Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill S-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code, detention in custody. I will be supporting it.
We are talking about an incident that happened in St. Albert, Alberta. This news story was talked about in my constituency. It was talked about in Calgary. From one city to another, we never want to see police officers die in the line of duty when they are serving their community. To me it is common sense. This amendment would have saved David Wynn's life. It would have indeed also avoided the injury to the other officer, the auxiliary constable involved. The rap sheet of Mr. Rehn, who was the assailant in this situation, should have been cause enough for him to have been denied bail. It should be much harder for habitual criminals to make bail.
Again, like Senator Runciman and my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton have said, the key of this bill is in clause 2, in which it states the “prosecutor shall” instead of “may”. This will make a huge difference during bail hearings and ensure that we avoid a repeat of what Constable Wynn's family had to go through. No family should ever have to go through that.
On this, I have a Yiddish proverb I would like to use, “When scholars vie, wisdom mounts”. I do not feel this debate has risen to that level of scholarship yet, after hearing the contributions made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and the reasons why the government would not be supporting the bill.
This is a case where a constable was shot and killed in the line of duty. Auxiliary Constable Derek Bond was shot and injured. Let us not forget these were two people who were serving their community, where one was killed and one who was injured and had to go through much hospital care in order to return to work.
Shawn Rehn was the individual involved in this. I went through the reports that were written on this by the Alberta government. In his charge history between 1994 and 2014, he had been charged with 206 offences. The charges that topped the list were 103 property offences, 13 violent offices, 24 weapons offences, 46 compliance and breach offences, six driving offences, seven drug offences, and seven offences against administration of justice. His conviction history again is pretty spectacular for a career criminal: 66 offences where he was found guilty, including three offences against administration of justice, 41 property offences, and the list goes on. He had 27 outstanding offences that he was charged on when he made bail, set at $4,500 bail at the time. That basically should have made it impossible for him to be out in the community. He was wanted on outstanding warrants for his arrest as well, and he still made bail.
The amendments proposed in Bill S-217, as have been considered and passed by the Senate and brought to the House, would indeed avoid this situation in the future.
The shooting also prompted many questions about provincial bail procedures because the hearing was conducted without a Crown lawyer representing the prosecution, which is quite common in the province of Alberta. It is a standard practice there.
We heard mention of certain Alberta studies and recommendations made by different provinces. I look specifically to Alberta and what we do, because this bill would have a major effect on how Alberta would carry out the administration of justice.
The report on Shawn Rehn is called “A review of the involvement of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service” by Kimberly Armstrong, deputy attorney general and acting deputy minister, Alberta justice, and solicitor general for the province. That report did not deal with federal matters because that was not the focus area. The focus was on what the province could control. Therefore, they strictly dealt with recommendations for provincial administration of the judicial system.
We set the Criminal Code in the chamber. It is passed by the Senate and approved by the Governor General. We set Criminal Code provisions and the provinces administer justice.
Page 14 of that same report deals with the recommendations and they are all provincial in nature. The report itself states on page one, “This review is limited to the involvement” the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service “had with [Mr.] Rehn, and does not consider his involvement with any other agency or party within the criminal justice system”. This should be painfully obvious to the government that this was a report. It cannot refer to this report and say that it did not recommend changes to section 515 or section 518 of the Criminal Code. The author of the report was not looking at that. The report was not looking to offer Criminal Code provision amendments to the federal government or to any of the political parties. What it was focusing on was strictly speaking to what could actually be done to prevent this type of incident, this tragedy, from ever happening again.
I want to thank the member for St. Albert—Edmonton for what he has contributed to the debate and for introducing this in the House.
I do not want to go over the same points that the member did and the points that he brought up about what Senator Runciman has said.
Clause 2 of the bill is the key. This is what will change “may” to “shall”. That single change would have saved Constable Wynn's life. It would have avoided the injuries to Auxiliary Constable Derek Bond. The whole incident could have been avoided and Mr. Wren would have been right where he belonged, in jail. He did not belong in the community. He did not belong in St. Albert. He did not belong in a casino parking lot. He belonged in jail.
Bill S-217 would ensure that it is not an option any more whether or not to tell the justice about the accused's criminal record during a bail hearing. I have heard members talk about their concerns with respect to the administration of justice and how there might be complications with doing this, that it might slow down the bail hearing process.
I am not a member of the bar. I am not a lawyer, and I say that proudly and thankfully. I do know the administration of technological systems for a professional association. I was the registrar for the human resources profession in the province of Alberta, which had 6,000 members. We would conduct disciplinary hearings and investigations at times. These are not done by lawyers by any stretch of the imagination. They are hearings and investigations done by HR professionals into the actions of our members. At the time it was a CHRP designation.
Like the member for St. Albert—Edmonton said, whatever concern may exist about the delays on bail hearings ignores the fact that this information is readily available in information systems. My colleague from Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner, a former police officer, mentioned how easy it is to gain access to this information with a keystroke. The issue is not whether the information is accessible so much as whether they have the means to do it and whether they can do it and how fast they can get to it. Having a computer available in the courtroom makes it pretty simple. The issue is technology. Access is not an issue under criminal law. It is just an issue of technology.
I do not really like the argument being made by the government that this might slow things down, that it might complicate things, so therefore we should not do it. I would say we update our systems and update the way we administer the judicial system to ensure that we can fulfill the requirements of the Criminal Code. If we are going to change the Criminal Code to ensure that these types of incidents do not happen again and that individuals like Constable Wynn do not lose their life in the line of duty because a person who should not have been out in the community and should not have been granted bail is out, then why not invest in more technology?
The Alberta government has admitted it would cost more money. There is a cost associated with this. A few million dollars, it said, would have to be spent for the remand centres to ensure that they can update their systems. Is that not money well spent though to avoid losing a police officer in the line of duty and the heartache caused to the family? I believe so. With the amount of money that this place spends on a weekly basis, with the $30 billion of spending that we are doing here, and the $10-billion deficit spending the Alberta provincial government is doing, a few million dollars spent to ensure the remand centres have the technological systems, have the computer systems updated and available for bail hearings, seems to me like a small price to pay.
Another report I want to mention is the “Alberta Bail Review: Endorsing a Call for Change”, February 29, 2016 by Nancy Irving. It is quite a thick report, nearly half an inch thick, that provides an in-depth overview of the bail system in Alberta. It goes from A to Z and covers a lot of ground. Thirty-one recommendations are made in the report that touch upon solely provincial areas of responsibility. To my New Democratic colleague who mentioned that statistics and numbers would be really helpful here, they are provided in this report. An overview is done for 2014-15 on the number of bail hearings in the province and how they were actually done.
That same report said the vast majority of first appearances at the bail stage are conducted by justices of the peace at two centralized hearing offices with police representing the crown. It goes on to state that their focus was section 524 of the Criminal Code, which governs the revocation of bail for people who are alleged to have violated the terms of their release. It was not looking at sections 515 and 518, which is the focus of the Senate bill, Bill S-217. They were strictly looking at how they were going to administer the Criminal Code provisions that exist as they are.
We have an opportunity here to change those provisions, to indicate to the provinces that they need to change how they administer their judicial systems in order to ensure that we can avoid an incident like Constable Wynn's, that we do not lose more officers in the line of duty.
Wren's final court appearance raised questions about the completeness and accuracy of the information available to those who preside and present at bail hearings in Alberta. The 31 recommendations in the report deal with just that and the Alberta government is working on implementing them.
I will be supporting the bill. It is an excellent bill. I invite all members to do the same.