Tackling crime through bail reform

Toronto, Ontario
23 November 2006

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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you, Dave, for that warm introduction – and the great job that you are doing.

Thank you all for coming.

In particular, I’m very pleased to be here with Premier McGuinty and Mayor Miller.

Between the three of us, we pretty much cover the entire political spectrum in Canada.

But today we are partisans for the same cause – reclaiming safe streets for all Canadians.

As you all know, cracking down on gang, gun and drug crime has been one of the top priorities of Canada’s New Government since we took office nearly ten months ago.

We made it a priority because Canadians had made it very clear to us that they wanted the scales of justice rebalanced.

Canadians want to bring safety back in our communities – which was once the hallmark of our peaceful, law-abiding society – our communities which are increasingly threatened by gang crime, which is often gun- and drug-related.

That’s why our government has introduced five new major anti-crime bills since we took office. We have taken action to:

  • Increase the mandatory minimum penalties for gun crimes;
  • Ban house arrest for serious offences;
  • Raise the age of protection from sexual exploitation;
  • Crack down on street racing; and,
  • Impose stricter conditions on dangerous offenders.

All these initiatives are enabling us to keep our commitments to Canadians.

And I am pleased to announce today that we are keeping our word on fighting crime, with a bill for bail reform.

In the House of Commons today, Justice Minister Vic Toews will introduce legislation designed to toughen up Canada’s bail system.

This bail reform package will apply to people when they stand accused of serious crimes involving firearms.

Among the crimes included are attempted murder, armed robbery, sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping and extortion.

As the law stands, anyone accused of these heinous acts is granted bail and allowed to roam the streets unless a prosecutor can persuade a judge to hold them in jail.

This is unacceptable.

Our legislation will reverse the onus so that people charged with serious gun crimes will have to demonstrate to the courts why they should not stay in custody until their trial.

Too many Canadians are victims of criminals who are out on bail.

Just this month, a 23-year-old Toronto man accused of shooting four people – four people – in London, was granted bail.

Rejecting the Crown’s argument that the man was a threat to public safety, the judge, acting under the current law, ordered him to stay home with his mother.

He promptly vanished.

That means somewhere in Canada, maybe in London, maybe in this city, a man facing multiple violent firearms charges is freely roaming the streets.

And it’s hardly an isolated case.

In Toronto, police report that almost 1,000 crimes involving firearms or restricted weapons have been committed so far this year.

And nearly 40% of them were committed by someone who was on bail, parole, temporary absence or probation.

The people in this city know this story all too well.

As do Premier McGuinty and Mayor Miller.

Ever since the Yonge Street shootout that killed 15-year-old Jane Creba last Boxing Day, the Premier and the Mayor have been pressing Ottawa for these reforms.

Ontarians want action, Premier McGuinty said in a recent speech to the Police Association of Ontario.

And as Mayor Miller told a reporter, the onus needs to be reversed for bail in the case of gun crimes.

Most of the other provinces and territories support expanding the reverse onus principle to include bail hearings for serious gun crimes.

So do most law enforcement agencies.

And during the last election campaign, the federal Liberal and New Democratic parties also backed this approach.

And I hope they will continue to agree with us, because gun crime is a menace to public safety, and protecting Canadians must be the first priority of our bail system.

Thank you.