Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-217, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (detention in custody). It has also become known as Wynn's law.
I would remind the House that this bill was named in honour of Constable David Wynn, who was shot and killed in the line of duty in Alberta, another senseless loss of a police officer that in this specific case was absolutely preventable.
I want to thank my hon. colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton for introducing the bill, and for what he has contributed to the debate.
I personally attended the funeral of Constable Wynn. He died in the line of duty while I was a serving member of the Medicine Hat Police Service. I remember that we in the policing community, along with most of this nation, were shocked and outraged by, yet again, another failure of our justice system to protect our communities.
The amendments proposed in Bill S-217, as passed in the Senate, are intended to mitigate similar situations from happening in the future. The man Constable Wynn was attempting to arrest was out on bail, despite having over 30 outstanding charges before the courts, and a lengthy criminal record of over 50 convictions.
What is significant in this case, however, is that none of these previous convictions and outstanding charges had been mentioned during his latest bail hearing, allowing him to be released from custody yet again.
Bill S-217 amends section 515 of the Criminal Code to expand the grounds for detention and custody to include the fact that the accused has previously been convicted of criminal offences or is awaiting trial on other charges.
It also amends section 518 of the Criminal Code to require the crown to lead evidence of the accused's criminal record and outstanding charges at a bail hearing. Currently, across most jurisdictions in Canada, criminal records are routinely introduced at bail hearings. At issue, however, is the fact that the introduction of these records is not mandated or required by law. By simply changing the wording of section 518 of the Criminal Code from may to shall, Bill S-217 ensures that justices will have the information they need to make an informed decision on bail hearings.
During previous debate on Bill S-217, and heard earlier in my colleague's previous comments, the Liberal government has expressed some concerns. In its view, ensuring that decision-makers in the bail process had relevant information is not a simple task.
The Liberals say it is difficult because it requires up-to-date information management systems and fully trained prosecutors, police, and justices. They were concerned that the bill would create policy and legal implications that could result in a bail system that would not function properly for anyone. They also believe that the proposed changes would ultimately impart delay and confusion, and would likely have unintended legal and operational consequences for the bail process.
In an effort to alleviate and address these concerns, I rely on my 35 years of recent policing experience in order to bring operational real life knowledge to this debate.
It is important for members of the House and the Canadian public to understand the basics about the release of an accused person from custody pending trial, commonly known as bail. The present philosophy of the release provisions in the Criminal Code is that accused persons should not be held in custody except in unusual circumstances.
In simple terms, the release pending trial of an accused person is generally affected in two separate and distinct ways. First, depending on the offence and circumstances, an accused may be released prior to his appearance in court by the police, unless police officers have yet to establish the identity of the person, need to secure or preserve evidence of or relating to the offence, or they must prevent the continuation or repetition of that offence or the commission of another offence, or they believe on reasonable grounds that the person being released from custody will fail to attend court.
If the officer is content that the above have been satisfied, depending on the seriousness of the offences committed, the officer has various release avenues available to compel the accused's attendance in court.
On the other hand, there are basically four instances where police officers cannot release an accused, and it would be wrong to suggest they do so using their own release powers. These include where an officer believes it is necessary in the public interest not to release, and where the accused does not fall into certain categories of offences such as serious criminal offences punishable by imprisonment for more than five years. The other two circumstances relate to warrants without a release endorsement and warrants for serious offences committed in other provinces.
In these circumstances, an accused may be released as a result of a judicial interim release having been held by a justice or a judge as defined in the Criminal Code. The term judicial interim release simply means that a justice gives judicial consideration based on the facts and law to allowing the right of the accused not to be detained in custody prior to his trial. This is one of the most important areas where a justice must exercise judicial discretion. In all matters involving judicial discretion, a judge is independent of the crown and the defence.
For most accused persons held in custody by the police, this is their first appearance before a justice and it is the key stage in determining their status respecting release or detention. The justice will consider all facts presented by the crown and the defence and render a decision. During a bail hearing the justice currently may take into consideration any other charges that the accused is already facing.
Some of the considerations that are relevant for a justice in determining the issues of release have to do with the accused's record. The fact that the accused has a record does not necessarily in itself order detention. It is only relevant if it relates to the charge before the justice. Other issues include whatever charges the accused might be facing. Does the individual have previous offences for failing to appear or violating bail release conditions? Is the individual already detained in custody in respect of another matter? What is the gravity and nature and danger of the charges the individual is currently facing?
There are two basic grounds for a justice to consider for detention. The primary ground is: is it necessary to ensure the accused's attendance in court? It is only after after the justice rules on the primary ground that he may go on to consider secondary grounds. The secondary grounds are: is it necessary in the public interest or for the protection and safety of the public, which includes the probability that the accused will commit another offence or interfere with the investigation?
Public interest involves many considerations, not the least of which is the public image of the criminal justice system; the apprehension and conviction of criminals; the attempts at deterrence of crime; and, ultimately, the protection of Canadians who are socially conscious and law-abiding. This cannot be overemphasized too strongly. Much has been written about the attitude of citizens concerning accused persons being released and subsequently arrested on allegations of committing further offences.
It is important to note that as a matter of good practice, the police agency will always provide the justice with all relevant information, as indicated above, which should be considered at a bail hearing. In my experience, these records are readily available to police through various national, provincial, and local information management systems. Apparently unknown by the Liberal government, these systems that the justice system and law enforcement agencies rely upon are current and up-to-date, as lives depend on them. Anything otherwise would be irresponsible.
Further, the suggestion that changing the wording as proposed in Bill S-217 is not a simple task as it would require fully trained prosecutors, police, and justices diminishes the already proven proficiencies with which these professionals currently perform these tasks now on a daily basis.
I am of the belief that Bill S-217 would strengthen the criminal justice system and protect the lives of law enforcement and Canadians through the requirement of ensuring justices have all relevant accused record information to make informed decisions on public safety. I fully support this excellent bill and encourage all members of the House to do the same.