HomeIndiaOttawa wants more defendants to stay in jail awaiting trial

Ottawa wants more defendants to stay in jail awaiting trial

Stephanie Marin

6:48 p.m.


Ottawa wants more defendants to stay in jail while they await trial. The Trudeau government introduced a bill on Tuesday to make bail harder, especially for some repeat violent offenders.

Currently, the rule is: an accused is released pending trial, with exceptions. This is a concrete application of the presumption of innocence.

A judge can still decide to keep an accused detained during court proceedings, which is normally the case for those accused of murder or very violent crimes. It is the Crown who has the burden of demonstrating to the judge that it is preferable for the accused to remain within the walls of the prison.

With its Bill C-48, Ottawa wants to change the situation by “reversing the burden of proof” in certain cases. The rule would then be detention, barring exceptions. This would place the onus on the accused to demonstrate why he should be released.

Justin Trudeau’s government presents the measure as a way “to counter the risk of violent recidivism”.

The proposed legislation is basically twofold. First, the government is targeting repeat violent offenders: a defendant who is charged again with a crime with a weapon will have to demonstrate why he should be released pending trial. However, the government has set limits: if the previous violent offense dates back more than 5 years, it will not count. And both crimes — the current one and the previous one — must be punishable by at least 10 years in prison.

The government was thus seeking to achieve a balance, repeated Minister Lametti, so as not to overcrowd the detention centres.

And while the law already provides a list of criminal offenses for which the accused has the burden of demonstrating why he should be released — this is currently the case for crimes related to domestic violence and some committed with firearms — he wants to add more, including robbery with a firearm and making an automatic weapon.

A bill with a “message”

The Liberal government has pulled out its big guns for the C-48 announcement. No fewer than four ministers were assembled: Justice Minister David Lametti, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett.

However, the ministers cannot measure the envisaged impact of these legislative changes. Judges already had the ability to detain violent defendants — and did. What will this change?

Minister Lametti emphasized the “message” that C-48 sends: “A signal is being sent to judges, Crown prosecutors and the public. It’s also a way of framing the process.” The goal is for communities to feel safe, and also to stem gun violence, he said.

“We need better data,” he agreed, however, when asked about it at a press briefing Tuesday in Ottawa.

M. Lametti hopes the bill will pass unanimously.

That seems unlikely, given Tuesday’s reaction from Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre.

“Prison, not release for repeat violent offenders,” he repeated on Tuesday, calling for even tougher measures.

To see in video

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