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Criminal Justice Reform: Bill C-75

This was originally published in the Mill Woods Mosaic (May 15, 2018):

Our government takes very seriously our responsibility to keep Canadians safe. During the 2015 election, we committed to comprehensive criminal justice reform, including bail reform and reduced court delays. That’s why we recently introduced legislation that will help ensure the right balance between holding offenders to account while also respecting and protecting individual freedoms.

Bill C-75, introduced by my colleague Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice, represents a significant milestone in fulfilling our promise to make common-sense reform to the criminal justice system. It will help ensure that Canadians can continue to have a high degree of confidence in their justice system, now and into the future.

In order for the system to work properly, our courts need the best possible information at their fingertips in a timely and accurate manner. This is particularly important with regard to granting bail to those awaiting trial.

Currently, there are rare but unfortunate cases where courts don’t receive all of the relevant information, such as whether the accused has been previously convicted of a criminal offence. We saw the tragic outcome of this in 2015, when Alberta Constable David Wynn was shot and killed in the line of duty by Shawn Rehn, a man who had recently been released on bail. Rehn had a substantial criminal past that was not brought to the attention of the court. On behalf of our Government, I continue to offer our deepest sympathies to Constable Wynn’s family, friends, colleagues, and community.

Following the death of Constable Wynn, a private members bill known as Wynn’s Law was introduced which sought to ensure that courts would be made aware of an accused person’s criminal record at bail. While this bill was well intentioned, the parliamentary committee tasked with studying the bill concluded that it contained a number of flaws that would make it unworkable in practice. I know that many Albertans were angry and disappointed that our government did not support the bill, even though we recognized the importance of what it was trying to accomplish.

Bill C-75 aims to accomplish the same purpose as Wynn’s Law, but in a way that doesn’t create the same problems. Should C-75 become law, courts would be required to consider such relevant factors as previous criminal convictions when deciding whether to grant bail. This would help to ensure that the necessary, reasonable and relevant conditions are imposed in each case.

This legislation will also put additional safeguards in place in situations where the alleged crime involved violence against an intimate partner. Courts will now be required to consider domestic abuse as a specific factor when deciding whether to grant bail. For offenders who have a record of repeated intimate partner violence, it will now be the onus of the accused to prove why they should be released, instead of on the Crown to make a case for denying bail.

Finally, Bill C-75 also takes aim at the culture of delay that has taken hold in our justice system by enacting measures to unclog the courts and reduce the time it takes to bring a criminal matter to trial.

Criminal justice reform remains a top priority for our Government as we look to the future. Bill C-75 represents a significant step in the right direction after a decade of inaction and failed criminal law policy from the previous government. We will continue to foster a justice system which brings accused people to trial in a timely manner, promotes respect for victims, and which ultimately ensures safe and prosperous communities for all Canadians.