View From the Legislature

Bail Reform a Good First Step

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

Last summer as reports grew in Manitoba of victims of violent crime where the accused individual was on bail for a previous violent crime, our Manitoba government began a campaign for bail reform in Canada. Quite simply, we were seeing far too many individuals attacked with bear spray, knives, guns and other weapons by individuals who were on bail awaiting trial.

As bail provisions are part of the federal Criminal Code of Canada, these concerns required the federal government to be willing to make changes. As provincial Minister of Justice, I took these concerns directly to the federal government at meetings held last October in Halifax. Every province supported calls for change and a commitment was made for a subsequent meeting to specifically discuss bail.

Following further calls from Premiers and policing agencies across the country for bail reform, Ministers of Justice met in Ottawa in March of this year to work with the federal government on proposed bail changes. This past week, the federal government outlined what changes they are prepared to make.

While not as expansive as many (including Manitoba) would have liked, the changes do represent a good positive first step. The changes to bail laws would place a reverse onus on repeat violent offenders who use a weapon in the commission of a crimes if they have had a previous similar conviction in the past five years. This essentially means that a person who had been previously convicted of a violent offence using a weapon and is charged with a similar offence within five years, would have to meet a higher bar to obtain bail. As well, a reverse onus is also being applied to some cases of domestic violence and in certain prohibited weapons crimes.

Importantly for Manitoba, these violent offence provisions will include those crimes where weapons other than guns are used, including bladed weapons and bear spray for example. These weapons make up a greater proportion of the weapons used in Manitoba as compared to guns.

While Manitoba believes there is room to move further as it relates to making bail more difficult for violent offenders, we also recognize that this is a significant step that was not even being contemplated last year before our province helped take the lead to push for change. It is important progress.

We also know that we have a responsibility within our own jurisdiction to make changes. That is why in just the past few weeks, Manitoba Justice has introduced initiatives to make it more difficult for criminals to obtain bear spray, introduced integrated units to target high risk offenders and support child abuse victims, created an enhanced bail monitoring unit and we are exploring alternative forms of probation and bail supervision like electronic monitoring devices.

These initiatives go alongside record investments in drug treatment spaces and our provincial homelessness strategy. This is a recognition that we both need to ensure dangerous offenders are kept off the streets while also addressing root causes of crime.

Dealing with increased crime will take an integrated approach and require cooperation at all levels of government. These past few weeks have seen some important steps taken and I look forward to further initiatives being announced soon.