First, I'd like to commend Mr. Cooper on this bill. I was impressed with the intent and the passion and commitment he's put forward on this, so much so that I voted for this bill despite the government's opposition to it when it first came through the House on second reading. I know a number of my colleagues on the Liberal side of the House, including some members of our committee, did the same thing, because the intention of the bill is noble. There are issues with the bail system in this country, and an attempt to reform the bail system is a noble objective.
That being said, I came to committee with an open mind, to listen to the witnesses and to hear evidence on the effects and impacts of this bill. Going into it, I knew there would have to be some changes. I had hoped we could make some changes to make this bill palatable and to make this an effective piece of legislation. However, listening to the witnesses and hearing from them one after another, I was immediately left with the impression that this bill misses the mark unfortunately. It will have the opposite impact of making the bail system worse, and it will lead to significant delays.
I'd like to briefly go through what some individuals—the witnesses that we heard—discussed. The first one, Mr. Michael Elliott, who is president of the Alberta Federation of Police Associations, supported this bill. After examination, he asked himself whether it would slow down the system, and answered yes. That's a supporter of the bill.
Mr. Rick Woodburn is president of the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel. Crown counsels are individuals who want to see criminals in jail. They want to see the right people go to jail: that's their job.
He said of the tragedy that brought forward this bill, that it was “human error: [the constable dealing with the bail matter] failed to put the record before the court...It is not something we normally do. We put the record before the court. It's important. That's meat and potatoes; it's the first thing we're trained to do.”
He went on to say of his concerns about Bill S-217, that “bail hearings will double and triple in time. And it's not necessary.” He said that S-217 “will add nothing to bail hearings, but it will take away a lot,” and that if “bail hearings expand and take longer, other matters will fall like dominoes, and it will end up having the opposite effect.”
Rachel Huntsman, on behalf of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said that this bill “may cause confusion, create added delay, and impose challenges upon a bail system that is already operating at full capacity. Instead of strengthening the bail provisions, we fear that these amendments may create a result counterproductive to what the bill is hoping to achieve.” She said of the bill that this amendment is not necessary.
Detective Superintendent Dave Truax from the Ontario Provincial Police added that this bill would cause a challenge for Canadian law enforcement agencies.
Dr. Cheryl Webster, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said that legislation can't change human error, which is what caused this tragedy. She said it seemed to her that “this bill will very likely only add volume to an already exploding problem.”
Ms. Nancy Irving, who has done some incredible work looking into this tragedy and how to improve the bail system in Alberta, said, “I share the concern that this new language could turn bail hearings into mini-trials.”
I tried during many of my questions to ask witnesses for amendments or potential amendments to make this bill an effective tool for law enforcement and for crown prosecutors. The response we received from witness after witness was that they couldn't propose anything, and that even minor changes—minor or major amendments to this bill—would have negative impacts on the justice system. My fear is that this bill will have the opposite effect and could in fact make Canadians less safe.
It could do this in terms of significant delays, which the Supreme Court has ruled on, especially in the Jordan case, which we've talked about. This may see more people out on the street who should be in jail, and that's not something I want to see. Despite the good intentions of the bill, I'm concerned that this bill may put Canadians at risk, and unfortunately, I can no longer support Bill S-217.