Rankin. It requires prosecutors to seek pre-trial detention of repeat violent offenders unless they were satisfied about the level of risk to public safety.
Available figures for the period after Nov. 22 show an uptick in detentions granted immediately after the change, only to level out. The data does not include figures for parts of December 2022, all of January 2023 and much of February.
“Due to the relatively small size of the current data sample and the limited periods covered, no clear conclusions can be drawn about whether the directive and the resulting policy changes had a measurable impact on the bail process or the outcomes of bail hearings,” BCPS said in a statement.
Sturko acknowledged that her demand won’t guarantee that a person will be held, the presumption of innocence, the independence of prosecutors, and the need for federal legislative changes. But she also called for a comprehensive review and called on Attorney-General Niki Sharma to send stronger directives to prosecutors to protect the public and ensure confidence in the justice system.
Sharma said B.C. has the “strictest bail policy” in all of Canada, but added she has been calling for federal bail reform since assuming her office in early December, specifically for the broadest possible definition of repeat violent offender.
The Criminal Code puts the onus on prosecutors to prove why an accused person should be held in custody, unless the charge is particularly serious, like murder, bodily harm offences, as well as offences committed while out on bail. In those cases, the onus switches to the accused.
Expanding the reverse onus would require a reversal of legislative changes that came into effect under under Bill C-75 in June, 2021. Bill C-75, however, was a massive bill that touched on far more than bail reform and the federal government’s public commitment to legislation this spring suggests a more surgical approach, underscored by a comment from the office of federal Justice Minister David Lametti.
“The minister is “moving forward expeditiously on targeted reforms to the Criminal Code on the law of bail,” Diane Ebadi, press secretary, said in a statement Friday. “The reforms will address the challenges posed by repeat violent offenders, as well as offences committed involving the use of firearms and other dangerous weapons.”
“(Minister Lametti) is at the table and is doing everything he can within his jurisdiction to keep Canadians safe.”