Let’s give credit where credit’s due.
Namely: David Lametti’s proposed bail reforms are exceptionally good. Outstandingly good.
It was not always thus. Since he became Canada’s Minister of Justice, David Lametti has not exactly covered himself with glory. A sampling:
• He has suggested that Canada’s provinces be stripped of their constitutional authority over natural resources.
• He urged another cabinet minister to send in the Canadian Armed Forces – and a tank – to forcibly remove the Ottawa “convoy” occupiers.
• He defended Justin Trudeau’s attempts to pressure prosecutors to go easy on a Liberal Party donor facing a corruption trial.
• He has tweeted, then rescinded, about the appointment of one of his political donors to the bench. (The donor was later appointed anyway.)
Like we say: not exactly covered in glory. The former McGill law professor has always had a Stéphane Dion look to him – you know, an owly academic who doesn’t really understand politics.
But, on his proposed bail reforms, Lametti has hit the proverbial ball out of the proverbial park.
The need for the reforms is clear. Since the pandemic faded, crime has skyrocketed – and, in particular, violent crimes committed by repeat offenders. One fairly recent study found that a whopping 23 per cent of federal offenders re-offended within two years of getting released. And the number who re-offend using violence is up, as well.
The case that likely pushed Lametti to act was tragic and unforgettable: the cold-blooded murder of an OPP officer late last year. Const. Grzegorz Pierzchala was killed west of Hagersville, Ont. just after Christmas. And the alleged shooter was Randall McKenzie, who had been out on bail and under a lifetime firearms ban.
The outcry in the Pierzchala case was immediate and nationwide, and the Trudeau Liberals could not ignore it – their internal polls reportedly showed that Canadians were angry and afraid about the surge in violent crime, particularly by repeat offenders.
So Lametti acted, and this week unveiled his proposed reforms. They’re tough.
For instance, Lametti wants to create what is sometimes called “reverse-onus” bail conditions for people charged with serious violent offences involving a weapon – where that person was convicted of a similar violent offence. A “reverse onus” law is exactly what the name implies – it shifts the burden of proof onto the accused.
Lametti’s changes will also slap certain firearms offences with the reverse-onus requirement, and expand it to cases of domestic abuse.
Anticipating an avalanche of Charter challenges by criminal defence lawyers, Lametti told the media: “You are innocent until proven guilty, and this is a critically important part of our legal system. But what we’re doing for certain violent offences is changing the default position and making sure that it is only in cases where there isn’t a threat to security.”
So, in some cases, it’ll be up to repeat offenders to show why they should get bail. Not on prosecutors to show why they shouldn’t.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre responded by saying he’d go even further – under a government led by him, he’d completely ban bail hearings for such offenders. So, a repeat offender arrested for a new violent crime would get “jail, not bail,” he said.
That’s good gut-level politics – but it’d be unlikely to ever survive a Charter challenge. Under section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every Canadian has the right to life, liberty and security of the person “and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
Poilievre’s approach would likely get thrown out for violating fundamental justice – and then violent re-offenders would be free to re-offend.
Lametti’s approach seems to be the better one. His legislation was introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday morning. We’ll see what happens to it next – in Commons debate, in committee, and in the Senate.
But, for now, David Lametti has done the right thing. And he deserves credit for trying.