View From the Legislature

Canadian Premiers Seek Criminal Code Reform

  • Kelvin Goertzen, Author
  • Member of the Legislative Assembly, Steinbach

Over the past several months, Canadians have heard the news reports of acts of violence, often random in nature, that are occurring in every province. In addition, there have been a series of tragic killings of police officers that has rightfully resulted in both anguish and anger among Canadians.

Even more concerning is the fact that in many of the cases of violence, both against police officers and members of the public, the individual who is accused of the crime is well known to law enforcement. In fact, they also are often well known to the courts as many of the accused individuals are out on bail awaiting trial on other serious charges. This was a matter of intense discussion among provincial Ministers of Justice at a national meeting in Halifax last fall. At that meeting, I advanced to the federal government a number of ways to strengthen the bail criteria to make it more difficult for repeat violent offenders and those accused of using weapons in the commission of a crime to obtain bail.

As part of changes made to the Criminal Code by the federal Liberal government several years back, it is now very difficult to deny bail to those accused of violent offences even when using certain kinds of weapons, including knives. And too often we are seeing those released on bail committing another crime and victimizing another individual, while awaiting trial.

In Manitoba, significant steps have already been announced when it comes to providing resources to police to track down high risk offenders who have outstanding warrants. But ultimately, it is critical that Criminal Code changes happen in Ottawa to reduce the number of individuals who are being released who pose a threat to the community.

Last week, Premiers from across Canada joined in this call for change. Thirteen Premiers from provinces and territories wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau expressing their demand to see meaningful changes to the Criminal Code and to create a reverse onus on bail for a number of serious offences. This would essentially require the accused to demonstrate why they should receive bail.

Overwhelmingly Canadians are looking for changes when it comes to the justice system in Canada as they see the increase of violence against citizens and against police officers. This has been echoed by Premiers and Ministers of Justice from across the country. It is vital that the federal government amend the Criminal Code, an area that is entirely within the federal government’s jurisdiction. The safety of our communities and those that work to protect them depends on it.