Justice Minister David Lametti met his provincial and territorial counterparts last week in hopes of strengthening the bail system so that repeat and violent offenders remain behind bars.

The subject is no longer on the front burner of the news cycle, at least not like it was in the heated days which followed the murder of  28-year-old OPP Const. Grzegorz (Greg) Pierzchala on Dec. 27.

But it remains direly important.

Lametti committed that the federal government will move forward quickly on “targeted reforms” to the Criminal Code that would update Canada’s bail system. 

“We have a broad consensus on a path forward,” Lametti promised, saying reforms will aim to address the challenges posed by repeat violent offenders and those facing firearms or other weapons charges. 

“Bail is a constitutional right, but it is not absolute,” he said. 

“Our laws are clear that bail can be denied where there is just cause, when it is necessary for the safety of the public or to maintain the public’s confidence in the administration of justice.” 

The commitment follows calls for bail reform from provincial and territorial justice ministers last fall and Canada’s premiers earlier this year, and includes a pledge to introduce legislative changes as early as this session of Parliament.

The changes would implement a reverse onus for repeat violent offenders who are seeking bail, as well as changes as it relates to serious offences committed with firearms. The reverse onus would apply to repeat offenders committing crimes using knives and bear spray.

Additionally, the changes would require judges to consider the safety of the community as a whole and include that statement in a decision on bail. 

Calls for reform heightened in response to the death of Pierzchala in late December, which Lametti referred to Friday as a “catalyst for change.”

Court documents show one of the two people facing first-degree murder charges in his death, Randall McKenzie, was initially denied bail in a separate case involving assault and weapons charges but was released after a review. 

A press release said the ministers “agreed that the bail system functions appropriately in many but not all cases.” 

It said other changes could be made at the federal or provincial level, including improving data collection and training and funding programming to combat gender-based violence. 

Pierzchala, a former constable at the Queen’s Park provincial legislature and member of the Armed Forces, was killed on his first day working solo in what police have called an “ambush” attack after he responded to a call for a vehicle in a ditch west of Hagersville, Ont. on Dec. 27.

This was a test for Lametti, although he already said Canada’s bail system was “strong and sound.”

Criminal justice experts, however, are cautioning MPs that toughening Canada’s bail laws may have unintended, negative consequences, and that recent characterizations of the country’s bail system as lenient are not accurate.

Advocates recommending a “reverse onus” bail system believe the accused seeking bail should show why he or she should not be kept behind bars, as opposed to the Crown making its case.

“Do we need to add a bit more stickiness, if you will, to make it more difficult in certain cases for people to get bail?” Lametti said in an interview after appearing recently before the House of Commons justice committee.

According to OPP officers I have talked to — both active and retired — a way to add “stickiness” is to beef up the surety system in which a friend or relative puts up the promise of money,

Not one police officer, however, can ever recall a surety being collected by the court for a breach of an accused’s bail.

This, they say, makes the surety system a joke.

As I have written here previously, the surety system is a subject Lametti and his provincial soulmates will have to seriously address or else there will be an aspect of bail reform which is sorely being missed.

Lametti said the Trudeau government is committed to ensuring public safety, and at the same time, change to the bail system must not further exacerbate the overrepresentation of Indigenous and Black people within Canadian jails.

“There are no easy solutions to such a complex matter,”  Lametti said. “We must not further marginalize vulnerable people, including those struggling with mental-health issues and addiction.

“It’s a delicate balance.”


  • Mark Bonokoski

    Mark Bonokoski is a member of the Canadian News Hall of Fame and has been published by a number of outlets – including the Toronto Sun, Maclean’s and Readers’ Digest.