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Keith Baldrey: Premiers call for help to keep violent criminals off the streets

Provincial officials raise alarm over thwarting of prosecutors’ efforts to deny bail to repeat offenders.
Provincial premiers and police officials are asking Ottawa to help prosecutors keep repeat violent offenders in jail. |Rattankun Thongbun/iStock/Getty Images Plus

A new statistic associated with the steady rise of seemingly random incidents of street crime and violence in this province was released last week and it is an alarming one.

Preliminary data compiled by the BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) shows that more than half of the attempts by prosecutors to seek detention of violent offenders are being rejected by the courts.

That information was released by Premier David Eby after a virtual meeting between all premiers and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. It is also included in a letter Attorney General Niki Sharma sent the same day to federal Justice Minister David Lametti on the issue of much-needed bail reform.

Sharma’s letter said the data covered two time periods: from Nov. 7 to Dec. 11 last year, and Feb. 27 to March 12 of this year.

In her letter, Sharma notes the Crown seeks detention of offenders only in certain circumstances.

“It is important to note that Crown prosecutors only seek pre-trial detention of the accused at a bail hearing because they are not satisfied that the risk to public safety posed by posed by the accused’s release can be reduced to an acceptable level by bail conditions,” she wrote.

Sharma said the fact that more than half of the accused that fit into this category were released on bail over the Crown’s objections is “deeply concerning.”

I’ll say.

But while it is a disturbing finding, it is not altogether a surprising one.

The dominant issue in the B.C. legislature for months now has been the broad issue of public safety, often focusing on chronic violent offenders having dozens of interactions with police and yet still routinely being released on bail.

A major reason for this unacceptable situation appears to lie in amendments made to the Criminal Code back in 2019, contained in Bill C-75. That legislation emphasizes the “principle of restraint” when it comes to incarcerating accused people.

Then there is a 2017 judgment by the Supreme Court of Canada that called Section 11 of the Charter of Rights (it stipulates everyone has the right “not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause”) to be “an essential element of an enlightened criminal justice system.”

I suppose this was all done with the best of intentions, but the word “enlightened” is not one I would use to describe our criminal justice system in the past couple of years.

All the premiers are calling for action, as chronic violent offenders are making many Canadian cities unsafe as they have ever been.

In her letter, Sharma notes that “changes are needed to federal law to ensure that the independent judiciary is empowered and legally required to hold to account those offenders and accused persons who commit repeat, violent offences under the federal criminal law.”

The key phrase there is making judges “empowered and legally required” to keep violent people behind bars. In other words, give them the tools to do the job.

Sadly, there will inevitably be more shocking and tragic incidents of crimes committed by repeat violent offenders in the time ahead. They’ve almost become a regular “thing” now.

The premiers and provincial justice officials are correct. Ottawa needs to act, and act fast.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.

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