Madam Speaker, I am pleased to address this issue tonight, but it is not lost on me the passion many feel about this issue. It is a very important issue our House has considered and sent to committee. I want to say first that when I first learned of Bill S-217 and took my time to understand it, in a good faith effort, I knew there were some elements of the bill I did not agree with, but I thought the overall intention of the bill was noble and that the sponsor in the House was bringing it forward for the right reasons. I thank him for doing that.
In the same light of a good faith effort, it was passed at second reading to send to committee so we could study it further, hear from experts, and hear from those who every day deal with the bail system in Canada so we could understand better what impacts and consequences the bill may have that were not apparent, perhaps, at first reading of the bill. I hope that same courtesy will now be extended to those who listened to the testimony at committee and arrived at a different conclusion.
I voted in support of this at second reading, despite concerning elements in the bill, because I wanted to have the opportunity to study it in full. On the same night this was passed at second reading, we also voted on another bill, Bill S-201, the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act. That matter came before committee, and it was concluded by members of all parties to proceed with that bill, because it was good public policy.
The purpose of committee work is to go through a bill in a thoughtful, deliberative manner, listen to experts, have thoughtful discussions, ask good questions, and then come back to the House and make recommendations. That is what we are doing with the bill tonight.
I want to highlight that the essential element of the bill, as I saw it, was, in section 518 of the Criminal Code, changing the permissive “may” to the requirement “shall” lead evidence. That was the essential element. There were other provisions in the bill, however, that I totally disagreed with, because they were not the intention of the bill as I understood it. I appreciated the conversations we had across party lines to realize that the essential element of the bill was changing “may” to “shall”.
How did I approach this bill at committee? I looked at it as an opportunity to shine a light on our bail system in Canada, to understand the essential elements of the bill, and to then, based on the expert testimony, decide whether it was good public policy. One of the thoughts that came to mind throughout the testimony we were hearing was what applies to doctors: do no harm. I thought that was an important way to look at the bill. If we were changing our bail system and how it operates, we should do no harm.
I went in with an open mind and listened to witnesses with different perspectives on the justice system. The experts in the field dealing with bail hearings were the most important to listen to in deciding how we would go forward with this. I went in with an open mind, but I went in with the idea that we must do no harm.
The witnesses offered compelling testimony. I want to highlight, first and foremost, Shelly Wynn. Her testimony was heart wrenching, compelling, believable, and trustworthy, and I extend nothing but thanks to her for her courage in coming to our committee and for all the work she has done in highlighting the issue of bail in Canada.
We also heard from a number of experts. We heard from the Canadian Bar Association, the Ontario Provincial Police, Newfoundland police, Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, defence lawyers groups, and individuals who have expert opinion to give on our system of bail in Canada.
All of those individuals came to the same conclusion and gave evidence based on the same rationale that this bill would do harm, would actually make our streets less safe, not more safe. The intention of the bill is to, as I understand it, close a loophole in the law to ensure that we are not allowing people out on bail who should be behind bars. The unintended consequences of this bill, however, would have exactly the opposite effect. It would make our streets less safe. It would put people out on the street who should otherwise be behind bars. Do not take my word for it. This was the expert testimony that we heard from police groups, the Canadian Bar Association, the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, defence lawyers, and individuals who deal with this stuff every day and do not always agree on issues every day.
I want to go now through some of the issues that were raised. The first one is the possibility that this bill, in changing “may” to “shall”, leaving aside all of the other problematic elements in the bill, could have the possibility of raising the burden on the crown. At committee, Rick Woodburn, the president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel, stated:
...if you make us prove it, our onus goes up; it doesn't go down. Keeping the individuals you want to keep off the street is harder, not easier.
This is the person who represents Canadian crown prosecutors, who deals with these issues every day.
Superintendent David Truax, the detective superintendent of the Ontario Provincial Police, stated:
Some of the language in the bill obviously proves the fact that...could obviously require the prosecutor to call each and every individual officer to prove each and every individual fact. That obviously would cause strain on policing resources, requiring more...witnesses, more documentation, certified documentation, affidavits, and the like.
Nancy Irving, who was chairing the Alberta committee reviewing the bail system in that province, indicated that the crown burden of proof will be uncertain under years of litigation.
With regard to the issue of delay, I think this was most compelling for me and the most convincing as to why this would be problematic because, in the end, after hearing all of this expert testimony, it was pretty well incontrovertible that there would become mini-trials at bail hearings. This is not a matter of a couple of minutes to get a criminal record. That is not the issue. There are several steps that have to be gone through in a bail hearing, one being the circumstances of the offence being presented to the court. This would cause uncertainty in our bail system. This would cause added resources, added court time, and not a matter of minutes, but delays in bail. People would have to set over bail hearings, perhaps. What would happen in the meantime to those who are supposed to have timely access to bail hearings?
I want to now talk on the issue of delay. Rick Woodburn said the following:
Bail hearings don't take five minutes. They take somewhere between half an hour and two hours, on average. That's for a bail hearing where you just pass information up, hear from a surety, and hear some evidence—about two hours.
If this bill passes, bail hearings will double and triple in time, and it is not necessary.
My colleague across the way just referenced Dr. Cheryl Webster a moment ago in support of his conclusion. He should take her word then when she said the following:
...[it] stuck me...[that it is going to add to court delay with] the higher evidentiary burden.... Any additional time taken during the bail process puts cases even closer to being thrown out for violation of the constitutional right that an accused be tried within a reasonable amount of time.
Professor Anthony Doob stated:
The bill that you have before you will expand the bail process for everyone at a time when...everyone agrees that court delay is a problem.
The Canadian Bar Association echoed the same comments.
I think it is important for us, in a good faith effort in reflecting on this bill, to understand that bail review does need to happen. Our government is committed to doing that. We are committed to working with all sides of the House to make that happen. This bill would not achieve its intended aims.