Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time this evening with my friend from West Nova.
I also want to take the opportunity to apologize to my friend from Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner for failing to remember that he had not yet joined the House, and I appreciate very much his remarks.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to join today's second reading debate and speak to the bail and administration of justice offence reforms contained in Bill C-75 to address delays in the criminal justice system.
I am proud to speak to what will be the largest reform to the bail system in 35 years. I believe the changes proposed in Bill C-75 will go a long way toward encouraging a cultural shift in how the pretrial release and detention decisions in our justice system are approached by police officers and the courts, and strike the right balance in reducing unnecessary detention and bail conditions, while maintaining a strict focus on public safety.
According to police and court statistics, over half of the people currently in provincial and territorial detention facilities have not yet had a trial or been found guilty of any offence. We also know that indigenous people and other marginalized groups are overrepresented within that group of people who are being incarcerated before their trial.
During my career in law enforcement, I have witnessed, on far too many occasions, court time and resources being disproportionately allocated to address breaches of police conditions or court conditions for those on bail. Some of these conditions are simply unnecessary, as they are not related to the underlying offence. They are not necessarily related to maintaining public safety. This ineffective approach can perpetuate individual cycles of incarceration and divert critical resources from other cases, including those involving the most serious offences.
The proposed changes in Bill C-75 related to the bail regime would modernize and streamline bail provisions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our bail process. The current bail system has developed over a very long period of time and has become somewhat of a labyrinth of provisions for police and courts to navigate. These complex provisions are being used daily in police stations and courts across Canada.
I am very pleased to see that the bill seeks to reduce the imposition of bail conditions that are unreasonable, irrelevant, and unnecessary, by codifying what is known as the principle of restraint. This change is consistent with the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Antic in 2017. The principle of restraint's starting point is that accused persons will be released at the earliest reasonable opportunity on the least onerous conditions appropriate in the circumstances. Clearly laying out the principle of restraint in the Criminal Code would provide a good starting point for providing safeguards for individuals who tend to be most disadvantaged by the criminal justice system. These include indigenous people and marginalized groups that are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, including those who live in poverty, suffer from mental health issues, or are homeless.
The principle of restraint would reduce the likelihood that bail conditions would have the effect of unnecessarily criminalizing predictable patterns of behaviour that do not put the public at risk or relate to the underlying offence for which the offender is before the court. For example, placing a condition that a person struggling with alcohol abuse not consume alcohol, even when alcohol was not involved in the predicating offence, creates a set of circumstances that must inevitably lead to the re-incarceration of that individual. These new provisions in the Criminal Code would also require police and courts to consider the specific circumstances of indigenous accused and accused people from marginalized populations at the bail stage.
These types of considerations are often referred to as Gladue considerations. They have been interpreted by the courts in the sentencing context as requiring that the method used in coming to a decision take into account the unique systemic background factors of indigenous people or other marginalized groups, which may have played a part in bringing the particular indigenous person or vulnerable person before the court in the first place.
I would like to assure members that there is nothing in this principle that waters down the requirement for police officers and courts to detain an accused who is likely to endanger public safety. Those who pose a risk to the public will still be detained after Bill C-75 comes into force.
There are also a number of proposed bail amendments in Bill C-75 that focus on maintaining public safety and specifically protecting victims of intimate partner violence. Based on the changes contained in the bill, when an accused is charged with an offence involving violence against an intimate partner, and when the accused has been previously convicted of an offence involving violence against an intimate partner, a reverse onus would apply in determining bail. A reverse onus means that instead of the crown being required to show the court why the accused needs to be detained, the onus will shift to the accused, who will need to prove to the court that he or she should be released. These amendments target serious conduct and will meet our government's platform commitment to better protect victims of intimate partner violence.
Another proposed bail amendment would require the courts to consider the previous criminal convictions of the accused. We believe this captures the intent of the former Senate public bill, Bill C-217, which was in response to the 2015 murder of RCMP Constable David Wynn, without some of the unintentional operational consequences that we felt could result from Bill S-217, including additional delays.
With the time I have left, I would like to speak to the amendments that would provide an alternate approach in responding to administration of justice offences.
Under the current law, when police officers respond to an alleged breach of a bail condition or a failure to appear in court, they currently have two options: they can do nothing, or they can lay a criminal charge. Bill C-75 would create a third option. Both the police and crown attorneys would have the discretion to refer the accused to a judicial referral hearing as an alternative to laying new charges for the breach or failure to comply with conditions of release. This tool would still hold the accused accountable but would be far more efficient than laying new charges for the breach, and it would allow an opportunity to modify and update conditions, as required by the circumstances.
I cannot emphasize enough that the judicial referral hearings would only be available when the conduct had not caused physical, emotional, or economic harm or property damage to a victim. At these hearings, the judge or justice would consider the current conditions of release in light of the alleged breach or failure and could take one of the following actions: they could take no action and have the accused released on exactly the same conditions under which they were previously released; they could release the accused after varying their bail conditions; or they could order that the accused be detained in custody, including for identification purposes.
This reform, in combination with the bail reforms I have previously spoken of, aims to reduce delays in the criminal justice system by reducing the number of conditions that would be breached in the first place and by reducing the number of unreasonable and unnecessary conditions that may be imposed. This reform would provide more efficient ways of responding to minor breaches of conditions and would reduce the number of administration of justice charges that currently clog our criminal justice system.
Since courts would also be required to consider the circumstances of indigenous accused and accused from vulnerable populations in these judicial referral hearings, this new tool would assist in reducing the overrepresentation of these groups within our criminal justice system.
These proposed changes to the bail system and the new tool to address administration of justice offences are long overdue and will go a long way to improving Canada's criminal justice system. They will help direct attention to important considerations related to public safety rather than using the system as a means of warehousing those members of society who are already unfairly disadvantaged by our society in so many other ways.
For these reasons, I urge all members to support this bill, send it to committee for study, and give us an opportunity to make our criminal justice system more efficient and serve Canadians by keeping our communities safe.