British Columbia Premier David Eby says the federal government needs to reform Canada’s bail system now instead of simply talking about it.
His comments come after federal Justice Minister David Lametti said Ottawa is prepared to change the Criminal Code to add “more stickiness” for people seeking bail, and he plans to discuss the matter with his provincial counterparts on Friday.
Eby, speaking at a news conference, says B.C. residents are “very frustrated — and rightly so — with the small group of repeat, violent offenders” who are “cycling in and out” of the justice system.
B.C. has already taken a number of steps, such as directing new teams of prosecutors, probation officers and police to focus on repeat offenders within existing federal law.
Eby says the province is also “trying to interrupt the cycle” of people reoffending by providing programs such as peer responders and pairing police with mental health workers, but what B.C. can do is limited without a “strong federal partner.”
What the province is looking for is “straightforward,” Eby says: the ability to keep repeat violent offenders under police custody instead of having to grant bail and release them back into the public.
The issue of repeat offenders was also raised during question period in the B.C. legislature on Tuesday.
Liberal critic for the attorney general Mike de Jong told the legislature the problem of the “catch-and-release” system for repeat offenders is getting worse and the NDP government needs to make changes.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth replied that Canada’s Criminal Code is a federal responsibility, but added that he and Attorney General Niki Sharma would be in Ottawa later this week to respond to the issues that have been caused by federal government changes to the Criminal Code.
“We think there are unintended consequences and they need to be changed. The federal government has indicated that they agree with us,” Farnworth said.
Lametti, speaking at a parliamentary committee meeting on Monday, said he has already talked with some provincial counterparts about the issue and is prepared to make changes to bail rules.
But Lametti also said there is a risk of introducing laws that violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, since access to bail is a fundamental right.
Changing bail conditions for repeat offenders with weapons, however, may be possible without violating the Charter, Lametti said.
Eby said he has heard Lametti “repeatedly” say he is prepared to change bail rules, but the changes should be happening now.
“It’s quite urgent. British Columbians understand mental health and addiction issues; we have compassion for them,” said Eby.
“But what we do not stand for and do not accept is repeat violent offenders being released back into the community and hurting people.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2023.