Good afternoon. My name is Michael Elliott. I have been a police officer for 12 years. I'm currently the president of the Alberta Federation of Police Associations. We represent approximately 4,500 municipal police officers across the province of Alberta.
I wish to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak in regard to BillS-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code (detention in custody).
Before I begin, I would like to provide a brief synopsis of the terrible event that has brought the attention to bail hearings.
On January 17, 2015, RCMP officer Constable David Wynn was serving his community and his country. Constable Wynn encountered a stolen vehicle parked at a casino in St. Albert, Alberta. Constable Wynn identified a suspect, Shawn Rehn. Upon making contact, the suspect proceeded to shoot Constable Derek Bond in the arm, and then shot Constable David Wynn in his face. Constable David Wynn succumbed to his injuries a few days later in hospital.
Who was Shawn Rehn? Shawn Rehn was a career criminal with at least 100 offences over a period of two decades. Between 2010 and 2015, Shawn Rehn was sentenced to a total of 10 years in jail. His charges included a variety of offences, such as break and enter, theft, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, possession of property under $5,000, house break-in and the commission of theft, obstructing a police officer, failing to attend court, assault with a weapon, and possession of property obtained by a crime over $5,000. The list goes on.
You may have an attachment in front of you that provides a list of the charges he was subject to, what he was convicted of, what he was released on, and the charges that were before him, unfortunately, during the event that unfolded.
Mr. Rehn also had a history of firearms-related offences. He had been prohibited from possessing firearms for life. He was on conditions prohibiting him from possessing ammunition and firearms. Shawn Rehn had a total of 29 Criminal Code outstanding charges before the courts while he was on bail.
This brings us to bail hearings. Many questions were raised about why Shawn Rehn was released on bail via a justice of the peace. We can sit here today and discuss what or what wasn't provided. The bottom line is that not all of the information was produced.
You may ask what is required at a bail hearing. As a police officer in Alberta, I provide the just cause for detention. When a person is arrested, I have to provide a bail package. This information is provided in three levels to a justice of the peace to determine if the accused is granted bail or remanded.
The first level in the bail package is what we refer to as the “primary grounds”. I provide information to ensure that the accused will or will not appear in court to face his or her charges. The criteria include the nature of the offence, the strength of the evidence, the accused's criminal record, previous court orders against the accused, and his or her behaviour when arrested.
The second level of the bail package is what we call “secondary grounds”. This is for the protection and safety of the public. The criteria include the accused's criminal record and compliance with previous court orders, whether the accused is already on bail or probation, the nature of the offence, and the stability of the accused.
The third level of the bail package is what we refer to as “tertiary grounds”. This information is to maintain confidence in the administration of justice. The criteria include the strength of the case against the accused; the severity of the offence, such as whether a firearm was used; the criminal record of the accused; and finally, the potential sentencing of the accused if convicted.
The judicial system relies on all the evidence and information to make an educated and well-informed decision. When matters are before the court, disclosure and evidence are paramount to a fair and equitable outcome. The problem is that not all of the information is provided at bail hearings, as the Criminal Code states that information “may” be presented.
After Constable Wynn's death, a review of the bail system in Alberta was conducted. The following is an excerpt from the study:
The bail system can also suffer from a perception that bail hearings are less weighty and perhaps less consequential than other steps in the judicial process. The rules of evidence are more relaxed, the burden of proof is less onerous, and bail hearings do not generally involve the testimony of witnesses and experts. Most who work in the bail system, however, would be more likely to agree with the prosecutor who told this Review “a proper show cause hearing needs to have the same sense of importance and urgency as a murder prosecution.” The stakes for the accused and the public can be that high.
A study by Ms. Nancy Irving recommended the following, and provided strong evidence of the importance of implementing Bill S-217. It would make a small but significant change to section 518 of the Criminal Code. The recommendations are as follows.
Before a bail hearing, a police officer should provide the crown counsel with the following information, at a minimum: a copy of the information setting out the criminal charges, an accurate synopsis of the allegations and circumstances of the offences, an up-to-date criminal record including both a CPIC printout and JOIN sheet, information on outstanding charges, and copies of forms of release of those charges, and, finally, details of the accused's personal circumstances such as residence, employment, and ties to the community.
Changing the wording in section 518 of the Criminal Code from “shall” to “may” by implementing Bill S-217 is the correct way to proceed for the judicial system and the Criminal Code. Bill S-217 would not overburden the system, in my opinion. Bill S-217 would not create any financial hardships on any level of the government.
The requested information, in my opinion, is already available via the police to provide to the crown at a bail hearing. I have personally acquired the aforementioned information via available programs police agencies use.
In life, we make decisions. When making those decisions, we research, educate ourselves, and learn what is best before we forge ahead with our plans. It is no different with our judicial system. We want to make an educated and well-informed decision during bail hearings. This bill is not about being tough on crime. This bill is about being fair, honest, and open with the public about crime. In the end, we want to ensure that the public has faith in our criminal judicial system and that we can look at every citizen in Canada, including those accused of crimes, and tell them that we made the decision with all the information that was available. Our citizens deserve the truth. Bail hearings are no different.