Last Friday, Ministers of Justice and Attorney Generals from across Canada were in Ottawa to meet with the federal Minister of Justice seeking changes to make bail more difficult for repeat violent offenders. Since 2019 when the federal Liberal government made changes to the Criminal Code regarding bail (Bill C-75), it has been increasingly difficult to deny bail for even the most violent accused offenders.
Last summer, Manitoba began advocating for changes to bail as more and more violent offences were happening with weapons such as knives and bear spray. We asked the federal government to reverse the onus for those who were accused of committing violent offences with these weapons or who are repeat offenders so that they would have to demonstrate why it would be safe to grant them bail as opposed to it being given almost automatically.
In fall of last year, I raised this issue with Ministers of Justice at a meeting in Halifax and every province agreed with this concern. Following that meeting, Premiers from across Canada made a similar plea to the Prime Minister. These concerns were echoed by law enforcement agencies and by municipal leaders across the country who have been seeing an increase in violent crime, often by offenders who are on bail accused of other violent crimes.
After an intense day of discussions, the federal Minister of Justice committed to quickly introducing amendments to the Criminal Code that will make it more difficult for repeat violent offenders to obtain bail if they are accused of another violent offence. For Manitoba, it was important that this commitment included violent offences that involved knives and bear spray among other weapons. Also, there was a commitment to changes that will require a broader consideration by judges for the safety of the community when considering bail.
While there is much more to be done in terms of public safety and the Criminal Code, these proposals did represent a positive step forward and we will be pressing the federal government to make good on these promised reforms and bring them before Parliament as soon as possible.
Manitoba is also stepping up efforts to vigorously monitor those who are released on bail who require additional supervision. In addition to a new integrated high risk offender unit, new resources have been invested into bail supervision with further additional support to come.
While these changes are important, it is critical to also look at supports to reduce the likelihood of an individual engaging in criminal activity. A new homelessness strategy and shelter program has already been launched and we continue to increase funding for support programs like Winnipeg’s Downtown Community Safety Partnership.
Community safety remains a key priority for our government and despite ongoing challenges across Canada on issues related to criminal activity, we will continue to both advocate for needed reforms and implement programs within the provincial governments area of responsibility.